SCOBY is an acronym for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, but is also lovingly known as a mother or mushroom. SCOBY’s are the cultures responsible for turning sweet tea into a vat of good-for-you substances – labeled as kombucha. Want to know more about kombucha? Consume my Champagne of Life post, among other great sources. SCOBY really looks like a pancake with a fleshy feel and density. She doesn’t smell and works by digesting the sugar into chemicals (organic acids to be exact) such as glucuronic, gluconic, lactic, acetic, butyric, malic and usnic acid (haven’t heard of most of them); creating vitamins, particularly vitamins B & C; as well as some assorted amino acids, enzymes and of course, the SCOBY itself is a probiotic organism, a living zoogleal mat.
I do sometimes feel like my cheeks are a bit numb when drinking a kom-brew-cha, and at one point thought maybe, like beer and spirits, the fermentation yielded varying alcohol content. While there may be a very low percentage (so it is ok to consume at work), the bacteria actually consume most of the alcohol generated by the yeast. Symbiosis in action! Sort of like how your husband or other voracious eaters, plan their entrees around yours (or tries to influence you). You can also see the SCOBY regenerating herself – there is often some “sloughing” that, while it looks grodie, is fine, normal and expected (you can see the dark spot in most the SCOBY photos). Don’t freak. I would start to worry and abandon ship if it started to smell or get fuzzy mold looking stuff on it. I don’t think there are best practices for handling but I try to not touch with my hands (would potentially introduce new yeast or bacteria) and use chop sticks or tongs to transport instead.
Can you grow your own? Sure, I seem to generate mini-ones in each of my bottles, in addition to the new one that forms in the big jar with each batch. However, it is harder than you think, and store bought kombucha is lacking the magic oompff necessary. Here is a great site with an informed author for “growing your own”: http://www.foodrenegade.com/how-to-grow-a-kombucha-scoby/ . I would rather share my SCOBY, since there is a new one with each batch, to those in need and apparently can send them near and far. When I am not using the SCOBY it lives in the fridge in labeled jar with about 1 ½ to 2 cups reserved kombucha. The label is to ward off any fridge purgers. I recently popped one in the mail to Montana and it arrived without incident. I did add some fresh tea and triple wrapped it Ziploc bags and made sure that the recipient would be around to receive so it didn’t bake or freeze on some door step. You can also just leave the SCOBY to grow thicker with each batch, but I would expect more sloughing. I also found in a recent go around that it brewed much faster than with previous SCOBYs. Due in part to size, age (not brand new out of the mail) and ambient temperature (warming up). Just something to keep in mind for timing of your batches and to determine how fast you need to drink it!
If you want to give kombucha home brewing a try – just let me know. I have a never ending supply of SCOBYs and am happy to mail them off to you.