Thanks to its tangy taste and benefits, we are all familiar with what kombucha is… but scoby? Believe it or not, this is not a botched attempt at referencing the 1969 television masterpiece ‘Scooby-Doo.’
SCOBY is an acronym that stands for ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.’ It’s a key ingredient for fermented beverages like kombucha. Its texture is jello-like and it can form multiple layers, appearing like a rubbery disk.
You can’t make kombucha without a scoby. So, if you love kombucha, you’ll need to become familiar with this silly-looking petri dish if you want to call yourself a true ‘booch fan. This article is going to walk you through what a kombucha scoby does, where to get it, and how to make it on your own.
What is a Kombucha Scoby, and How Does it Work?
SCOBY, or ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast,’ is a jelly-like, opaque, rubbery disk made up of cellulose and all kinds of living bacteria and yeasts, which allow for the kombucha fermentation process.
Fermentation, on the other hand, is a process in which microorganisms break down substances like glucose (sugar) into byproducts like alcohol and acid. This is where beverages like kombucha or beer are born.
Most fermented food products also use a symbiotic culture similar to a kombucha scoby in order to help the product properly ferment- like kimchi or sourdough bread.
In the case of kombucha, a scoby is used to create the fermented tea in three easy steps:
- Have sweetened black or green tea handy (it has to be sweetened tea so that the bacteria/yeast can break it down in the fermentation process later)
- Add a scoby to the sweetened tea
- Let the mixture sit at room temperature for anywhere from one week to a few months. The longer you ferment it, the better it is for you.
And just like that, you’ve got yourself home brewed kombucha!
The Benefits of Brewing with a SCOBY
There are many health benefits to fermenting tea using a scoby. Thanks to the culture of microorganisms like bacteria and yeast, the finished product will contain a cocktail of probiotics. These probiotics are extremely important in maintaining the health of your intestinal gut flora. Health benefits of probiotics include:
- Improvements in the digestive process
- Prevention of diarrhea
- Increase in available nutrients for the body to absorb
- Cultivating a healthier immune system
- Did you know that the majority of your immune system functions are located in your gut? Good probiotic bacteria also lower your gut’s pH, making the environment less livable for bad bacteria that can make you sick (Source: Cleveland Clinic)
- Improvements in mental health
- Your gut flora and your mental health seem to be linked, as evidenced by an increasing number of studies that find correlations between having a healthy gut and a healthy mind. Studies found that humans with mental health disorders showed improvement when given probiotic supplements (Source: Healthline)
Learning about all of these wonderful benefits is making me crave some kombucha! Let’s dive into the different types of scoby available and the ways you can either buy it or make it on your own at home.
The Different Types of Kombucha Scoby
There are plenty of different types of kombucha scoby available to you, and the type you choose actually has the potential to affect both the flavor of your kombucha and the amount of probiotics present in the beverage, so choose one that suits your personal tastes best!
But before we can understand these types, let’s look into how scobys got their nickname.
As funny as it sounds, scobys are often called “mothers.” This is because a scoby that is handled properly often grows a smaller scoby, called a “baby scoby,” during the fermentation process.
The babies continue to grow larger as the kombucha ferments until they are large enough to be removed from the mother scoby. By that point, the baby has grown into a full-fledged mother scoby that can be used for another round of kombucha fermentation or gifted to other kombucha-brewing friends (Source: TheWildGut).
There are four main classifications of kombucha scoby. These four include:
- Scoby Grown at Home from Homemade or Store-Bought Kombucha Tea
- This type of scoby is made by pouring raw, homemade or store-bought kombucha into a bowl that you’ll securely cover with fabric or cheesecloth. If you store it in a dark place for one to three weeks, you’ll discover that a scoby has formed!
- Vintage/Heirloom Scoby
- Heirloom or vintage scobys are any scoby that was not made directly from a bottle. So, the babies that grew from your mother scoby are classified as heirloom or vintage scobys.
- Tibetan Scoby
Originating in Tibet, this type of scoby is made specifically from a type of tea called Puer tea. This is an earthy tea, and is very popular in many parts of Asia.
- It takes the longest to ferment out of all the other types, which means this scoby creates the most probiotic-rich kombucha of them all.
- Island Girl Scoby
- Coming from Sanibel Island, Florida, this tropical scoby is used most often with oolong tea. It’s said to have a well-balanced flavor profile; but it ferments for the least amount of time of all four scoby types, meaning there will be less probiotics present than some of the others.
Where to Get Kombucha Scoby
If you’re seeking out kombucha scoby, you have a couple of choices for where to find it. You can make a scoby from scratch at home using store bought or homemade kombucha.
You can’t just use any old kombucha, however- if you choose to go this route, make sure you buy kombucha that is raw, unpasteurized, and unflavored. This is because the extra additives and pasteurization process can “inhibit the growth of your scoby,” according to Urban Monk Nutrition.
You can also get flavor additives for your home-brewed kombucha. This Orange Blossom Lemon Drop Brew Booster adds a sweet and citrusy touch to your kombucha craft. You can check out this short video for step-by-step instructions on how to grow your own scoby at home
You can purchase scoby starter kits online. There are endless options available, but I recommend this organic one thanks to its quality and ability to reduce pesticide exposure.
Even if you make one without a starter kit, I still recommend using organic ingredients from the beginning.
If the kombucha fermentation process is long enough and you don’t feel like waiting to make one yourself, however, you can purchase an entire kombucha scoby online on sites like Etsy, or you can seek out someone with some extra scoby to go around on local community sites.
Note: When purchasing scoby from individual sellers on community forums or sites like Etsy, you’ll want to make sure the seller is reputable. Mishandled scoby can start to decay and become unsafe for fermentation use. Beware of a moldy or cheesy smell- if you notice this on your scoby, it’s a sign it needs to be scrapped.
The best place to get a whole scoby with minimal risk of decay, however, is to get it from a kombucha-brewing friend that you know well; they can give you the scobys that grew from their mother scobys.
This way, you can be sure of the ingredients that went into the scoby and you’ll know that it won’t rot (unless your friend has been looking for a creative way out of the relationship.)
Getting familiar with scoby is the first step to understanding how kombucha is made and the only way to brew a nice batch of fermented kombucha yourself. With all of the incredible health benefits and the unique flavors kombucha offers, who could resist? You’re now well on your way to both a happy tongue and a happy gut. Now go get brewing!