This week, I made my first batch of kombucha thanks to a friend who gave me her homegrown SCOBY.
SCOBY stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. Basically, it’s a gelatinous mass of bacteria and yeast that produce a palatable sour taste. Essentially, the colony converts ethanol alcohol into acetic acid, the same process and acid we find in natural vinegars. The SCOBY is like the mother of vinegar.
Kombucha and other fermented drinks and food are on the rise for a couple of reasons. One, there’s a growth in anecdotal evidence in the new science around gut flora.
Considering we have more foreign organisms by weight in our bodies than our own cells, assisting the symbiotic organisms in our own body may help it work better.
Studies are ongoing about the benefits of consuming probiotics, but we know that transplants into the gut have helped rodents and people defeat obesity and gut illnesses. We know that people who have an imbalance of brewers yeast in their gut can get drunk just by eating carbs.
We know that the gut produces the majority of hormones like seratonin and dopamine that affect mood. We know that there’s some sort of connection between gut health and inflammation.
The addition of acid may improve the environment for probiotics to operate in the gut. Of course, I’m no doctor or scientist, so take all of this anecdotal evidence with a large grain of salt.
Secondly, fermentation releases a lot of bioavailable nutrients. Yeast are high in vitamin B, for instance.
Thirdly, people are looking for flavourful, carbonated drinks that aren’t full of calories and refined sugars that can spike hormones like insulin.
I’m very familiar with the smell of kombucha fermenting since I inadvertently made apple cider vinegar once by leaving my cider unsealed for too long, allowing organisms in the environment to convert the alcohol into vinegar.
- A pot that holds 3L of water
- 2L worth of glass containers (enough containers for the amount of SCOBYs you have – I use 2 containers in this case)
- A container covering material (i.e. paper towels, coffee filters) with rubber bands to hold it tight on the container
- 2L worth of bottling containers (i.e. mason jars, bottles with reuseable lids, or beer bottles if you have a bottle capper)
- SCOBY (one per jar)
- 2L of water
- 1 cups of kombucha
- 1/2 cup of regular refined sugar
- 3-5 tea bags or the equivalent loose leaf tea
Recipe (for 1/2 gallon or 2L of kombucha)
- Brewing your tea: This step is a lot like home brewing. Boil about 2L of hot water, pour a 1/2 cup of sugar and add tea bags.
- Turn off the heat and allow to cool. Like with brewing, you can speed up the cooling with a cold water bath around the pot. Remove the tea bags or leaves
- Add kombucha and the SCOBY to the cooled liquids. The addition of kombucha will acidify the environment and prevent other yeast and bacteria from outcompeting the SCOBY.
- Ferment for 7-14 days at room temperature.
- A new SCOBY will form at the surface. Periodically taste from the 7 day onwards until it tastes right for you since the sourness will increase as more acetic acid is generated.
- Prepare another batch of cold, sweet tea. Replicate process above.
- Bottle the fermented kombucha and leave at room temperature for a day or two. Pop the bottle kombucha in the fridge to limit further fermentation.
Storing your SCOBY for later use: Put a covered sweet tea in the fridge with your SCOBY for storage of a month or two.
Kombucha should smell vinegary. If it smells bad, brew another tea. If the SCOBY becomes moldy and looses its flesh colour (turning black and/or green), discard the SCOBY too and start again.
When the SCOBY becomes larger from multiple batches, peel off a layer and use it for another batch.
Cleanliness: like brewing, you want your good yeast/bacteria to ferment your brew and limit the rogue yeast/bacteria from colonizing your kombucha. Clean all equipment thoroughly. If you have chlorine for brewing, use that on plastic and glass. Heat metal objects (chlorine corrodes metal).
Keep the kombucha out of direct sunlight.
Making a SCOBY
It’s essentially the same process as making the kombucha itself.
- Get an unfiltered, unpasterized kombucha from the store. This will contain the essence of a SCOBY.
- Cut the recipe above in half.
- Observe the fermentation and formation of the SCOBY: first you’ll see carbonation bubbles like you’d see when brewing beer.
- Next, the surface will develop a film, the first signs of your SCOBY forming. The film will turn into a fully-formed SCOBY ready for kombucha-making.
- The SCOBY will become more uniform in shape and shade over multiple kombucha brews.