Is a SCOBY Alive? All of Your Questions, Answered

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Your SCOBY may not have feelings or hold conversations, but it is alive! A SCOBY is a live culture of microorganisms and yeast that actively ferments your sweet tea into a probiotic beverage. It consumes the sugars in your sweet tea, converts them to acids, and carbonates your brew.

What Is a SCOBY Made Of?

SCOBY is an acronym that stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. This colony of bacteria and yeast grows with each new batch of kombucha. A healthy SCOBY produces healthy kombucha.

Symbiotic means it works with your batch of kombucha to ferment correctly. The culture in the SCOBY gives probiotics and microorganisms to your sweet tea, creating a healthy tea. The SCOBY has good bacteria like Lactobacillus that transfer health benefits to your kombucha.

The yeast in the SCOBY is what makes it ferment. The yeast breaks down the sugar in your batch of tea and furthers the fermentation process.

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Healthy SCOBY

What Does a SCOBY Do?

The SCOBY ferments your brew and turns it from ordinary sweet tea into a fermented tea full of organisms that help your gut and immune system.

The bacteria and yeast in your SCOBY eat the sugar in your sweet tea. They turn the sugar into beneficial acids, carbon dioxide, and a small amount of alcohol.

How Do You Know if Your SCOBY Is Functioning Properly?

SCOBYs change how your batch of tea looks, smells, and tastes. During the fermentation process, kombucha brewers should make sure they notice the following changes in their brew:

How it looks:

  • The SCOBY grows yeast strands that hang into your new batch of kombucha. Don’t clean them off. They provide beneficial fermentation properties.
  • The SCOBY gets thicker with each brew. After many batches of kombucha, you can peel your SCOBY apart, so it’s not as thick or as potent.
  • You’ll notice ‘bits of stuff’ in the bottom of your brewing jar. These bits are part of a new SCOBY growing in your brew. Don’t be afraid of them! They mean your SCOBY is functioning well.
  • Your batch of kombucha will get lighter. As the SCOBY ferments your kombucha, it consumes the sugars and tannins in the tea. This causes your sweetened tea to become lighter in color.

How it smells:

  • Your kombucha tea will stop smelling sweet and will smell sour or vinegary. You can test the pH after a week or ten days to ensure it’s on target between 3.2 and 2.5. However, you should still be able to see, smell, and taste changes. Don’t use pH as the only indicator that your SCOBY is functioning correctly.

How it tastes:

  • Taste your brew after five days and decide when you enjoy the taste. Once you do, move on to the second fermentation! Then start your next batch of kombucha.
  • After 7-10 days, your kombucha tea should taste less sweet. It should begin to taste sour or have a ‘bite.’

What Is the Lifespan of a SCOBY?

SCOBYs last for years! Reuse your SCOBY for many batches of kombucha. Each batch of tea grows a new SCOBY on the top during the first fermentation process. This SCOBY is called the pellicle. The pellicle is mainly composed of cellulose and bacteria found in the kombucha culture. The mother SCOBY, or the mature SCOBY, is what you use to start your next batch of kombucha.

Combine your baby SCOBY and mother SCOBY in your brew, or use the freshest SCOBY when starting a new batch. Don’t discard your old SCOBYs. Instead, set up a SCOBY hotel to brew extra-strong starter tea or make kombucha vinegar.

How Many Times Can You Reuse a SCOBY?

You can reuse a SCOBY many times.

As SCOBYs mature, they accumulate more yeast and microorganisms and brew even better kombucha. Some homebrewers use their SCOBY for six to nine months before switching to a new one. As your SCOBY matures, it will darken in color and become firmer. Once you have a few new kombucha SCOBYS, you might prefer to use them and set your older SCOBYs aside.

Mature SCOBYs speed up the kombucha fermentation process. The more you use your SCOBY, the faster your first fermentation process will go. If your kombucha gets too strong for your liking, switch out your mature SCOBY for a new one.

5 Signs Your SCOBY Is Dead

Kombucha fermentation is a science, and occasionally the fermentation process doesn’t work as it should. Ensure you use quality ingredients and a clean glass jar each time. Keep your brew comfortable at room temperature.

If you notice any of these signs, your SCOBY is dead or dying, and it’s time to get a new one.

  1. Your SCOBY has moldy spots. Black, green, white, or gray spots are signs of mold and decay. These spots usually appear on the top of the SCOBY where it has contact with air. The SCOBY is not safe to use.
  2. Your SCOBY is black. A black SCOBY is a dead SCOBY. Perhaps your brew temperature was too warm, or you added hot tea to your SCOBY. If your SCOBY is black, your brew isn’t safe.
  3. Your brew smells weird. Kombucha should smell sweet and sour. If it takes on an odor you are not used to, chances are your SCOBY is not fermenting correctly.
  4. Your SCOBY isn’t growing. SCOBYs should get thicker with each batch of kombucha. If your SCOBY looks the same as it did a few batches ago, it may be dying.
  5. Your pH is too low or too high. A pH below 2 or above 7 indicates your kombucha isn’t fermenting correctly.
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Check your kombucha often while it is fermenting to maintain a healthy SCOBY. Take note of what your healthy SCOBY looks like so it’s easier to detect a problem.

Can You Bring a SCOBY Back to Life?

You can bring your kombucha back to life if you’ve purposely put it on hold.

If you need to take a break from brewing, store your kombucha SCOBY in the fridge in a sealed container for up to six months without feeding it. You can also store it at room temperature in a glass jar covered with a rubber band for about the same time frame. Add fresh sweet tea every two weeks.

If you forgot about your kombucha for months and didn’t feed it any new sweet tea, your SCOBY is likely dead and will not come back to life. SCOBYs can last a long time but need fresh starter liquids occasionally. If it’s been several months since you last attended your SCOBY, it has likely eaten up all the sugars in your brew. Without anything to consume, it will die.

Sarah Pearce

Sarah first tried kombucha in 2015 and she was hooked. Her favorite flavor is ginger, but cranberry comes in a close second. She made her own for many years and loved experimenting with fruit flavors.

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