Making kombucha leather fabric: Growing SCOBY sheets (1/3)

This is the first step to creating some leather-like material at home, using the same process to make Kombucha.
I shall detail the drying process in the next posts.

I’ve always been a little sceptical of kombucha if I’m being honest. I think it’s because it’s often associated with being trendy rather than solely for its benefits and so I could never get my head around drinking it for the sake of a trend. We had some periodically in the house growing up which was home made, flavoured with slices of gingers for some spice and orange peel to balance and take after the slight bitterness of the unflavoured stock.

I came across a rather interest art project which looked at producing a leather-like material via drying the SCOBY growth. It was somewhat of a serendipitous find I’ll admit whilst I researched ideas to easily introduce Materials Science to schools during the COVID restrictions which could be lead via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. After some trial and error and tweaking of the recipe, I managed to put together a method to create sheets of SCOBY. Now, SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. I.e. it’s a living thing. As such, it grows to fill the available space. What’s more, it grows in layers which can be separated with your hands to have more Kombucha.

What you need

  • 1 large pot (2 litres capacity)
  • 1 Wooden spoon (NOT metal)
  • 1 large glass roasting tray (200mm (W) x 300 (L))
  • 1 sheet of muslin (250mm (W) x 350mm (L))
  • Clingfilm
  • 1 sharp knife
  • 1 large tea towel
  • 0.8 litres freshly boiled water
  • 1 breakfast tea bags
  • 1 green tea bag
  • 80g caster sugar (or up to 120g to sweeten the mixture if you’ll be drinking it too)
  • Layer of SCOBY with starter culture (approx 100ml)

Method

Pour the freshly boiled water into the pot and dissolve in the sugar with a wooden spoon. Once the sugar is dissolved, add in the tea bags and gently stir. Leave the mixture to steep until the water is room temperature and then remove the tea bags. I leave it over night, but you can remove the tea bags anytime before that. The mixture MUST be allowed to cool.

When the tea mixture is cooled, thoroughly wash your hands and then wash out the glass roasting tray and make sure there is no residual soap. Try not to touch the inside of the tray to avoid contamination. Place the glass tray onto the tea towel somewhere out of the way in the kitchen.

Wash your hands again. Gently wash your SCOBY with cold water only and separate your SCOBY transversely (horizontally). You should see faint lines of separation between layers on the side of your SCOBY. NEVER use a knife or scissors to cut it as metal is detrimental to it. Hence why we’re using a glass roasting tray. Spare layers of SCOBY can be used to make more Kombucha.

Wash your hands and gently place the SCOBY into the glass tray and add approximately 100ml of the starter culture with the cool tea solution. The starter culture can be the kombucha from which the SCOBY came or what a new SCOBY is delivered in. Place a sheet of clingfilm over the glass tray, making sure it’s fairly taut to avoid it sagging into the mixture. Carefully stab holes into the clingfilm with a clean knife to allow for air flow and cover with the muslin cloth to stop bugs from getting in. Fruit flies love it, but aren’t the nicest thing to have in your kitchen.

Leave the mixture for about 2-4 weeks. You’ll see a layer covering the dimensions of the glass tray slowly form as the SCOBY grows. The longer you leave it, the thicker and more opaque this layer becomes. Thicker layers take longer to dry out, but are more robust.

Have a go yourself and let me know how it goes! Also, if you have any advice or questions let me know.

I shall be posting how I dried the SCOBY sheets and what I got up to with them.

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