How To Seperate Your SCOBY

One of the great benefits of brewing your own kombucha at home is the ability to share your SCOBYs with your friends. The more people who learn to brew at home means the less people buying overpriced bottles!

But this leaves one important question – how to we get the child SCOBY apart from its mother?

Separating SCOBY isn’t exactly difficult, but there are a few things that can go wrong along the way.

It also brings up the questions of when and why you should be separating your SCOBY. Isn’t it better to just let the SCOBY grow? Let’s find out!


How To Separate Your SCOBY

Let’s jump right into it.

If you have a simple batch brew with a developed mother SCOBY and developing child SCOBY it’s very easy to separate the two.

Here are the steps:

  • Wash your hands
  • Get your SCOBY hotel ready
  • Grab a hold of both SCOBYs
  • Find the seam between mother and child
  • Gently pull!

It’s a simple as that! The bond between mother and child SCOBY isn’t strong enough that you need to work to get them apart.

The child SCOBY is usually gently holding onto its mother – not growing into each other.

The seam will be horizontal and loose enough that you should be able to get your fingers in between.

Make sure you always wash your hands (and anything else that comes in contact with your brew) to prevent any contamination issues. This is best practice to prevent mold or foreign bacteria from ruining your batch.

The sooner you separate the pair the easier it will be. If you’ve left them for more than 4 batches it will be more difficult to pull them apart.

How Do You Know Which One Is The Mother SCOBY?

New SCOBYs will always be thinner and usually are much lighter in color. If you’ve been brewing with black tea your mother SCOBY should be dark brown while your child SCOBY will be more of a peal color.

Your child SCOBY will also always develop on top of your mother SCOBY.

Remember, your child SCOBY will always be thinner than your mother. If you are having trouble with thin child SCOBYs I’d recommend leaving it attached for 3-4 brews.

If your new SCOBY still isn’t developing you need to read this article here.

What Do You Do If They Won’t Separate?

Have a thick SCOBY isn’t the end of the word. I’ve brewed many batches with SCOBY that haven’t looked “picture perfect” – they still work fine.

If you can’t easily pull the mother from the child you have two options:

  1. Leave them be
  2. Cut them apart

Leaving your child SCOBY attached to the mother won’t do any harm to your brew. In fact, it may even make things faster.

So if you’ve forgotten to peel them apart for a few brews there’s nothing to worry about.

If you really need to separate them, to give one to a friend for instance, then you can always take a more drastic approach.

You’ll need a bread knife and a cutting board.

Once you’ve removed the SCOBY from the vessel place it flat onto your cutting board. While holding the SCOBY with one hand use the other to saw through the middle. I find using a bread knife to be the easiest here.

Use one half for your next brew and give the other half to your friend!

Pro Tip

Use the above method to manage monster SCOBYs that have grown too big for your SCOBY hotel

My SCOBY Fell Apart During Separation – Is This Bad?

SCOBYs don’t always behave as we want them too (find out here why your SCOBY is sinking.)

If you’ve tried to separate them but they just wouldn’t come apart easily there is nothing to be concerned about.

SCOBY is simply a collection of bacteria, yeast, and cellulose. It really doesn’t matter what shape your SCOBY is in. You can even cut your SCOBY into little pieces and it will still brew a perfectly fine kombucha (as long as the pieces roughly make up a regular SCOBY.)

So if your SCOBY ended up in pieces, or a weird shape, after you tried peeling them apart just use the pieces in place of your SCOBY! No harm done.

You can wait until the new SCOBY develops and retire your cut-up SCOBY to the hotel.


When To Separate Your SCOBY

Now that you know how to separate your SCOBY it’s time to learn when.

You won’t be surprised to hear there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to separating your SCOBY. When people ask, the answer is usually “depends.”

  • Do you have a hotel ready and waiting to store your extra SCOBY?
  • Are you planning on experimenting with a new brewing technique?
  • How long have you been using your mother?
  • How is the mother SCOBY performing?
  • How big is the mother?

Every situation is slightly different. Each person will find their own rhythm of growing and storing new SCOBY. Personally, I decide when to separate my SCOBY based mainly on performance.

Is Your SCOBY Still Producing Tastey Kombucha?

The quality of your brew is going to change over time. As your SCOBY ages your kombucha will begin to take on different flavors. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst.

I’ve had trusty SCOBYs that have lasted me over 20 brews before things started to fall apart. In this case, the brew began taking much longer than usually and had a difficult time producing carbonation.

I like to leave my SCOBYs attached for at least 2-3 brews before separating. I then store the developed child in the hotel to be used when the mother is no longer functioning (or to give to friends.

I continue to separate the child from mother until I want to try an experiment brew, or the quality of kombucha begins to decrease.

Pro Tip

A well-aged SCOBY can be the key to taking your kombucha from tasting great to amazing!

Some signs that your mother SCOBY is starting to get old are:

  • A lack of carbonation
  • A flat tasting kombucha (not the acidic taste you’re used to)
  • Brews are taking longer than usual
  • A new SCOBY is not forming

A new SCOBY can take a few batches to really find its stride. That’s why I usually let a child grow with its mother for several batches before I let it handle a brew on its own.

Pro Tip

Don’t let your mother SCOBY grow thicker than 1 inch!

I don’t recommend you let your mother SCOBY grow thicker than 1 inch. It doesn’t need to be large to make good kombucha. The larger the SCOBY the more room it will take up in the vessel – which means the less kombucha for you!

You’ll know when it’s time to retire your mother by the taste of the kombucha. Luckily, you’ll be an expert brewer by then.

Healthy SCOBYs can last for several months and even over a year!


Why Separate Your SCOBY In The First Place?

Have you ever seen what happens if you let a SCOBY sit without any maintenance?

A thick SCOBY that has been growing for months

If you don’t keep up with your SCOBY maintenance things can get quickly out of hand. SCOBYs will continue to add on layers until there is no more food to consume.

While it’s unlikely that your SCOBY will grow as big as the picture above, it will continue to grow if you don’t take measures to stop it.

This is why it’s best practice to separate your child SCOBY from its mother after at least 4 brews. You can also separate them after every brew if you wish – this is what I did for my first year of brewing.

Keeping Spare SCOBYs

Another reason to separate your SCOBY is to keep spares.

Once you’ve got the basics of brewing down you are probably going to want to experiment. Chances are, some of these experiments may not turn out as you’d expected.

This is why it’s a great idea to store extra SCOBY in your SCOBY hotel.

If you don’t want to use your trusty SCOBY for your experiments just take out a spare for a brew or two. This way you don’t risk losing your best producer.

It’s also a great way to expand your brewing if you ever choose to.

Sharing With Friends

No one should have to pay the expensive prices for commercial kombucha. Brewing at home is so easy and cost effective that everyone who drinks kombucha should do it!

Once you show your friends how easy and fun it is to brew kombucha they’ll be begging you for a spare SCOBY and starter liquid.

If you’ve been separating your SCOBY while brewing you will always have a few extra on hand.

All you have to do is find an old mason jar (an old pickle jar will due) and you’re ready to spread the love!


Conclusion

In conclusion, you should be separating your mother SCOBY at least every 4 brews. To do so, simply find the seam between the mother and child and pull lightly.

Don’t worry if your SCOBY rips or changes shape. Just make sure the SCOBY pieces you put in the brew approximate the normal size of a SCOBY.

Store your child SCOBY in the SCOBY hotel until you want to try and experimental brew or your mother SCOBY stops performing

Mother SCOBYs can last for several months to over a year.

Good luck! As always, if you have more questions leave them in the comment section.

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