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Kombucha SCOBY: What Is It & How Can You Make It?

Kombucha SCOBY: What is it and How Can You Make It?

Many people get baffled when they see the gelatinous form on top of kombucha. However, when you dive into the ever-giving world of kombucha SCOBY, you will begin to appreciate how it forms and how it can produce an unlimited source of kombucha. 

In this post, discover what are the intriguing and slimy-looking floaters in kombucha and how it helps produce the delectable kombucha tea that you love to drink. 

What is a Kombucha SCOBY?

SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. It is gelatinous cellulose formed by the acetic acid bacteria that are produced by yeast during the fermentation of sweet tea. In some regions, kombucha SCOBY is also called kombucha mushroom or pellicle. 

Regardless of all the names given to it, SCOBY is simply the cellulose that serves as a starter culture added to a new batch of kombucha.

How does a SCOBY form?

SCOBY forms when the yeast eats the sugar and produces ethanol. The good bacteria will feed on the ethanol which will produce acids that cause the subtle sour taste in kombucha. When you keep adding sweet tea to a jar with SCOBY, new layers of SCOBY will form. For this reason, you’ll never need another SCOBY to brew another booch. 

Hearing the word ethanol can make any non- kombucha fan dubious about the safety and alcohol content of kombucha. Ethanol is a type of alcohol that you can find both in alcoholic beverages and rubbing alcohol. 

Due to its ethanol content, kombucha has been a target of controversy. It is accused of being an alcoholic beverage pretending to be a healthy drink. We have a separate discussion that tackles the credibility of the health benefits and safety of drinking kombucha here

What does a SCOBY suppose to look like?

When you hold a SCOBY, it resembles the texture of holding a jelly. It usually has a shade of white to light tan. Old SCOBYs often have a darker color. However, new batches of SCOBYs can also have streaks of dark which are remnants of the previous tea. 

Oftentimes, kombucha brewers no longer use old SCOBYs because they are no longer efficient in fermenting sweet tea. Some of them keep the old SCOBYs in a kombucha hotel and give them to friends and family as soon as the jar fills up. 

How to make a SCOBY

Making a SCOBY is as easy as brewing your kombucha. You only have to change the ingredients and expect it to form a bit later than your average kombucha tea. The most common method in making a SCOBY is using plain kombucha tea to serve as a starter and mixed with sweet tea. 

How to make a SCOBY

If you’re a bit adventurous, you can build SCOBY from scratch. The second method of making a SCOBY is using lactic acid from kefir or yogurt culture and yeast. Simply, mix them with freshly brewed sweet tea and you’ll see a floating white biofilm in the jar in about a month. 

Is SCOBY alive?

SCOBY is alive but not in a freaky way where it will crawl out of the jar and morph into an unknown species. If that’s what you think, you’ve been watching too many sci-fi horror movies(haha).

SCOBY is alive because it contains active bacteria and yeast but it also has a lifespan. SCOBY can last for years if you will keep it in cold storage. Otherwise, it will continue to work and feed on sugar until it dies. 

How to know if a SCOBY is dead?

When the SCOBY turns black, it is undoubtedly dead. In some cases, there are no physical signs. To test if the SCOBY is dead, place it in a new brew and see if there is any change in the taste of the kombucha. If it stays sweet and has no sour taste, that means the SCOBY is already dead. 

Having dead SCOBYs means that they have already served their purpose and a new SCOBY must take their place. The good news is you can still use dead SCOBYs and turn them into compost or chicken feed. 

Different ways to use and consume SCOBY

Now, probably you’re wondering. If kombucha SCOBY is safe to have around your kombucha, can you possibly eat it? The answer is a big YES! It contains the concentrated nutritious contents of kombucha. Other than being an edible snack, you can also use SCOBY for the following purposes:

  • SCOBY Jerky
  • SCOBY candy
  • Compost
  • Chicken feed 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you kill a Kombucha SCOBY?

Some substances can kill a SCOBY. It is one of the reasons why the second fermentation is transferred to another container to avoid killing it. Honey for example contains botulism spores that produce toxins that can make kombucha dangerous to consume during the first fermentation. You may add it during the second fermentation.

If you want to use honey, you can opt for a Jun SCOBY, which is a special type of kombucha derived from honey. 

How much does kombucha SCOBY cost?

A kombucha SCOBY can cost around $10 or less. You can have it for free by asking for extra SCOBYs from friends or your local community of kombucha brewers.

Can I make kombucha without starter tea or SCOBY?

Yes, you can purchase a ready-to-drink kombucha and mix it with freshly brewed green or black tea. Some people also use vinegar as a substitute for starter tea. You should use pasteurized or distilled vinegar to ensure the safety of your brew.

Where is the best place to buy a SCOBY?

The best place to buy a SCOBY is through your local health food stores. In looking for a store that offers SCOBY, you have to do due diligence about the quality of their product. A bad SCOBY can produce an even worse kombucha. So, if possible you should consider making your SCOBY to rule out any contamination issues.

When should you throw out a SCOBY?

You should throw out your SCOBY when it has developed some mold or it is already dead. However, before you toss it in the trash can, you can repurpose it as a chicken feed or compost.

How many times can you use a SCOBY to make kombucha?

You can use it as much as you can and as long as it can ferment the sweet tea. The live culture in SCOBY will die eventually and the best indication is when your brew remains sweet after a few weeks. Some homebrewers even have a one-year-old kombucha that they still use to create new batches of kombucha. They just feed it with sweet tea until it comes back in fermentation action again.