PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — These days, there are all kinds of flavors and brands of kombucha to choose from. Now, Oregon State University research experts are helping a company specialize its own version of the fermented tea drink.
Chris Curtin is an associate professor of fermentation microbiology at OSU. His team recently helped Sierra Nevada Brewing Company create a hard kombucha.
The fermented tea drink has become increasingly popular over recent years, but it’s been around for a long time.
“At least in terms of written records, [it’s been] around a couple of thousand years,” Curtin explained. “Probably a lot longer.”
Curtin and his colleagues did some research on the slimy thing that makes the drink, which is known as a SCOBY.
“That kind of looks quite disgusting, doesn’t it?” Curtin mused.
The professor explained that SCOBY stands for “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.”
“The name tells you that they work together, they’re friends and they sit within,” he explained. “That’s cellulose. The bacteria make that. It’s kind of like a home for the yeast and bacteria to live in.”
In a collaboration with Kombucha Brewers International, which is the industry body for kombucha brewers in the United States, OSU got more than 100 SCOBYs from commercial brewers from all over the country and even some from overseas to study.
From those, they found four specifically different types of SCOBYs.
“The main thing that the SCOBY does in kombucha is make organic acids, and that’s what gives kombucha the tartness and the vinegar smell is a different kind of organic acid,” Curtin said.
OSU also helped Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. design a new starter culture — another name for a SCOBY — to give them the flavor profile they wanted for their “Strainge Beast” hard kombucha.
Curtin explained this is an interesting example of how they utilize their research.
“We just worked, you know, just lockstep in trying out lots of different iterations of different yeast and bacteria combinations,” Tom Nielsen with Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. said. “It was one of the most fun projects I’ve ever had, as well as had the pleasure to take part in.”
It was like a tailored solution to achieve a certain flavor, Curtin concluded.