For lovers of the effervescent, sweet-tart flavor of kombucha, brewing a batch at home is an easy hobby that saves money; is a great way to reduce food waste and use extra tea, herbs and fruit for flavoring; and lets you avoid the packaging and plastics involved in purchasing premade kombuchas. Using a simple fermentation process, the traditional Manchurian drink is made with sugar, tea and a kombucha Scoby. An abbreviation for "Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast," the Scoby is also called a kombucha mother, starter or mushroom, looks like a slimy, thin pancake-like blob, and is used to "start" the fermentation process for kombucha. As long as it has sugar and yeast to feed on, the starter will continue to grow, adding new layers for every batch of kombucha brewed.
Like other foods that rely on a growing starter (such as sourdough), a kombucha-making hobby means you'll need to figure out what to do with the extra Scoby. There is a wide community devoted to the art of brewing kombucha, and just as many enthusiasts are looking for ways to keep the practice waste-free, using the starter to make everything from jerky and candy to garden fertilizer and vegan leather. It's even said to have healing properties, with microbial enzymes that help the skin repair itself when you cut, scrape or burn yourself. There are multiple cookbooks on making kombucha, including "The Big Book of Kombucha," which feature detailed information for making the drink from scratch and offer suggestions for kombucha Scoby uses.
Kombucha and a waste-free kitchen
Making the fizzy, fermented drink is a great addition to a waste-free kitchen. One of the main ingredients in the drink is tea, which, in both loose leaf and bagged forms, has a shelf life of between six to 12 months. Tea lovers stock their homes with many types of dried tea, and making kombucha is a great way to use it before the tea degrades in quality. In the later stages of the kombucha brewing process, you can add herbs, fruit, spices and other aromatics to flavor the kombucha further. This is another great way to use surplus food; frozen or dehydrated fruit and spices prepared during a heavy harvest can be great additions to the kombucha jar. To keep the process completely waste-free, use the suggestions below to make use of the extra Scoby as well.
What is a Scoby?
When looking at the slimy, alien-looking kombucha starter, you might wonder, "Can you actually eat a kombucha Scoby?" It might look strange, but yes, the kombucha starter is absolutely edible. The starter is a cellulose mat that houses bacteria and yeast cultures, the same bacteria and yeast that give kombucha much of its health benefits. The cellulose mat is a source of insoluble fiber, which studies have linked to gut health and improved digestion. It's also been suggested that the Scoby can help normalize blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
How to make a Scoby
To start brewing kombucha, you'll need to acquire a starter. There are three options: get a piece of Scoby from a friend, purchase one online or make it yourself. To make a kombucha starter, you'll need sugar, tea, water and some pre-made, unflavored kombucha, either a homemade batch from a friend or store bought. While kombucha can be made with a variety of teas, black tea is ideal for making the Scoby. You'll be fostering bacterial growth in this process, so it's very important to keep all utensils and equipment clean.
To make a Scoby, combine the tea and sugar with hot water to make a sweet tea, then cool to room temperature. Pour into a clean glass jar with premade kombucha, stirring to combine. Cover the top of the jar with tightly woven cloth (such as clean napkins or tea towels), coffee filters, or paper towels, securing it with a rubber band. Place at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, in an area where the jar won't get jostled or moved around. After a few days, bubbles will gather on the surface; these will collect into a film after a few more days, eventually forming a solid, opaque layer. Kept around 70°F, it will take about two weeks to grow a Scoby from scratch. While the liquid used to grow the kombucha starter will be too vinegary to drink on its own, you can use it to start your first batch of kombucha, or as a household cleaner.
How to use extra Scoby
Once you start brewing kombucha regularly, your Scoby will grow quickly. You can give some away to friends, and also create what's known as a Scoby hotel, longer-term storage for keeping extra starter for future use or for a break in your brewing schedule. If you still have too much, don't toss it in the trash. Instead, turn to these ideas to make the most of your Scoby.
One of the most popular ways to use extra kombucha starter is by making "jerky." Cut the Scoby into strips and toss in your favorite spices and flavorings. Use a dehydrator or place the Scoby strips on a parchment paper-lined sheet tray, cover with a cloth, and leave in an oven overnight with the pilot light on. Eat as jerky, or add to salads, trail mix or snack mix.
Another widely suggested use for the kombucha starter is incorporating it into smoothies. Add it to one of your favorite smoothie recipes to help thicken it, or blend it with fruit to create Scoby ice pops.
Scoby fruit leather
Blending the kombucha starter opens up a number of ways to use it. Make fruit leather by combining the puree with fruit and herbs or spices, then spreading it out on parchment paper or dehydrator sheets and drying it out until no longer sticky.
Scoby energy balls
Turn the extra starter into a snack by combining the Scoby puree with oats, nuts, dried fruit and nut butter, then scooping into balls. You can make many different iterations: date balls; "cookie dough;" or chocolate. These will keep in the fridge for several weeks, if you don't eat them all first.
If sweets are your jam, the kombucha starter can also be used to make chewy, probiotic gummies. There are several methods for making Scoby candy using sugar, honey or maple syrup.
For a savory application, use the Scoby in homemade sushi or ceviche. The kombucha starter has a similar texture to raw squid and can be used for sushi rolls or other seafood recipes. For sushi, omit the vinegar from the rice, as the Scoby is already quite tangy, and add crisp, fresh flavors such as cucumber and mint.
Scoby pet treats
Kombucha enthusiasts also suggest using the Scoby as a dog treat, either fresh or following a similar process as the jerky to make a dried pet snack. This dog lover suggests using a chicken bouillon cube to season the Scoby before drying it out.
Scoby in the garden
Thanks to the kombucha starter's concentration of probiotics, it is also a great addition to the garden, helping add nutrients and acidity to the soil. You can add it directly, whole or pureed, to your garden, placing it near the base of your plants, or add to the compost pile. Make sure to cover the Scoby completely with dirt, as it will attract animals and bugs.