By: Tina C. Davidson
My pets are shut up in a dark cupboard 24/7. They don’t get a bathroom break or go for walks. Before you report me to the local animal shelter, don’t worry—these “pets” aren’t cuddly furballs named Gizmo or Chewie, they are a conglomerate of bacteria and yeast referred to as a SCOBY. I like to pronounce SCOBY like the dog’s name from Scooby-Doo.
My mom freaked out when I showed her my pets living in my cupboard.
“Are those slices of goat embryos?”
“No, mom, that’s my SCOBY motel.”
Slices of goat embryos in my cupboards?! Is that the next superfood craze? I’d never store goat embryos in my cupboards—unless I was getting paid A LOT of money to.
Some people pay a lot of money for shock-and-awe pets, like tigers or pythons, and smuggle them into the country. Not me. I bought a colony of bizarre microorganisms (one SCOBY) on the internet as part of a kombucha brewing kit for around thirty bucks. It showed up in the mail in a plastic bag with the other kombucha ingredients. The SCOBY, about the size of a pancake, looked a lot less appetizing than an actual pancake and more alienish. Picture a cream-colored disc floating in an amber liquid called kombucha starter. Ten months later, I’d two containers full of SCOBYs. That’s quite a return on my investment and packs a whole lot of shock-and-awe.
If There is Room in the Heart, There is Room in the Glass Container
My paternal grandfather had six sons. His mantra on having lots of children was “if there is room in the heart, there is room in the home.” I have lots of room in my heart and my home for SCOBYs (I only have two human children).
My SCOBY motels are an ecosystem, yet they are the lowest maintenance of any pets. SCOBYs don’t “defecate” in the traditional sense—one of the reasons I don’t have large mammals as pets or more children. SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Since they are symbiotic, they all play together nicely. No one fights over the scraps under the table. In a SCOBY, the microorganisms of yeast and bacteria are suspended in layers of cellulose that the bacteria produce, hence the pancake look.
To the untrained eye, like my mother’s, my SCOBY motels resemble slices of goat embryos floating in formaldehyde. I prefer to see them as jars full of friendly creatures, although I can’t technically see the yeast or bacteria— just the cellulose the bacteria produce. That’s the part that creeps people out.
Look Ma, No Fleas
I like “normal” pets too, but they require more attention than a SCOBY. My childhood pets included: a blue parakeet named Luigi, five bunnies, goldfish, two kittens, and two dogs. I did not have them all at the same time or in that order.
They were benefits that came with my pets but there were also issues to deal with. I remember our dog, Chester (I really loved him!), had a particularly bad flea problem. One summer I couldn’t play outside in our yard because the fleas were so bad. Although I’m bummed I can’t play outside with my SCOBYs, I don’t have to worry about a flea infestation ruining my summer again.
Another bonus to having SCOBYs is that they don’t trigger my pet dander allergies. My parents were kind enough to get me two kittens, Natasha and Ziggy, even though I was highly allergic to them. The kittens were kept in the garage and I played with them outside, but never in the house. The neighborhood heard me sneeze whenever I was around those feisty felines. I’ve never sneezed once after handling a SCOBY. They really are the perfect hypoallergenic pet for me. There was a lot of running (mostly my nose) involved with the cats: one ran away and the other got run over…no neighbors sharing heartbreaking news so far with my SCOBYs.
SCOBY with Benefits
Some people have pets because they like having a live-in exercise partner to help motivate them to get healthy. The research is still new and some of the results are mixed from studies on the health benefits of pets. Typically, dogs, cats, fish, hamsters, bunnies, birds, and horses are viewed as having the most positive impact on people—decreasing stress, improving blood pressure, and helping with emotional and social skills.
Obviously, a SCOBY is not a traditional pet, but they can provide health benefits. SCOBY benefits aren’t as evident as the benefits of spending time with an adorable puppy. I originally purchased a SCOBY for the sake of brewing my own kombucha. This fermented tea is associated with gut-health benefits. I never thought I’d enjoy having SCOBYs around to make tea and so much more. They don’t take up too much space and never complain about my singing.
When Bad Things Happen to Good SCOBYs
I’ve only had two batches of kombucha go bad. In both cases, I left the kombucha to ferment more than 10 days and mold started to grow on top. It may have gotten too cold. The mother SCOBY, the newly formed “daughter,” and all the newly brewed kombucha had to be tossed. Not quite as traumatic as flushing your goldfish down the toilet, but the loss was real.
100 Bottles of SCOBY on the Wall
If you are looking for a low maintenance pet, I highly recommend a SCOBY, especially if you like to drink kombucha.
Ready to get started brewing your own kombucha? You’ll need to collect the following supplies, or you can buy them all in a first-timer kit:
1 clean glass container (big enough to hold 7-8 cups of liquid)
¾ cup of starter kombucha (find a friend or buy from a reputable source)
1 SCOBY (aka mother) from a reputable source
½ cup of organic sugar
1 rubber band
1 piece of organic cotton fabric (big enough to cover the top of your glass container)
3 tea bags (use black tea for best results. A combination of black and green tea also works)
6 cups of filtered water
Bring 2 cups of water to boil in a medium-sized pan on the stove.
Once the water has reached a boil, turn off the stove. Add three bags of black tea to the water to steep for twenty minutes. Remove the tea bags from the water.
Add ½ cup of organic sugar to the tea in the pan and stir until dissolved.
Add 4 more cups of water to the pan. Pour all the liquids from the pan into the glass container.
Add the SCOBY and ¾ cup of the kombucha starter to the glass container. Place fabric over the top of the glass container and secure the fabric with a rubber band.
Store the glass container in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. Try to keep your kombucha brew temperature between 65-80 degrees for five days. A thermometer strip can be attached to the side of the container to monitor the temperature.
SCOBY Do or SCOBY Don’t?
Remember home-brew kombucha is a raw, unpasteurized fermented tea that introduces new organisms into your gut biome. Please do your research before consuming this beverage and take precautions. Consult a physician with any health concerns or questions. This article is not meant as medical advice.
Check out the following sources/products for further investigation and exploration of SCOBYs and all things kombucha.
The Big Book of Kombucha
https://www.kombuchakamp.com/ *this site can help you purchase a SCOBY
“Kombucha, Kefir, and Beyond” by Alex Lewin
“Kombucha Revolution: 75 recipes for homemade brew, fixers, elixirs, and mixers” by Stephen Lee
Supplies I recommend:
Newman’s Own Organic Black Tea
Newman’s Own Organic Green Tea
Woodstock Organic Pure Cane Sugar
Kombucha brands I’ve tried and enjoyed:
High Country Kombucha
Articles about the health benefits of pets: