Don’t Be Scared of SCOBY

by Inga Yandell

Our love affair with bacteria is growing with artisan brewers bottling batches of Kombucha and DIY ferment kits reintroducing the ancient art of home preserves, pickles and other cultured creations. Despite mounting interest in all things microbial there remains trepidation, especially around good and bad bacteria and how these effect our health. Separating the myths from the science we explore the facts of fermentation with bacteria boffins Hannah Crum & Alex Lagory.

Quick – let’s play a word association game – when you see the word “fermented,” what comes to mind: single malt scotch or stinky cheese or sour pickles? Well, all of them are correct! From elegant and expensive to rustic and cheap, fermented foods span not only the entire gamut of taste profiles but also the entire world. From Asia to South America and everywhere in between, every human society throughout time has had it’s own ferments they love and share with the rest of the world.

From chemicals to antibiotics to natural cleaners to alcohol to vinegar to salami to cheese to bread to kimchi to Kombucha to dozens of other common examples, fermentation produces a wide range of critical items for our society. Yet most people have no idea how integral fermentation is to their everyday lives.

So what is fermentation? It is the conversion, via microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast, of organic materials into preserved, enriched, safer, and/or more useful substances. Often but not always foods, both controlled and “wild” fermentation are inextricably linked to human evolution and advancement.

Unfortunately, in the 20th century fermentation was mostly replaced with pasteurization and chemical preservation. That meant diets devoid of bacteria rich foods and drinks. While this created shelf stable and consistently flavored products, the unknowing trade-off in food quality has been one of the many factors leading to the decline in overall health around the world.

But fermented foods are back! Suddenly appearing on the menus of the trendiest restaurants, ferments have been part of the human diet for thousands of years, helping us survive long cold winters, boosting immunity, and reducing inflammation. Only over the last decade, via initiatives such as the Human Microbiome Project and the American Gut Project, have we begun to understand the scientific connection between those benefits and these foods we evolved to consume.

Scientists are hard at work properly cataloging and exploring the potential connections between our vast internal microbial landscape and the variety of disorders and diseases that may be potentially improved through an understanding and proper cultivation of those microbes. What’s really exciting about the Human microbiome research, is that it isn’t specific strains per se that are illuminated as being vital to health, rather it is a diversity of organisms – even some that we consider pathogenic, albeit in very small amounts – that leads to balance.

At Kombucha Kamp, we’ve shipped more than 100,000 cultures worldwide, and refer to ourselves as “Bacteria Farmers.” We also think of all humans as “Bacteriosapiens,” because not much goes right without help from our tiny buddies. It’s why we believe the key to human health now and in the future lies in each Bacteriosapien becoming bacteria farmers to create the right conditions in their own internal soil. A healthy serving and variety of fermented foods and drinks of all types is a great way to start.

From there, follow the KKamp motto and “Trust Your Gut” to continue eating the ones that work for you. It’s natural for preferences to evolve over time, and unlike drugs there is no “recommended dosage” per day, but adding a small amount to each meal as a side dish, condiment, or beverage is a good goal. Snacking on your favorite ferment is another option.

Or of course, with something like Kombucha that is so flexible, it works at any time of day and with any meal, even dessert! We hope you’ll decide to brew your own at home as it’s easy and fun. Kombucha is a “gateway ferment” which has helped many people try other ferments or even just make more fresh food at home.

Our book, The Big Book of Kombucha, delves deeply into the plethora of uses beyond sipping the brew. From SCOBY fruit leather, SCOBY face masks to upcycled tea potpourri, discover the many and novel uses of Kombucha and bacterial cellulose for health and beauty. Now that you know how important and common fermented foods are, we hope you’ll start fermenting something at home today!

Hannah Crum and Alex Lagory are the dynamic duo behind Kombucha Kamp, the top information site in the world. They are also the co-authors of “The Big Book of Kombucha” (Storey Publishing, 2016) and co-founders of Kombucha Brewers International, the trade association of the Kombucha industry. To learn more and find quality fermentation supplies, visit KombuchaKamp.com

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Inga Yandell
Explorer and photo-journalist, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide educational resources and a platform for science exploration.
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