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What Is a SCOBY? Plus, How to Use It to Make Kombucha

What is a SCOBY? Here's what you need to know about the kombucha essential—from ingredient details to how to grow your own.

what is a scoby
Written by
Samantha Bailon
Whether you’re a
kombucha fanatic
or simply an observer of the beverage trend’s ever-growing popularity, the fermented drink has likely made an impression.
Featuring a tangy taste that toes the line between sweet and sour, kombucha is all about the power of fermentation, and all because of the most important ingredient: the SCOBY. But what is a SCOBY, and how does it help create the probiotic-packed drink?

What Is a SCOBY?

what is a scoby
Let’s get this out of the way: the concept of a SCOBY is less than appealing. An acronym for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, a SCOBY is a slimy, flat disc used to ferment sugared tea into kombucha. The funky-looking layer does this by breaking down the sugars and converting them into acids—including
aminos, vitamins, and enzymes
—and alcohol and creating the bubbly beverage we all know and love. 
According to a
by the CyTA Journal of Food on the health benefits of kombucha, the SCOBY encourages the growth of additional membranes, expanding to fit its container and working to keep the microorganisms on the surface, allowing enough oxygen for its development and protecting the microorganisms from unwanted UV rays.

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Even better? Your SCOBY is reusable. Once mature and healthy, you can reuse (and gift portions of) your SCOBY until it turns dark brown—about six months to a year.

Where Can You Get a SCOBY?

what is a scoby
While growing your own SCOBY is an easy and entirely possible process, buying an organic SCOBY or borrowing one from a fellow brewer are also viable means of coming by the crucial kombucha element.
If you opt to go the borrowing route, know that the SCOBY does grow with each batch of kombucha—after you brew yours, you can simply slice off the topmost section (about one inch) and return the remainder of the original to your friend! Growing a SCOBY requires raw kombucha, so borrowing or buying one for your initial batch may be the best option. 

How Do You Grow a SCOBY?

Julius Fielder
is all about plant-based recipes. Here, he schools followers on the best way to grow a SCOBY. Follow the instructions below and you'll soon have one of your own—and plenty of glasses of kombucha to follow.
6 1/4 cups filtered water
1/2 cup organic raw granulated sugar
1 Tbsp (4 bags) black tea of your choice
1 cup raw, unpasteurised kombucha
1. Bring water to a boil. 
2. Remove from heat and add tea and sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
3. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
4. Cover a large glass jar with cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Once the mixture has cooled, strain into the jar.
5. Add raw kombucha and stir.
6. Let the jar sit for 3-4 weeks.
7. Once water is cool, strain into a jar and then add raw kombucha. 
8. After 1-2 weeks, a layer will begin to form. Submerge the layer with liquid to avoid fungal growth.
9. After around a month, your SCOBY will be ready for use! Use the below recipe to make your own kombucha.
10. When not in use, refrigerate in a sealed glass container—or lend to a friend!

How to Use a SCOBY to Make Kombucha

Dr. Halie Schoff
shares her favorite recipe for healthy at-home kombucha—the best means of getting the beneficial probiotics without excess sugar!
12 cups filtered water
6 tea bags of your choice (black or green)
1 cup organic raw granulated sugar
Fruit and herbs of choice
1. Obtain your SCOBY, making it yourself using the instructions above or getting one from a friend.
2. Brew your tea.
3. Add organic granulated raw sugar and mix until dissolved. Transfer to a (clean and sanitized!) glass brewing pitcher.
4. Add SCOBY and cover with a breathable cloth. Store in a warm dark space for 7-14 days. (The longer you brew, the less sweet your kombucha will be.)
5. After the first brewing process, remove the SCOBY and store.
6. During the second brewing process (day 14-21) the kombucha will begin to get fizzy. Add fruits and herbs of choice for flavor during this phase.
7. Remove the fruit and herbs and sip away!