How to grow a SCOBY

Making your own SCOBY is very easy. All you need for this is some unpasteurised kombucha without additives such as fruit or spices. Our Natural Beauty is perfectly suited for this. So you don't necessarily need a SCOBY to make your first kombucha yourself.

When we talk about a SCOBY, we mean the slippery mat that grows on top of the kombucha. SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. A collaboration between bacteria and yeast from which both benefit - in fact - are dependent on each other. You will not only find these microorganisms in the slippery mat, but also in the kombucha. That's why it's actually a bit strange that we only refer to the mat when we talk about the SCOBY.

How does a SCOBY grow?

A SCOBY grows naturally on your kombucha. This is ensured by the benign bacteria and yeasts that are naturally present in unpasteurised kombucha. It is, in fact, a by-product of the fermentation process. SCOBYs grow over the entire surface, in layers on top of each other.

A kombucha SCOBY forming on top of the sweet tea

What does a SCOBY look like?

A SCOBY looks like a slippery, light-colored mat. If you had never heard of kombucha you would think it came from a distant planet. If you use black tea, the SCOBY can also become a bit browner, this also depends on how much tea you use per litre. There's nothing wrong with this. If the top of your SCOBY has been floating on top of the kombucha for a while, dried out patches may appear. You can avoid this by occasionally pushing them below the surface. There is nothing wrong with these spots, but if you want to keep a SCOBY longer it is better to avoid it.

Sometimes SCOBYs are only 1mm thin, but they can also grow as thick as a thumb. If you allow several thick layers to grow on top of each other, it can take up a large part of your pot. There may also be long strings hanging from your SCOBY, which are strings of yeast. Nothing wrong with that at all - a healthy sign right!

What does a SCOBY do?

The SCOBY mat contains a lot of bacteria and yeast, which you need to make kombucha. You will also find a lot of these bacteria and yeasts in the kombucha liquid itself, which is why you do not necessarily need the SCOBY mat. At Untamed Kombucha we use about a 1cm thick SCOBY for a fresh batch of kombucha. It boosts the fermentation process. But the more SCOBY mat you have in your kombucha, the less room you have left for kombucha to drink.

Some of the bacteria in your kombucha need oxygen. You can see the SCOBY mat as a kind of connector between these bacteria and the oxygen. That is why it is not nice if the mat becomes too thick. Of course, without a SCOBY mat, there is still access to oxygen at the surface.

Can you make kombucha with just a SCOBY?

It is possible, but you have to be very careful with this. The most important thing when making kombucha is the acidity (pH). Your brew should be acidic enough that bad bacteria and mold cannot grow. With only a SCOBY mat, the pH can only be adjusted very slightly, because it naturally does not dissolve in your sweet tea. That is why it is always best to add kombucha liquid as well.

If you only have a SCOBY, but no liquid, start very small. Make enough sweet tea for your SCOBY to float around in. Leave it covered for 10 days, then measure how much kombucha liquid you have without counting the SCOBY. You can now add 9x as much sweet tea, and you can keep going until you reach your desired volume. So start with a brew of about 50mL, then 500mL and only then 5L. Read all about how to make kombucha in our other blog post.

Can you eat a SCOBY?

Yes, you can just eat SCOBYs. The mouthfeel can be a bit off, so we recommend drying it, baking it or using it in a smoothie. You get the same probiotics as when you drink kombucha. The mat is also largely cellulose, which plants are also made of.

How can you store a SCOBY?

Store your kombucha in plenty of kombucha. Always make sure the SCOBY has enough to float around. There will always be some evaporation, so when the liquid level drops a little, you can just add a little sweet tea. Your SCOBY is alive, so it needs food. By adding the sweet tea you kill two birds with one stone. As long as you do this once every two months, little can go wrong. If you completely forget about it, but there is still a little liquid left, your SCOBY can still be saved. Add some sweet tea again, let it sit for a week and see if another baby SCOBY grows. Carbon dioxide bubbles are also a sign of life.

A large glass jar with a tap. There's kombucha in here with a hefty SCOBY. There is a cloth over the pot.

How often can you use a SCOBY?

Or in other words, how long can you keep a kombucha mushroom? You can use a SCOBY forever. In practice, however, you will find that you will prefer the new SCOBYs that grow on top. As explained above, these are more beautiful, smoother and firmer. As long as you don't let the SCOBY dry out, nothing can go wrong with it.

What to do with an old SCOBY?

For example, you can make compost from an old SCOBY. As explained, the SCOBYs form in layers, and the bottom SCOBY is the oldest. Once they get really old, after a few months, you will see them lose their tight shape. They're going to fall apart and eventually it won't look appetising anymore. We never let it get to that point because we only use the young SCOBYs.

What else you can do with old SCOBYs:

  • Add in small amounts to a smoothie
  • Make kombucha jerky
  • Making dog treats
  • Create a variant for leather

Want to make your own SCOBY and kombucha now? Then order your Natural Beauty here. You can also find her in the Mix 'n Match Box together with the other flavours.