Whether or not you strain your kombucha is up to you! The pulpy bits floating amidst your kombucha are completely safe and do not taste particularly different from the drink they reside in.
Still, many people dislike their gooey texture and even more find strained kombucha to be aesthetically pleasing with the floating globs.
Once your kombucha is pulp-free, you have opened up new opportunities for yourself. The new leftover pulp, or SCOBY, can be used in a large variety of projects from cooking to skin care, crafting, and composting!
In addition to making your kombucha more aesthetically pleasing and easier to gulp down, straining your kombucha allows you to either work on new kombucha right away or begin an entirely new project with your new ingredient.
Why You Should
The pulpy globs in some kombuchas, depending on the flavor and what fruits and other ingredients were used to create it, are known as baby SCOBYs, or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. They are created as yeast digests the sugar from the fruit in your kombucha throughout the fermentation process.
While it is normal for SCOBYs to form and they are entirely safe to eat and taste just like your kombucha, some may find their chewy texture off-putting. This is where straining comes in!
In more depth, a SCOBY is a cellulose mat where bacteria and yeast cultures are necessary to make kombucha from sweet tea. It is an integral part of your fermentation process. SCOBYs grow on the surface of your kombucha liquid, conforming to the shape of the bottle so they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors though they tend to be light tan and darken over time (see images here).
SCOBYs are similar to the sourdough starters used in the beginning process of baking sourdough bread but for kombucha it serves as a layer between air and liquid that keep your drink safe from bacteria while encouraging carbonation. SCOBYs in kombucha specifically go by a variety of names:
- The kombucha culture
- The mother culture
- The mother
- The pellicle
- The pancake
- The mushroom
The main SCOBY mat on top of your kombucha liquid, or the mother, will duplicate, creating a child. The duplicate layer of SCOBY may or may not detach. Whether or not it remains attached does not say anything about the state of your kombucha or the health of your SCOBY.
Straining SCOBYs and other kombucha fruit and yeast particles has multiple benefits. Straining decreases the volatility of the brew and can reduce yeast, increase consistency, and improve the taste if strained before the second ferment.
If you are brewing kombucha for others, particularly if you are unfamiliar with or dislike kombucha, you should probably strain your drink to avoid ruining the batch for anyone with pulp.
Straining your kombucha drink will make the drink generally more palatable and make it easier to stomach for someone who has never tasted it before or is sensitive to different textures.
Strained kombucha is also a great way to introduce people to kombucha or convince haters to give it another try.
Plus, most people tend to dislike pulp in other fruit juices so given how easy the process is, you may as well strain your kombucha unless you specifically enjoy the feel of SCOBYs.
How to Strain
There are many different ways to strain your kombucha depending on your space, drink, and materials. Here are some of the tried and true methods for straining your kombucha:
- Before the Second Ferment: A large household sieve can be used, potentially in conjunction with a mesh cloth. Large sieves are specifically fit for the second fermentation stage of brewing kombucha because the device only allows for straining into a large bowl. Pouring your kombucha into a bowl before you bottle it will result in carbonation lost.
- Before You Bottle: You can place a coffee filter over the bottles you are using and strain the kombucha directly into those. This method occasionally requires two people when the filter does not fit snugly over the bottle. It is also best suited for smaller batches.
- Large Batches: With larger batches, a large funnel with a wide piece of mesh cloth is great for straining your kombucha into any containers. The narrow base of a funnel allows you to strain kombucha into practically any container so this method can be used both during the second fermentation and/or before bottling without any carbonation lost!
Alternatives to Straining
If for whatever reason you are unable to strain your kombucha, there are ways to minimize the creation of baby SCOBYs throughout the fermentation process. However, SCOBYs are a sign of a healthy fermentation so it is hard to prevent them entirely.
The easiest way to cut back on SCOBYs is to use bottled fruit juice as it is more refined and pulp-free. Your kombucha will be clearer and have less baby SCOBY.
The downside is that store-bought fruit juice can potentially impact your kombucha in the following ways:
- It causes the kombucha’s second fermentation to take longer
- It may cause odd flavors
- It may keep the kombucha from fizzing
Kombucha that is store-bought is free of pulp and SCOBYs because larger brewers use yeast inhibitors or pasteurize their drinks. Commercial kombucha sellers have unnatural ways of creating their products without pulp.
What to Do with SCOBYs
There are a variety of things that you can do with the SCOBYs you created through kombucha and harvested with straining:
- It’s edible! It does not necessarily have any nutritional values but the rubbery globs can be made into a variety of recipes such as fruit leather, gummies, jerky, parfaits, candies, jello, soups, dog treats, dressings, vinaigrettes, and smoothies. The recipes typically have a fruit theme given the taste of SCOBYs and vary in their difficulty, cook time, and the number of other ingredients needed.
- The easiest way to repurpose SCOBY is simply by composting it. Plants absolutely love the vitamin B in SCOBY so it will improve your garden too, encouraging stronger and faster growth among your plants. It is basically a free fertilizer but can also simply be buried in your backyard or added to your compost if you do not have any plants that would benefit.
- Since SCOBYs are an integral part of making kombucha, you can give yours to others who brew. There are two main ways of transporting a SCOBY. Whether you are gifting it or just traveling with it, just remember to keep temperatures moderate. The first way is just with a baggie or two, although SCOBYs cannot be in contact with plastic for more than about a day. The second method is by using a glass jar with a lid, such as a mason jar, as your SCOBY will not suffocate.
- It can be used in your future brewing, especially for experimental flavors that you may be unsure about.
- SCOBYs can be used to make skincare products such as face masks, body scrub, toner, and soap. While you can add other ingredients such as kombucha liquid, honey, orange blossom water, rose water, activated charcoal, green tea, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and/or coffee grounds, SCOBY all by itself works as a face mask! For a scrub, you just have to add a high ratio of sugar or coffee grounds with coconut oil or cocoa butter. Toner can be made with unflavored kombucha or SCOBYs, rose water or orange blossom water, and a small spray bottle. It is a great idea to keep the toner in the fridge to keep it extra refreshing.
- Some say that you can feed them to pets such as dogs, chickens, goats, and horses as long as you have not used any dangerous flavorings with it. You can also bake dog food and dog treats using SCOBY, as mentioned earlier. SCOBY treats can provide probiotics and vitamin B, and all it takes is SCOBY and chicken base.
- Dried SCOBY can be used as a chew toy for dogs. It is also really easy. Just dry out an old SCOBY and smear some peanut butter on it. Your dog will go crazy. The chew toy is entirely safe to eat and is actually beneficial for your dog to ingest. It is a fun play toy and a very nutritious snack all in one!
- Baby SCOBYs and leftover kombucha can also be beneficial for your pets’ skin! It can be made into a flea and tick spray that decreases irritation for your furry friend while fighting against any new bugs. The spray can also be used for any hot spots or areas where the skin is irritated that your pet may have whether it be from shedding, biting, or anything else.
- Perhaps the hardest, SCOBY can be made into faux leather and turned into fashion items such as wallets and purses.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.