Can You Eat the Kombucha SCOBY?
Are you wondering whether or not it is a good idea to experiment with cooking with SCOBYs? In this post we take a look at if and how one can incorporate kombucha cultures into your diet, and why this can be a good idea.
Today we are going to talk about the controversial topic of eating SCOBYs!
The eating of SCOBYs is often listed under ‘What to do with extra SCOBYs’ as a good way to use up superfluous SCOBYs. While the adventurous kombucha makers who love their SCOBYs are keen to experiment, there are others who term the idea of eating SCOBYs as gross and ridiculous.
With a little bit of digging there appears that everyone has a point.
So Can You, or Can’t You, Eat SCOBYs?
Yes you can eat SCOBYs. They are perfectly edible – and actually very good for you. SCOBYs are safe to eat, and will not cause you any harm.
However, incorporating SCOBYs into recipes is not as simple as the perky ’10 Uses for Extra SCOBYs’ articles make out. SCOBYs are not a ready-to-eat type of food. If you have been having ideas about taking a bite out of one of your SCOBYs next time you make kombucha – rethink that one!
That said, if you know what to do, then it is definitely possible to make some tasty dishes using SCOBYs. What you make and how you go about it is what will make your SCOBY dish either edible or inedible.
Let’s start off by taking a look at what is in a SCOBY. If we are going to be eating some – then I am sure we would all like to know what we are ingesting.
What is In a SCOBY?
The body of the SCOBY, the white solid mass, is made mainly of cellulose. In this cellulose housing lives a concentration of bacteria and some yeasts.
Nutritional Benefits of the SCOBY
The cellulose housing of the SCOBY and its resident microbes have, like kombucha, a set of their own health benefits when ingested.
Health Benefits of Bacteria and Yeast in the SCOBY
The bacteria and yeasts which reside in the SCOBY are the same ones which give kombucha much of its health benefits. They are probiotic in nature, and it is thought that the SCOBY is the more concentrated source of the probiotic bacteria.
Health Benefits of the Cellulose of the SCOBY
The cellulose that makes up the structure of the SCOBY is a source of insoluble fibre. Insoluble fibre is a classified as a carbohydrate which is not taken up and converted to energy or fat by the body. Insoluble fibre has been shown by studies to assist the functioning of the digestive system, by in essence ‘cleaning it out’ the bowels. This ‘cleaning’ of the gut actively assists in maintaining a healthy gut and avoiding diseases like diverticulitis and IBS. There has also been links established between adequate fibre consumption and reduced risks of heart disease and cancer.
Why Would You Want to Eat a SCOBY?
Besides novelty, there are a few reasons why someone might want to eat some of their SCOBYs.
The Health Benefits
As listed above, SCOBYs come with their own set of health benefits. They are a concentrated source of the very probiotics you are probably after if you are making and drinking kombucha. They also provide a high amount of insoluble fibre from the cellulose structure of the culture. Insoluble fibre is severely lacking in most Western diets – so adding in a concentrated source into recipes is never a bad idea.
Vegan ‘Meat’ Option
Utilizing SCOBYs in cooking can be an attractive option for vegans. Described by some as ‘vegan calamari’, if cooked right SCOBYs can make a convenient meat alternative for some recipes for vegans.
On a side note, SCOBYs are gaining a little popularity as a ‘vegan leather’ option. Once dried they form a fairly attractive look alike to leather. In this video Suzanna Lee tells attendees at a Ted Talk about how she has developed a fashionable range of clothing out of bath sized sheets of SCOBY!
Low Calorie Content
The high cellulose content of the SCOBY makes it a low carb addition to recipes. This is because the insulable fibre is not taken up and converted by the body to energy or fat.
A Good Way to Use up Excess Cultures
And lastly of course, cooking with cultures is a good way to use up excess SCOBYs. SCOBYs multiply at a fair rate when healthy, and can overrun your kombucha system, even if you have a SCOBY hotel. There are of course other ways to use them up, but making tasty dishes out of them is perhaps one of the most enticing.
Reasons Why SCOBYs can Be Awful to Eat and What to DO
But before we get really hyped about eating and cooking with SCOBYs, there are some pitfalls.
SCOBYs can be really tough!
Yes, so incredibly tough in fact, that they can be impossible to eat. Literally impossible. Unless you want to get your jaw replaced. It is this event of toughness that often turns first time ‘eaters’ away. It does not matter how adventurous you are in the food department, if something is too tough to chew – then how are you going to eat it? These pioneers then assume that all of the posts telling us that SCOBYs are edible are complete rubbish, and dismiss the SCOBY eating phenomena as another internet spree of false information. I don’t blame them, because that is exactly how I felt the first time I tried a raw block of SCOBY!
What to Do: Choose the Right SCOBY
Fortunately not all SCOBYs are so terribly tough, and there is an easy solution. Simply select from your collection some of the youngest and freshest to try out in cooking. Not only are these more appealing to look at, but they will be far less tough than the older counterparts whose cellulose has fully strengthened.
Also, select cultures which are nice and thin. If none of the young ones are thin enough, simply pull or cut the top layer off of the newest culture. This layer will be the softest and freshest.
Not Everyone Likes the Taste of SCOBY
Lastly, not everyone likes the taste of SCOBY. Not even from a young ‘succulent’ one. Even young ones apt to be chewy, and they have a distinct tart flavor to them. This can be offputting if you were expecting something more savory or meat-like.
As with most things, SCOBY eating is a personal choice. : )
So, now that we have that cleared up, let’s get into some ways in which people have been cooking and eating SCOBYs.
Popular SCOBY Recipes
We have established that SCOBYs are safe to eat, what their health benefits are, and which ones to select to cook with. But how do people cook them? What do they use them for? While the age of cooking SCOBYs may have only begun, there have already been some interesting forays into cooking with cultures.
Here are some of the popular methods for cooking and working with SCOBYs to make them good enough to eat.
Smoothies are a great way to use up SCOBYs and incorporate them into one’s diet. Adding SCOBYs to smoothies is easy. Simply combine a medium amount of SCOBY with your normal smoothies ingredients, blend on high until smooth, and enjoy!
When making smoothies with SCOBYs, you do not have to worry about toughness or flavoring, as the SCOBY simply becomes part of your smoothie. It will probably add a tartness, which you can always balance out with a little extra honey.
Because smoothies are not cooked or heated, the SCOBY will retain all of its probiotics.
SCOBY sweets is a popular way to use SCOBYs in the kitchen. There are two main methods of doing this.
- Simmering up blocks of SCOBY in syrup or
- Coating raw blocks in sugar or syrup or honey and dehydrating them.
The first method is easy to do if you do not have a dehydrator, however it kills the probiotics in the SCOBY blocks. The second is also easy to do, but means that you need a dehydrator. Health wise it is the superior option, as the finished candy should still contain all of the probiotics. The second method also gives you more control over the amount of sugar.
Fruit Leather is another way to use SCOBYs to make a sweet snack. The basic method consists of blending up the SCOBY, fruit and sweetening together. Then smearing this out in a thin layer on parchment paper. This is then dehydrated or sundried. And once it is mostly dehydrated – you will have your self some probiotic fruit leather!
Stir fries are one of the ways in which people have cooked SCOBYs to form part of a savory dish. The key is to use young, tender and thin cultures. Dicing the culture finely can help to rescue chewiness. Simply add it in to a stir fry of your choice, fry with the other ingredients, and find out if you like it!
Soups is another dish where SCOBY can make a pleasant appearance. Kombucha Brooklyn made a miso soup containing SCOBY strips for travel channel’s Andrew Zimmen, who pronounced it as ‘delicious’.
Making jerky out of SCOBYs is another option when it comes to wanting to use up extra SCOBYs in the kitchen. The way most people do it is to cut up the SCOBY or SCOBYs into fine strips or cubes, coat them in a marinade and then dehydrate until the pieces reach the consistency of regular jerky.
Diced and Raw in Salads and Buddha Bowls
Lastly, SCOBYs can also be eaten as is, diced and raw in salad, wraps, buddha bowls etc. The important thing again is to select fresh young SCOBYs which will be tender, and dice them up thinly to avoid toughness.
Feeding SCOBYs to Animals
Animals are some of the SCOBYs biggest fans when it coming to eating them. A popular suggestion for using extra SCOBYs is making them into dog treats, usually by turning them into a sort of jerky. While some dogs do indeed love these treats, there are some more ways in which you can get SCOBYs into your animal’s diets, and it’s not only dogs who enjoy a nice bit of SCOBY!
Here are some of the different ways you can incorporate SCOBYs into your dog’s diet.
Dried Doggy Treats
As mentioned above, a popular way of giving SCOBYs to dogs is to make them into a variation of SCOBY jerky. For dogs you might want to leave out the spices and salt, and simply dehydrate widish strips for them to chew on. Not all dogs go for SCOBY jerky, but some just love it!
Another way to feed your dog SCOBYs is to blend or mince them and mix them into their dog food everyday. Most dogs seem to enjoy this.
Raw SCOBY Cubes
Some dogs like raw SCOBYs cut into cubes. Before drying or blending, try this option.
Most farm animals gobble up SCOBY bits. I have tried it on chickens, our pig, the horse donkey and goats. They go a bit crazy over them, so I think it is safe to say that the farm animals really enjoy SCOBY!
Health Benefits of SCOBYs for Animals
Although there have not been any studies done, pet owners have reported an improvement of their animal’s condition when fed SCOBYs, such as:
- Better digestion
- Shinier and healthier coats
- A reduction in skin problems such as mange
If you are familiar with the health benefits and importance associated with probiotics, then this make absolute sense.
Although SCOBY eating might not be for everyone, it is definitely possible to make tasty dishes and snacks out of SCOBYs. The key is to use young SCOBYs which are soft and not too tough to eat. By using thin layers and cutting the SCOBY up small, you can further avoid toughness.
Besides being a good way to utilize extra SCOBYs from your kombucha making, using SCOBYs as an ingredient in recipes is actually an exciting foray into harnessing the power of microbes to create sustainable food sources!
SCOBYs can form a healthy food ingredient, as they are packed with the same probiotics that are contained in kombucha. They are also a good source of fibre, and are low in calories. For vegans, SCOBYs can provide a novel kind of meat sustitute.
If you have tried out cooking with SCOBYs, or eating them in any way, let us know of you results in the comments! We would love to hear from you.
And if you have still to try out using SCOBYs in a recipe, good luck and may your results be tasty!