Should I strain my kombucha?
And how to prevent baby SCOBYs in bottles
Should I strain or should I gulp?
Long story short: It’s totally up to you!
What are baby SCOBYs?
During second fermentation, depending on what you use
to flavor your kombucha, you might find that a “baby
SCOBY” or some pulpy, globby bits form in the bottle as
the yeast digests the sugars in your fruit and your kombucha
continues to ferment.
This is completely normal and a sign that your fermentation
process is going well! But since they can take different forms, you may want to strain them out to make the drink more
palatable. Sometimes, they can be chewy or mucus-y (for lack of a better term). And sometimes, it just looks like fruit pulp or sediment. In any case, it’s all edible, and it will taste pretty much exactly like the kombucha that it’s surrounded by. I honestly just gulp them down!
But some people may find the texture to be unappealing. And when you’re serving you homebrewed kombucha to guests or people unfamiliar with kombucha, it’s usually best to err on the “conservative” side and strain it. It’s totally up to your personal preference. I like to use a simple stainless steel mesh strainer that fits over my glasses.
But what if I want to prevent baby SCOBYs or pulpy bits from forming in my bottles?
Since SCOBYs are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, it’s hard to completely stop them from forming. If you really can’t stand the little baby SCOBYs, and straining them isn’t a good fix for you, I recommend using store-bought bottled fruit juice. You’re less likely to produce a large baby SCOBY in the bottle the more processed your fruit flavorings are. So that means: pulp-free, shelf-stable, pasteurized, from concentrate, etc. Because those juices are more “refined” than freshly pressed or pureed fruit, there aren’t as many fruit particles for your yeasts to congregate around to form larger SCOBY formations.
But, a potential downside is that I’ve found pasteurized/store-bought/shelf-stable fruit juices sometimes take a little longer to F2, but it makes for a clearer brew with less fruit pulp and a smaller baby SCOBY in the bottle. And depending on the brand of juice you use, their processing methods may result in a kombucha that has funky or off-flavors. It may also stop your kombucha from getting fizzy altogether. So I tend to prefer fresh fruit to flavor my brews, but store-bought is definitely option for you. You’ll just have to experiment with different flavorings and amounts.
But how do store-bought kombucha bottles stop them from forming?
I believe that a lot of commercial kombucha brewers use yeast inhibitors, pasteurize or use some other method to unnaturally stop yeast production and fermentation in the bottle. The bottle may say “raw” and “natural” but the FDA doesn’t really regulate that, so take those labels with a grain of salt.
Your homemade kombucha won’t be pasteurized (I’m assuming!). It’s a real, raw, living product. And SCOBY growth is part of that. Without it, your kombucha wouldn’t be kombucha!
Is there anything I can do aside from drink or discard them?
You can compost them, and I know some homebrewers like to feed them to their pets (just be sure you’re not flavoring with anything harmful to your pets to begin with!).
You can’t really save or re-use your baby SCOBYs to make future batches of kombucha or anything like that, because they’ve already been flavored with fruit (and because they’re too small to be effective for brewing more kombucha anyhow).