SCOBY, KombuchaKon & more: Q&A with Kristan Martinez

With KombuchaKon 2017 taking place February 11-12 in Long Beach, CA, we wanted to give customers a glimpse into one of our newest products, WLP600 Kombucha SCOBY. Analytical Lab Technician Kristan Martinez was the mastermind behind the product so we wanted to check in and see how the SCOBY is developed at White Labs, useful tips for kombucha brewing and more. Plus, if you’re planning to attend KombuchaKon 2017, stop by the White Labs booth at the Long Beach Convention Center and chat with Kristan!

What is a SCOBY?
SCOBY is a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast used to ferment teas (typically green or black varieties) into kombucha. We offer WLP600 Kombucha SCOBY for immediate use on 1-gallon batch sizes; however, it will grow to accommodate most larger batches. All you will need to purchase and use is a starter liquid, which can be pre-made kombucha or vinegar.


**WLP600 Kombucha SCOBY

Tell us about some of the research you did prior to launching SCOBYs. What led White Labs to dive into this whole new market and offering kombucha products?
This project started out of pure curiosity. I wanted to learn more about the process for making kombucha and talked with our Lab Operations Manager Kara Taylor about using the resources we had available to start fermenting kombucha. At first, this was done on a very small scale, where I conducted experiments using different sugars to see if the SCOBY was able to metabolize complex sugars. Later, I did other experiments with varying amounts of sugar to see what would work best for a basic kombucha recipe. By doing this, I made sure to maintain the alcohol level consistently under 0.5% ABV, and ultimately led me to create our own kombucha recipe that’s online here. While conducting these experiments, I started producing more SCOBYs and made the suggestion to create this product at our internal innovation conference. Everyone seemed to really like the idea, and we officially began producing and selling WLP600 Kombucha SCOBY on a wider scale last summer.

What ingredients are we using to create our SCOBYs?
We are using water, tea and pure cane sugar to produce WLP600 Kombucha SCOBY. These ingredients are used since most SCOBYs have a difficult time metabolizing sugars other than cane sugar. Black tea is the most common tea used for kombucha brewing, as it provides the largest amount of nutrients. Each of the ingredients used are listed on its packaging label.

Are all SCOBYs that White Labs produces and releases to customers exactly the same?
Yes, we ensure all SCOBYs that leave White Labs are produced the same way and contain the same organisms. Our customers can view a full list of the organism composition here. Before packaging a SCOBY, we perform pathogen and pH testing to make sure it’s reached a 2.5 - 3.0 pH level and ensure it’s done growing. Additionally, we perform gluten analysis so we can guarantee to customers that WLP600 Kombucha SCOBY is 100 percent gluten free.

Also, it’s worth noting that as you’re reusing the SCOBY and introducing it to new environmental factors, it may evolve over time and become very diverse in its organism composition.


**Kristan hard at work in the White Labs analytical lab.

Tell us more about WLP600 Kombucha SCOBY being reusable.
Just like White Labs’ pure liquid yeast is repitchable, the SCOBY we’re producing are reusable. After each fermentation, a new SCOBY will grow on top of the liquid within your fermentation container. You can use the same original SCOBY and / or store at refrigerator temperatures for up to six months. As long as you keep it properly stored, clean and free of mold, the new SCOBY many be used for future fermentations.

Are there specific additives that work best in kombucha? Tell our customers about the ones you prefer and recommend using.
When flavoring kombucha, I like using flavored teas as you won’t run the risk of introducing more sugars and producing a high-alcohol content. Personally, I feel the teas with dehydrated candied fruit or fresh fruit are both good for secondary fermentations. I’ve noticed some people really enjoy the result when finishing kombucha with juices. Anytime you are adding juice or fresh fruit, it’s very important to keep in mind how much sugar is present because (again) more sugar will result in more alcohol.

Pineapple and canned fruits (with corn syrup) have a lot of sugar and I strongly suggest avoiding these. Also, anytime you reuse a SCOBY, it’s important to note that it will retain flavors for a couple generations (i.e. peach in batch 1 will carry over to batch 2).


**A batch of kombucha nearly done fermenting.

How does one determine 'good' kombucha? Are there off-flavors that might occur?
What makes kombucha unique is that it’s a beverage made to one’s personal taste. Some prefer very sour- and vinegar-tasting kombucha, while others might like it sweeter almost like fruit juice. There’s no real way to define good or bad kombucha, it’s very much up to your personal preferences since there are not many noticeable off flavors. It is fairly common to get a sulfur smell that is sometimes hard to get rid of, but it should not affect the actual flavor.

If you’re coming across certain flavors that you don’t enjoy, I suggest trying another SCOBY with a different yeast and bacteria composition.

What are some of the services White Labs offers that a kombucha producers might be able to benefit from?
Through our San Diego-based analytical lab, we offer various tests that can be used by all-size kombucha makers for testing their final products. The full list can be found on online here. Among those, alcohol by volume (ABV) / weight (ABW) is the most popular since kombucha makers are required to list any ABV content on the label and most producers must ensure they are at or below the 0.5 percent threshold required by TTB.  

As we continue to see a growing popularity in kombucha producers, the next most requested service is mixed culture isolations, where we identify the yeast and bacteria in each sample sent to us. This is very important since no two SCOBY are alike. The goal here is to identify the different yeast and bacteria that make up an individual SCOBY, so professional kombucha makers will better understand what they are working with.  

Finally, we offer great educational workshops for professionals seeking to grow their operation or even enthusiasts preparing to launch a business. Our first kombucha class was in 2016 and we are hosting one the day before KombuchaKon 2017. While we don’t have any immediate future plans to add another kombucha class, I suggest checking whitelabs.com/education to see if / when we’re hosting courses again in the future.

 

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