Kombucha SCOBYs vs. Mothers of Vinegar (MOV)
Are Kombucha SCOBYs and Mothers of Vinegar The Same?
Kombucha SCOBYs and Mothers of Vinegar (MOV) are quite similar, but not entirely the same. While both of them are cultures, look extremely alike, and cause the process of fermentation to take place, the microbial makeup of the two different cultures is different. Though the microbes in both SCOBYs and MOVs build cellulose houses to live and breed in, the composition of these are different.
What The Difference is
Read our full article on the differences (and similarities) between Vinegar and Kombucha for more detailed information.
Here is a Vinegar MOV
Here is a Kombucha Scoby
They look pretty similar, yes.
But there are some big differences between the two.
Kombucha SCOBY cultures contain a balance of yeasts and bacteria. MOV cultures contain bacteria, but no yeasts. This is why there is usually a certain level of carbonation present within kombucha tea, and never any in vinegar. The yeasts are responsible for the carbonation, therefore because MOVs do not contain yeasts, vinegar has no carbonation.
SCOBY cultures and MOV cultures share some common bacteria. These bacteria produce acetic acid, which is present within kombucha and vinegar. Both however also contain bacteria which the other does not. Bacteria are the ones who are responsible for cellulose house building. That is why MOVs have the same structure as kombucha SCOBYs, even though MOVs do not contain yeasts.
SCOBY/MOV Cross… Ferment Frankenstein. Just Kidding
Have you ever wondered why kombucha making directions always tell you that if you are going to use diluted vinegar for starter liquid, you must use spirit vinegar? This is because spirit vinegar (also called White Vinegar or Distilled Vinegar — the type of vinegar you likely have in your food cabinet) is not made through a fermentation process, it is merely acetic acid added to water.
In kombucha making this is a plus, as unlike natural vinegar which has been through a fermentation process, spirit vinegar does not contain any of the beneficial bacteria within in it (this is what makes fermented vinegar like apple cider vinegar a health food). The reason that this is considered a good thing is that it means you are not introducing vinegar bacteria into your kombucha. If these bacteria are added, they will probably integrate themselves with the other bacteria and yeasts within the SCOBY, and you will end up with a sort of a cross between the two cultures.
What to Do if You Have Already Used Natural Vinegar as Starter
If you have already used natural vinegar which has been produced through fermentation, then it is likely that some of the MOV bacteria species have taken up residence in your kombucha SCOBY.
Note that ‘White Vinegar’ or ‘Distilled Vinegar’ is NOT Natural Vinegar. If you add in white vinegar to your Kombucha as a replacement started liquid, this is fine as you are not introducing in any vinegar bacteria. If you use something like Apple Cider Vinegar as starter, then you are adding in vinegar bacteria into your kombucha.
There are varying opinions on this scenario, but for all intents and purposes it does not seem to be a disaster. People have done this and continued to brew with the SCOBY and its babies long afterwards. The bacteria in MOVs are definitely not harmful to you, as they are what make fermented natural vinegar so beneficial. The thing to watch out for is if they affect the SCOBY health in any way, and/or influence the taste of your kombucha to something you do not like.
In the event that you have included natural vinegar in one of your batches as a substitute for starter liquid, continue with your brewing. Keep tabs on the health of your SCOBY, and of course analyse if the taste has changed at all, and if so, decide whether you still like it. If you want to know more about what a healthy SCOBY looks like, check out What Does A Healthy Kombucha SCOBY Look Like?
Can You Mix Natural Vinegar Bacteria and Kombucha for a Fermentation Frankenstein
Actually, yes you can. As in the last section, adding in natural vinegar as the starter OR directly pouring in raw, unpasteurized natural vinegar into your brewing kombucha will do the trick.
And yes, there may be some arguments for mixing in natural vinegar as a started for Kombucha, to get the additional benefits of vinegar bacteria into your Kombucha drink. You might think say combine Apple Cider Vinegar starter and Kombucha and get )some of) the benefits of apple cider vinegar in your Kombucha.
This is very experimental, however. But it can be done.
You may get additional benefits out of your Kombucha if you do this. But you may also get additional flavors in your kombucha — and you may not like those flavors, since this new bacteria may throw off the flavor profile you are used to. Kombucha does contain quite a few different bacterial colonies between different brews and between different scobies. So adding in a new (friendly to humans) bacterial colony won’t do anything bad to you.
Tests done on different batches of kombucha, in different areas and parts of the world, show up the fact that each SCOBY culture is unique. That is why there are so many variances of tastes in kombucha! The same as with the plants and animals, each part of the world has different combinations of local yeasts and bacteria. This diversity is a good thing. Accidentally incorporating bacteria from a MOV into your SCOBY society (providing that the SCOBY remains healthy and the taste is good) is not going to necessarily spell the end. In fact, it might just up the microbial diversity of your culture!
So don’t be afraid to give it a try (again, try raw APPLE CIDER VINEGAR as the starter). The only concern may be that doing this sort of bacteria colony mixing may change the flavor of your kombucha.