Permaculture and Kombucha: The Ethics of Scoby

Kombucha, the fizzy probiotic tea applauded for its taste and health benefits, also follows the permaculture ethic of sharing the surplus. You may know kombucha is made by feeding sugar to a scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), or mother as she’s fondly called. In return, the scoby infuses probiotics, flavor, and carbonation into the tea.

As scoby cultures readily replenish themselves, the abundance can be passed on to friends and neighbors. However, the use for the scoby extends far beyond the realm of kombucha. Together, the scoby culture and the kombucha drink promote a zero waste philosophy–a small input that returns plentiful resources.

If you run out of friends and neighbors to give scoby cultures to, don’t fret. There are as many uses for scoby as you can think of. Here are a few common ones that you can apply immediately to your permaculture system.

Soil Building and Remediation

Soil building and remediation are at the forefront of any permaculturist’s mind, and soil requires resources–so gardeners have had to get creative with repurposing “waste.” Here we are creating a culture of resilience by using everything we possibly can–and then some–to create something profoundly nourishing and empowering. Here’s why scoby can be a great addition to the permaculturist’s plan for healing, feeding, and rejuvenating the soil.

Compost

You can compost scoby into your vermicompost or compost pile, or even grind it up and apply directly to the soil. Any scoby you feed to the animals will of course compost as manure. If the scoby molds, composting it is the only viable solution (when keeping with the zero waste philosophy).

However, keep in mind fruit flies will flock to your compost as if seeing it anew, so take extra precautions if you want to avoid a nuisance. A friend of mine keeps their compost in the freezer while it’s in the house, so they don’t have to worry about fruit flies until they take the compost out to the garden pile.

Water Filtration and Soil Remediation

Besides the benefit of returning nutrients to the soil to be reused, there is also the reported benefit of water cleansing. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety states that “dried tea fungal biomass has been efficiently utilized as a biosorbent to remove metal pollutants from waste water by several researchers worldwide.”

By metal pollutants, they mean arsenic–and who doesn’t love growing food in soil without arsenic in it? If your water is at all at risk of contamination by arsenic, or your groundwater could have or has come in contact with it, consider running some tests; prior to application of scoby and then again after regular additions to the compost pile and soil.

Human Consumption

The scoby is the mother of kombucha’s benefits. It is the genesis of the probiotics and thus, contains them in concentrate.

Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety reports that “Murugesan and others (2005) studied the proximate composition of tea fungal biomass and reported that it contains 179.38 g crude protein, 120 g crude fiber, 4.82 g phosphorus, 6.56 g calcium, and 8.92 MJ metabolizable energy per kilogram of biomass.”

In other words, the scoby analyzed contained about 18 percent protein, 12 percent crude fiber, 4 percent phosphorus, and 6 percent calcium. That sounds like a nutrition packed culture to me, and a great source of protein. Here are a couple uses for scoby intended for human consumption.

Sundried Scoby

Dry your scoby cultures in the sun or in the oven on a low heat only (so you don’t kill the probiotics). One kombucha blogger recommends harvesting scoby when they reach ⅛ of an inch, rather than letting them get monstrous, so that the drying process is easier. Once dried, you’ll have probiotics in concentrate.

Try grinding it into a powder and putting it in capsules to take daily, or using the re-hydrated powder in smoothies and beverages. You can also spice it before sun drying and use the powder as a probiotic spice mix for foods (such as salads) that don’t get hot enough to kill off the probiotic benefit.

Scoby Jerky

This is pretty much what it sounds like. Basically, you marinate the scoby for 24 hours before drying it at 80-90 degrees on a piece of unbleached parchment paper. It’s done when it resembles jerky. Cultures for Health recommends that you place a cloth over it to keep away the flies, along with anyone else who wants a piece.

Animal Consumption

Don’t forget the animals in this equation. They can benefit from the probiotics, protein, fiber, and minerals just as much as we can. Chickens, for example, love a good scoby. Some people toss one to their chickens as a treat, while others include scoby as a regular part of their diet. It can be considered a constant source of free animal feed that readily replenishes itself and is so nutritious.

Fruit Flies? Oh, That’s Just Extra Protein…..

The plus side to this is that if fruit flies get into the kombucha and lay eggs, thus ruining both the beverage and the scoby culture, the chickens will have no qualms about the addition of said fruit flies to their lunch plate. The “wasted” kombucha can be fed to the soil–though you might want to water it down first.

Dog Treats

Dogs love scoby too; consider making jerky dog treats with chicken or beef broth. You can also try giving it to them raw and see if they like it. I heard it through the grape vine that some dogs wag their tails with vigorous delight.

Getting Started

If you don’t already brew kombucha, but know someone who does, see if you can’t take some scoby off their hands to turn into permaculture goodies. Or, consider starting a kombucha culture of your own.

Do you already brew kombucha? Have you tried using scoby as part of your diet, for animal feed, or in the garden? Leave a comment below!

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5 thoughts on “Permaculture and Kombucha: The Ethics of Scoby

    1. The sugar feeds the yeast and bacteria. The final product is fairly low in sugar. Jun tea is a drink very similar to kombucha that uses green tea and honey instead of black tea and cane sugar.

    2. It’s my understanding that the reason for sugar over honey is about making it easier for the sugar to be converted. I’m no chemist but apparently the sugars in honey are not as easy for the process to break down.
      The great thing though is that the sugars get converted if you let it complete the process.
      Check out the lack of sugars in the homemade version here
      http://www.sparkpeople.com/calories-in.asp?food=kombucha+tea

  1. I am new to Kombucha making ( I bought my Scoby for $20.00, but under the permaculture ethics of SCOBY I will be giving mine away) . Can you tell me how to store my SCOBY if I’m not ready to make a new batch? Do I need to put it in the refrigerator or store it at room temperature?

    1. Give the scoby a jar with one cup of kombucha and 1/8 cup sugar per half gallon you’re planning on making. Multiple scobies can be stored this way in what’s known as a scoby hotel. More scobies will require more kombucha. Some people don’t add sugar and let the kombucha turn into a tasty, nourishing vinegar with many uses. It depends on how long you’ll have the scoby in there for. Eventually, the scoby will hunger not only for sugar but for the nutrients in the tea they consume. I personally would just give the scoby a little bit of sugar until you’re ready to get started. Then, the kombucha left in the jar can be used as your starter culture.

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