What Is A Kombucha SCOBY
So What is a kombucha SCOBY? The SCOBY serves as a home for the bacteria and yeasts that convert sweet tea into kombucha.
It’s a gelatinous structure that’s usually white (or whiteish) in color and thick and rubbery in appearance. While it can take on a lot of shapes, sizes, and colors, the SCOBY is what helps aid the fermentation process of kombucha. You can find it floating at the top of your brew!
This article explains what a kombucha SCOBY is and where you can get one to start brewing kombucha at home.
What Is a Kombucha SCOBY?
SCOBY is an acronym that stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”.
These bacteria and yeasts are what break down the sugars and substances in the tea leaves into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and other acids. Through this process, the SCOBY helps transform the original sweet tea you started with into kombucha, a beverage rich in probiotics.
With each batch of kombucha that you make, a “baby” SCOBY forms on the top of the liquid. You only need one original SCOBY to get started brewing kombucha because that SCOBY will quickly become many!
Think of sourdough bread, for example. People that make sourdough bread at home have a “mother dough” or “starter” that they use each time they make a loaf of bread. They mix a little of the starter with flour and water, and the good bacteria and yeasts that give sourdough its unique taste texture quickly reproduce in the entire loaf. The baker then adds more water and flour to the “mother” and lets these microorganisms reproduce as he/she waits to make another loaf in a few days. This process results in a never-ending supply of starter.
SCOBYs work in the same way. Add one to a batch of kombucha and it will produce another! The bacteria and yeasts are quick to reproduce!
What other names does the SCOBY have?
While SCOBY is the most common name among home brewers, you may also hear
- Mother Culture
- Kombucha Mushroom
- Kombucha Culture
*It’s important to note that scientifically speaking, “SCOBY” refers to all of the bacteria and yeasts in the batch, including those found in the starter liquid. You may find some people online that refer to the SCOBY as the “pellicle”, using the word “SCOBY” to refer to the starter liquid.
Starter liquid is kombucha that has undergone the first fermentation but has not been flavored. It helps acidify your batch to protect against mold and kick starts the fermentation process by providing more bacteria and yeasts.
For the sake of keeping our articles as helpful as possible, Make Booch follows the lingo that most homebrewers use… we always refer to the SCOBY and starter liquid separately. For us, the SCOBY is that alien-looking blob that tends to float on the top of your brew.
What does a healthy SCOBY look like?
Because SCOBYs are made up of living things, no two SCOBYs will look identical.
Some are smooth and perfectly white, while others are rough, bubbly, and tan in color. They can be thick, thin, wide, or narrow. It’s shape and color depend a lot on the size of the brewing vessel and what ingredients you use when brewing with it, such as the type of tea.
If your SCOBY has holes, craters, or yeasty bits on it, do not worry! These are all normal.
However, if you see fuzzy black, green, or blue spots, these may be signs of mold. Throw you SCOBY away immediately.
Do you really need a SCOBY?
We have successfully brewed kombucha without a SCOBY, along with many other homebrewers.
What’s most important is providing enough mature, starter liquid with all the microorganisms you need to get the fermentation started and the brew acidified as quickly as possible. If you choose to try brewing without a SCOBY, make sure to add more starter liquid than normal.
For the beginner, we highly recommend using a SCOBY. Without a SCOBY, it generally takes longer for the “baby” SCOBY to form at the top of the liquid. When this baby SCOBY forms, it acts as a seal, preventing air and other foreign, potentially bad bacteria from entering the brew. This is an important part of the brewing process.
If you want to have a higher chance of brewing kombucha without anything going wrong, use a SCOBY and starter liquid together.
There’s a reason that most homebrewers and commercial brewers alike use SCOBYs in their brewing process… it’s the tried and true method dating back since ancient times.
Where to Get a SCOBY?
Now that you know what a healthy, quality SCOBY is… where can you get one to start brewing at home? Here are three easy ways to obtain your first SCOBY.
Nowadays, you can buy almost anything online, including all the necessary equipment to make kombucha. There are several quality vendors selling SCOBYs. In order to start with the best SCOBY possible, we strongly recommend you purchase one that fits the following criteria:
- Organic: only organic ingredients (tea, sugar) were used to form the SCOBY
- Comes with at least 1.5 cups of strong, starter liquid
- Live and not dehydrated
- Vinegar was never used in any part of the process
- If the vendor suggests using vinegar as starter liquid, avoid buying from them. Just because vinegar is acidic does not mean it should be mixed with kombucha!
- Don’t worry too much about the size of the SCOBY
With the crazy amount of online SCOBY sellers, researching all of them and deciding on one to use as a beginner can be overwhelming.
If you want to avoid the headache, we highly recommend Fermentaholics’ Organic Kombucha SCOBY to brew your first 1-gallon batch of kombucha. It’s USDA Certified Organic and comes with 1.5 cups of strong starter tea, which is crucial for your first time brewing. Given the fair price and 1000+ positive reviews on Amazon, we think this is the best option for beginners.
2. Ask for a SCOBY from a friend who brews kombucha.
If you are lucky enough to know someone who brews kombucha nearby, reach out and ask them for a SCOBY and a little bit of starter liquid. Most homebrewers have plenty of SCOBYs (sometimes, too many!) on hand and shouldn’t mind giving you one.
If you get a SCOBY that doesn’t come with enough starter liquid (at least 1.5 cups), you can always use some store-bought kombucha. Just make sure the kombucha is raw, unpasteurized, and flavorless, meaning no fruits, herbs, or juices were added. We recommend using GT’s Original Kombucha, the first and most reputable kombucha brand in the United States. However, many other brands will work well too!
3. Grow your own SCOBY.
If you like experiments and have a lot of patience, this option is for you! Growing your own SCOBY takes at least 2 weeks, with the average being about a month. If you are itching to get started ASAP, we recommend either option #1 or #2 above.
If you are curious about doing everything from scratch, follow our guide to making a SCOBY.
So, what are you waiting for? Find a SCOBY and get started with our guide to the first fermentation of kombucha.