What To Do If My Kombucha SCOBY Is (too) Dark
My SCOBY Is Really Dark – Is It OK?
While the look of a pearly white SCOBY is much more visually appealing than the look of a dark brown one, a dark SCOBY is not necessarily too old to produce good ferments. Darkness in the SCOBY is usually caused by staining from the tea used for brewing, and yeast activity. It is natural for the SCOBY to become a little darker with each successive brew, and it is still perfectly safe to use for fermenting.
So if you are wondering if the culture is still in good health, and still healthy for you, the answer is yes!
However there is a point where old SCOBYs should be replaced with a nice fresh new baby one, and dark staining from tea or from yeasts in the SCOBY is one of the signs you can use to remember to replace your SCOBY with a younger one.
Why is the SCOBY Dark?
There are a four good reasons why your SCOBY might be dark. Three of them are no concern.
Yeast will often cling to areas of your SCOBY, sometimes as long strings dangling and sometimes as splotches of black or yellow. You can have entire areas of your SCOBY full of yeasty bits, which will give it a darker look (or parts of the SCOBY a darker look).
I’ve given some pictures of what yeast spots may look like on your scoby:
A SCOBY is a living entity. And like all living things, there is a cycle of life, death, and birth. Your SCOBY will not live forever. It will reproduce, but the original mother will start to decay over time. Often, parts (especially the edges) will die first and these parts will turn black or brown. They are not harmful, but they won’t be active. If your SCOBY is very old (or dying), it may turn dark. This is a good sign you need to dispose of it and use one of the baby SCOBYs instead. The original SCOBY mother can last for months before you’ll probably want to dispose of it (the time will vary, just realize it WILL eventually stop functioning). If your SCOBY is dead or dying, this is when you’ll want to replace it with a new one.
Tea Color Stains
Another fact that’s not often brought up is the color of the tea can impact the color of the SCOBY, especially if that SCOBY is older. Different tea types will give different colors of Kombucha. Black tea and green tea, for example, have a slightly different color of tea. If you use darker teas, your SCOBY may be stained a darker appearance. Lighter teas will also give your SCOBY a lighter appearance. So don’t freak out if your SCOBY takes on a darker color, especially if the tea is darker.
SCOBY Sinks or Submerged
SCOBYs can sink to the bottom, float sideways, or float at the top. If your SCOBY floats near the top, part of the SCOBY will likely be in contact with the air — the part the reproduce to form the baby.
As such, this baby scoby OR mother scoby that’s touching the air, will be a much whiter color than a SCOBY that stays submerged in the tea. See the images below — one shows a SCOBY sinking to the bottom and another image shows the SCOBY floating at the top. A
Baby or Mother
Along the lines of the previous point, a mother SCOBY will usually be darker than the new baby. Baby scobys form on the surface and not submerged under the tea. The mother SCOBY may be submerged (and as such, be stained from the tea). Mother Scobys are also older and may have yeast spots and also areas around the edges that are dead (which turn dark).
When Dark Is Too Dark
While a dark SCOBY is not necessarily an unhealthy SCOBY, there is a point where you will be able to tell that it is time to retire your (very) mature SCOBY and replace with a young pearly white one.
If you start to see dark “dried” or shriveled looking layers starting to peel off of the bottom of your SCOBY, then this a definite sign that it is time for a change. The layers which are peeling off are dead material, and while this stuff is not dangerous to have in your brew, it is definitely not necessary, especially if you have a whole lot of baby SCOBYS on hand – which is usually the case if you have been brewing for enough time to stop fermenting with your original SCOBY.
If You Do Not Have A New SCOBY
If you do not have a new baby SCOBY to brew with, what you can also do is peel off the uppermost freshest layers of your culture, and discard the bottom ones which will contain more of the dead SCOBY material. The top layers will most probably still be stained brown from the tea, but this is not a problem, as it is just the tannin in the tea which are causing the staining.
Sometimes, if the SCOBY’s layers have grown firmly together, it might be necessary to cut rather than peel off the portion which you want. In this case there are a few guidelines to follow, such as using a knife made of stainless steel, and washing your hands and knife correctly to avoid contamination of the SCOBY by pathogenic bacteria. Do NOT use antibacterial soap, as the residue from this will also harm the good bacteria within the SCOBY.
Usually SCOBYs are tougher than this, but when you are peeling or cutting the layers apart, the newly exposed side can be somewhat sensitive to invasive bacteria. For a detailed guide on separating and cutting SCOBYs, check out How To Cut A SCOBY In Half and How To Divide A SCOBY (Remove Baby from Mother).
If you really do not want to use the top layer of your old SCOBY, maybe you think it is contaminated and/or not healthy, you can’t get a new SCOBY from a friend, and you do not want to buy one, you can try growing one on your own from a bottle of plain, preservative free Kombucha from the store. For a guide on how to do this, check out How to Grow a SCOBY from Scratch.
What To Do With Old SCOBYs
Once you think that a SCOBY culture is past its prime, and have replaced it with a new fresh one, then you can chuck out the old one. However, instead of dumping your faithful tea maker friend into the trash can, there are actually a lot of things one can do with SCOBYs, other than making booch.
1. Compost Additive
Many Kombucha makers add their old or extra SCOBYs to their compost heaps. This is because not only does it add matter to your compost and recycle the SCOBY cellulose, but there are also proven benefits to having traces of SCOBY culture present within your soil and compost.
Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety states that “dried tea fungal biomass has been efficiently utilized as a bio sorbent to remove metal pollutants from waste water by several researchers worldwide.”
This makes sense, as drinking Kombucha tea is commonly thought to bind to and eliminate heavy metals within the body.
SCOBYs can also be added to worm composting systems, or even directly into the ground. To speed up the decomposition, you can chop or blend them before adding to compost, worms systems or soil.
This is perhaps the best thing to do with very old SCOBYS. The following are some of the other things one can do with SCOBYS, but you would probably prefer to use younger SCOBYs which do not contain dead material. Just to give you an idea:
2. Chicken Food
A lot of people use extra surplus SCOBYs for chicken food. The SCOBY is a good source of protein and of course probiotics and nutrients.
3. Dog Treats
Some Kombucha brewers like to make dog treats out of their extra SCOBYs, or merely mix up small chopped up blocks with meals. There are reports that the addition of SCOBY into dog’s diet results in shiny coats and good health. This is logical, and if you are enjoying the benefits of Kombucha, then why should your dog miss out!
4. Human Food
Healthy SCOBYs are in no way harmful to humans for consumption, and as I said with regards to the chicken food, are a good source of protein, and contain the same probiotic yeasts and bacteria which the kombucha itself has, only in a more concentrated form. People use SCOBY in smoothies, stir fries, sushi, and even make jerky and candy out of it!
5. Facial Mask/Peel
SCOBYs can be used as an effective facial mask and peel. The vitamins within the SCOBY are nourishing for the skin, and the organic acids have the same effect that at-home facial peels do, in that they lift dead skin, leaving one’s face soft, smooth, and according to some, less lined.
6. Conditioner Or Hair Mask
Much like a protein mask, blended SCOBYs are also used in hair treatments to restore shine and silkiness.
For more info and interesting ideas on what to do with surplus SCOBYs have a look at What To Do With Extra SCOBYs. It’s enough to get any one excited about a whole new range of things to make!
7. Brown Is Not Bad
Brown ‘stained’ SCOBYs are not off, and are definitely not going to make tea that is harmful to you. Just remember SCOBYs do need to be changed, to avoid dead material separating off into your brew, and good fermentation. SCOBYs can get old and tired, so in order to be sure that you are fermenting with nice strong healthy SCOBYs, change them out for a youngster after about 4 fermentations.
When you are selecting a new SCOBY, pick one which is a decent thickness, smooth and regular, with a creamy white color. Picking out healthy strong looking SCOBYs will help to make sure that you are breeding with optimum strains of yeast and bacteria.
Extra SCOBYs that are produced can be kept in a SCOBY hotel, for more on this have a look at this article How to Create a Kombucha SCOBY Hotel (to Store Extra SCOBYs). This way you will always have new cultures on hand to use, and any extras can experimented with in the kitchen and cosmetic department!