Kombucha is one of the largest culinary crazes to gain popularity over the last decade, and it’s easy to understand why. Crisp, refreshing, effervescent, and flavorful, it’s a delight to drink, and the fact that it’s packed full of probiotics and healthy gut organisms makes it hard to ignore.
There are a multitude of different kombucha companies out there, but some brands may not be as healthy as you think. Often commercial kombucha has more sugar than is ideal, and while it tastes good, it’s not as good for you as a high-quality homemade kombucha. But how in the world do you make kombucha? Well, it all starts with the SCOBY, also known as the mother. Keep reading to find out what a SCOBY is, where you can find a SCOBY, and how you can even develop your own SCOBY for kombucha making.
What Exactly Is a SCOBY Anyway?
SCOBY is not a cute nickname, but an acronym that stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” It is formed during the fermentation of lactic acid bacteria and acetic acid bacteria. What we call a SCOBY is a thick, rubbery mass that floats on top of the fermentation and is made up of cellulose that contains a ton of the bacteria that cause the fermentation.
Much like a sourdough starter or a sour mash in whiskey, a SCOBY is used to jump-start and control the fermentation process that occurs in kombucha, by adding it into the tea mixture that is the base for kombucha. Additionally, a mature SCOBY will help to seal off the kombucha from the air, protecting it from less ideal and potentially harmful bacteria with its rubbery mass, known as a pellicle.
Also commonly referred to as ‘the mother,’ SCOBYs are not pleasant to look at, but vitally important in the creation of healthy kombucha. In fact, you may even find a small bit of SCOBY in commercial kombucha from time to time.
Buying a SCOBY Online
Buying a SCOBY online is probably the easiest and fastest option to start with. It’s also a good way to ensure that you end up with a SCOBY that’s of high quality and sure to work. Many of the options here include everything needed to make a small batch of kombucha, while others contain only the SCOBY and what’s needed to keep it alive. The ones listed below are some of the best out there and are sure to make your experience go smoothly.
- SCOBY Kombucha sells an excellent SCOBY that comes in about a quarter cup of concentrated tea. This is enough for about two quarts on your first batch, and as you produce more SCOBY you can make more kombucha at a time. You can easily order one off of Amazon here.
- Fermentaholics sells a large 6” pellicle, with 12 oz of fluid in a convenient pouch. This product is the only 100% USDA Organic and kosher certified SCOBY available! You can find it here.
- If you want to go all out, Joshua Tree Kombucha sells a starter kit that comes with a SCOBY, starter tea, a glass fermentation jar, flip top bottles, and some other goodies. This is a good choice if you’re brand new to fermenting and don’t have any gear – check it out here!
One nice thing about purchasing a SCOBY this way is you know it will be a clean and safe product. Kombucha is generally safe to make at home, but there is always some risk, and having an FDA approved starter can certainly mitigate some of those concerns.
Buying a Local SCOBY
If you aren’t in a rush and want to make some new friends, you can also look at finding a SCOBY locally. Because SCOBYs grow with each use, others who make kombucha will often be more than willing to share a SCOBY rather than let it go to waste. You can find these types of people organically, or by looking online. Places like Nextdoor App and Craigslist may yield results, or you can check out the Reddit group r/findascoby where people ask for and post extra SCOBYs everywhere around the world. This group is also a great place to find more tips and tricks for taking care of your SCOBY.
Another local option is health food stores or even local kombucha companies. Both may sell starter packs that do well in your local environment and don’t have to risk getting ruined during shipping.
What’s great about trying to find a SCOBY locally is that you will most likely get to meet and interact with some like-minded people, and you might even make a friend!
Making Your Own SCOBY Instead of Buying One
The final way to procure a SCOBY is the most time-intensive, but can also be the most satisfying! This process is pretty simple but can take 2-4 weeks to complete. Essentially all that’s needed to start is some black tea, sugar, and a little bit of an existing unpasteurized kombucha (for example, a bottle of plain GT’s kombucha from the grocery store).
For a one gallon starter, boil 8 cups of water with 1 cup of sugar. Turn the heat off and add 8 tea bags. Once cooled, pour into a gallon jar, add 2 cups from an unflavored bottle of kombucha, and fill the rest of the way with cool water. Cover the top tightly with 2 coffee filters or a thick cotton cloth, and attach it with a rubber band. Place the jar in a dark place around 70 degrees Fahrenheit and allow it to sit for two to four weeks. You’ll know it’s ready when the SCOBY is about a ¼ inch thick.
Because you don’t have a fully developed SCOBY pellicle to protect the kombucha, it’s important to make sure everything stays extremely clean and sanitized for this batch in order to avoid bad bacteria.
While growing your own SCOBY takes more time, it’s fun to make something all on your own and watch it grow. Within a year you could be creating your own SCOBY hotel and gifting extras to friends.
To Sum Up
There are many different ways to get a SCOBY and start making your own delicious kombucha. No matter which way you choose, make sure to keep things clean, and always err on the side of caution when trying to decide if the fermentation has gone well or not. Hopefully, you never have to worry about a bad batch, and can simply ‘cheers’ your friends with a healthy and refreshing glass of homemade kombucha!