Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that has existed for thousands of years, and in recent years it’s become one of the health industry’s favorite new fads. Kombucha contains a variety of B vitamins and healthy bacteria, including probiotics similar to those found in yogurt.
You can buy kombucha in some health food stores or at certain restaurants, but it’s often most rewarding—and most affordable—to learn how to make kombucha yourself, starting with the scoby.
What is a Kombucha SCOBY?
The SCOBY is the most distinctive feature of kombucha, a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast that forms a rubbery disc at the top of the drink. It covers the surface of the drink to create a seal, allowing fermentation to happen in an air-free environment.
Since the SCOBY is used to create kombucha, it is frequently referred to as “The Mother”. A SCOBY will also often create a secondary culture or “baby” on top of itself during the brewing process. This secondary culture can be used to brew a separate batch of kombucha.
Properly cared for, a SCOBY can last for several years and spawn many generations of new SCOBYs.
Kombucha has many potential benefits, but there are also a few serious safety concerns that must be addressed, especially if you are making kombucha at home. Harmful bacteria and fungus can grow during the fermentation process if the kombucha is brewed at the wrong temperature, causing a variety of health problems. WebMD has even documented one instance where 20 people from Iran got anthrax poisoning after drinking kombucha tea.
The fermentation process can also cause an overgrowth of yeast, which can cause or aggravate yeast infections.
Kombucha can also aggravate a number of pre-existing medical conditions such as stomach ulcers, heartburn, or irritable bowel syndrome.
Most of these problems are created when kombucha is fermented improperly, but it is still a good idea to consult with your doctor before drinking any kind of kombucha tea.
One of the biggest reasons why kombucha can be dangerous is because some people who brew it at home don’t take the time to properly sterilize their equipment before and after brewing every batch.
All of your equipment should be carefully washed with a combination of distilled water and vinegar immediately before and after every brew. You can sterilize with rubbing alcohol, but this will affect how your kombucha tastes.
How to make your own Kombucha SCOBY
You can create your own kombucha SCOBY using the following process:
1. Purchase a Bottle of Raw Kombucha
You can find raw kombucha in many health stores or you can buy it online from manufacturers like GT’s or Tonica. No matter where you go, make sure the kombucha you buy is unpasteurized. Pasteurization kills many of the healthy bacteria in kombucha.
Optional: Add Tea
Make a single cup of black or green tea and add 1-2 tablespoons of sugar while the tea is still hot(most recipes call for white sugar but you can use brown sugar). Mix the sugar in until it dissolves completely. Let the water cool.
This step isn’t essential to successfully creating a SCOBY, but adding a cup of tea to the bottled kombucha gives the SCOBY more food for development and adds flavor.
2. Pour the Kombucha and Tea Into a Jar
Any glass jar will do, but you can also buy specialized kombucha brewing jars.
3. Cover the Jar
Use either a tight-weave dish towel or a paper coffee filter to cover the jar. Wrap a tight rubber band around it to secure the covering.
4. Ferment the Tea in a Warm Spot
During the fermentation process kombucha should be kept at a temperature between 65-85F. Make sure it is away from direct sunlight. Pay close attention to the temperature throughout the day, as too much heat will cause harmful bacteria to grow, potentially causing serious health problems.
5. Check on Your SCOBY Regularly
You should be able to see a baby SCOBY developing at the end of the first week of fermentation. It will first appear as a clear film or blob developing across the top of the kombucha, and over time it will grow thicker, whiter, and less translucent.
If you do not see any signs of SCOBY development within three weeks, throw the batch out and start over.
During this part of the process you should also pay attention to warning signs that your SCOBY is growing harmful bacteria; if you see mold or notice a rancid/unpleasant smell, throw out your SCOBY immediately and start over. Bubbles, gritty brown-colored residue, and jelly-like masses are all normally seen during the SCOBY growing process.
6. Start Brewing!
When your SCOBY is about ¼ inches thick, it’s time to make your first batch of kombucha tea. It may take up to 30 days of fermentation to reach this point.
If you are particularly concerned about safety you can purchase a kombucha starter culture instead. These cultures are made fresh to order and are generally safer to work with than homemade SCOBYs as they are made by professionals. You can still safely use babies created by starter SCOBY cultures.
If you take the time to do it right, creating your own SCOBY can be both a great way to save money on kombucha and a fun science experiment. Once your SCOBY is created, you can begin brewing and enjoying your own customized kombucha.