Kombucha 101: What Is SCOBY?
If you know anything about fermentation and kombucha, you’ve probably heard of SCOBY. Did you ever wonder what it is, exactly? We want to demystify SCOBY and make sure you have all of the facts.
SCOBY is an acronym that stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” Let’s break that down a bit.
First, “symbiotic” means “an interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association.”
Second, “culture” is defined as “the act or practice of cultivating living material (such as bacteria or viruses) in prepared nutrient media.”
And lastly, “bacteria and yeast.” We all know what those are. When it comes to kombucha brewing, bacteria and yeast are the wonder ingredients no kombucha can live without.
Let’s put all of that together into something that makes more sense. When certain bacteria and yeast are put together and cultivated in the right environment, you get SCOBY. It’s a living culture that grows and evolves, consuming sugar as its fuel.
When kombucha is brewed, it begins with tea leaves and water, just like you brew tea at home. Add the right amount of sugar, bacteria and yeast, and leave the culture in the just-right environment. Wa-la. Fermentation begins.
What Does SCOBY Look Like?
If you look into any raw kombucha bottle, you’ll likely find “stuff” floating in it. This is small amounts of SCOBY and shows your kombucha is alive with active cultures. It’s perfectly safe to drink and is one of the unique characteristics of kombucha.
During fermentation, SCOBY is a bit more obvious. As the fermentation process progresses, SCOBY forms into a thick, rubbery, jelly-like and cloudy mass that smells like vinegar. It may look and smell strange, but it’s actually a good sign that the kombucha is fermenting exactly the way it should.
What Does SCOBY Do?
According to Healthline, “The bacteria and yeast in the SCOBY break down the tea’s sugars and convert them into alcohol, carbon dioxide and acids.” This is precisely what gives kombucha the tangy, fizzy taste that so many people love.
The rubbery, mushroom cap-looking SCOBY is removed before kombucha is bottled and consumed, but traces still remain in the bottle. Interestingly, SCOBY can be reused as a starter for the next batch of kombucha. It continues to grow with each new batch of kombucha and can be safely divided to share the love.
The SCOBY has another purpose, too. One study found the membrane “keeps the microorganisms on the surface, allowing enough oxygen availability for its development and protecting the microorganisms from UV rays.” SCOBY is a protector of the kombucha. Thank you, SCOBY!