This week we’ll share a series of articles inspired by our Fermentation 2.0 Workshop at the Cookbook Store last week.  We started the evening by promising that we’d answer all the questions that we could but that we were likely to get stumped by some of the questions and would answer them on the blog in the coming days.

Despite being really, really easy to do, fermenting can contain some odd concepts and language.  Two of the terms that often confuse or confound are:

  • Mother A slimy film-like substance (made of cessulose and acetic acid bacteria) often associated with making vinegar as it turns alcohol into acidic acid when exposed to oxygen.
  • SCOBY Otherwise known as a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast.  It’s typically associated with kombucha (fermented tea).  It’s a slimy, disc-shaped layer that metabolizes sugar and caffeine to create probiotics, vitamins and enzymes.

While both items are different, they share some common traits:

  • You add them to liquid in order to create a specific type of ferment.
  • Both are alive/ living.  If not treated correctly (including handling them too often, storing them in extreme temperatures or ‘starving’ them, they can die.
  • Both will grow.  They are often shared between friends (as a way to help others as well as build your own back-up plan in case they die).
  • The final product is strained from the mother/ SCOBY (although some praise the benefits of eating small amounts of each as they are nutrient dense).
  • If properly cared for, both items can live a long time and many pride themselves on how long they’ve cultivated them.
  • It’s best to handle both with gloves (or very clean hands).  I also avoid using metal strainers when straining them (it’s not necessary but some report it can be detrimental to the health of the bacteria)

You can make your own mother of vinegar or cultivate and strain it from unpasteurized apple cider vinegar.  Mothers from white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar and cider vinegar are different and you’d need one of each if you wanted to make all 3 vinegars.

It is possible to make a Kombucha Scoby though you need to find unpasteurized kombucha.  I’ve found this to be more elusive than unpasteurized cider vinegar and the easiest way to acquire a scoby is to trade from a friend or buy one (I’ve seen them for sale at Farmers Markets in Ontario and know that Pyramid Ferments occasionally sells their kombucha mothers for around $10).

Does this help explain the basics of both?  Can we help shed further light on either?  We’d love to know your questions!

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