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What is a SCOBY?

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Mother, jellyfish, pancake, kombucha culture, pellicle, so on– the many names of the cellulose flapjack that turns tea and sugar into kombucha. But most kombucha freaks, including all of us here at Raw Brewing Co, know it as a S.C.O.B.Y. or (“Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast”). 

And first-time kombucha drinkers might be a little freaked out to meet the Mother– “ew, what is that? Is it okay to drink?” We get it, meeting mothers can be a bit intimidating, but yes it’s okay to drink– and it’s delicious. While the appearance may be a little off-putting (until you get to know her), the SCOBY is a beautiful patty of life forming goodness! Without the mother SCOBY, kombucha would just be some dank old sweet tea.   It’s the magic of the bacteria and yeast symbiotically converting the sugar and tea that brings it to life as the beloved fermented beverage.

How does it work?

At a basic level, kombucha fermentation works like this: yeast eats sugar and turns it into alcohol, then bacteria eat alcohol and turns it into beneficial enzymes, acids, more probiotic bacteria, and all the good stuff in kombucha your body wants. And controlled fermentation processes like kombucha brewing have been practiced by humans for nearly 10,000 years. 

Where does it come from?

It’s believed that fermenting tea with a SCOBY began thousands of years ago in Eastern Europe or Asia, with the first record in 221 BC from Emperor Qin She Huang and his ancient recipe for the “tea of immortality.” But booch has been mentioned in folklore all over the world. In Russia, mythology suggests a mystical monk healed a dying king with tea that forms “a jellyfish” when ready. It’s also said a Tibetan monk found something forming in a forgotten pot of tea, which other monks drank for its health benefits (the tea had transformed into was kombucha).  And what do we think here at RBC? Glad you asked. Raw honey has many of the yeast and bacterial building blocks for a SCOBY. So, it’s our belief kombucha probably started as an accident, independently in many cultures through tea, honey, and citrus (for acidity).  

Properly brewed kombucha will always produce a new SCOBY. The mother SCOBY will “birth” another, which will then continue the chain of reproduction.  And once you begin making kombucha on the regular, you will have an endless supply. You know you’re doing things right if you have a whole SCOBY daycare on your hands. That’s why it’s important to know how to ensure its survival. Think of your SCOBY as your new indoor plant. 

Have the correct storage. This means out of the sun in a jar that won’t inhibit its growth, and you must feed your brew sweet tea.  Keep up with your brew cycles, and be careful to not disturb your SCOBY with too much movement as to not break the growths. (See: SCOBY CARE/HOTEL for long term SCOBY storage and care) When you do need to handle your SCOBY, use a pair of clean metal tongs.  Some people say it’s okay to use your hands, but we suggest against it– no matter how clean you believe your hands to be, freshly washed metal tongs are cleaner. 

Scoby Myths

There are some misconceptions surrounding this pancake of bacteria and yeast. The first myth is this: a SCOBY is NOT a mushroom. Though it may be incorrectly nicknamed “the mushroom,” it does not make Momma a fungus. SCOBY’s are recognized as “zooglea,” which is essentially a living skin that is a gelatinous concentration of bacteria and yeast. Unlike most fermentation processes, SCOBY’s can ferment both anaerobically (without oxygen) and aerobically (with oxygen).  However, a kombucha SCOBY prefers a steady supply of fresh oxygen so it can produce fermentation quicker. As far as we’re concerned, oxygen is necessary. When your booch is fermenting, cover it with coffee filters or another breathable fabric with small enough pores to keep out dust and fruit flies. 

The second myth is that working with a SCOBY to make Kombucha is not safe to do at home.  That’s just crazy talk.  Making kombucha at home ridiculously easy with the RBC system– and extremely safe.  The correct pH for your kombucha is an acidity level that most bad bacterias can’t form in. Mold can happen (see this article for how and why mold can happen) and if that does then it’s time to start fresh. Do not use a moldy SCOBY or drink the kombucha it produced. Spotting mold on a SCOBY is pretty easy, but when you are first starting you might not know what’s good and bad. View our article on how to identify mold on a SCOBY (internal link). If you aren’t sure, you can always post a photo in the forum (link). 

Great kombucha comes from knowing your brew, loving your brew, and taking care of your SCOBY. So, if you want to give your SCOBY and your booch game the kind of lovin’ it needs, consider exploring our other Raw University articles here. #welikeitraw #rbc #kombucha #scoby

Sources

“Fermentation.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed October 15, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/science/fermentation.

Jayabalan, Rasu, Radomir V. Malbaša, Eva S. Lončar, Jasmina S. Vitas, and Muthuswamy Sathishkumar. “A Review on Kombucha Tea-Microbiology, Composition, Fermentation, Beneficial Effects, Toxicity, and Tea Fungus.” Wiley Online Library. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, June 21, 2014. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12073.

Troitino, Christina. “Kombucha 101: Demystifying The Past, Present And Future Of The Fermented Tea Drink.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, February 17, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinatroitino/2017/02/01/kombucha-101-demystifying-the-past-present-and-future-of-the-fermented-tea-drink/

Wolfe, Benjamin. “Microbial Diversity of Kombucha.” MicrobialFoods.org, September 27, 2015. http://microbialfoods.org/science-digested-microbial-diversity-kombucha/.

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