Networks of Fermentation

Updated: May 15

Facebook SCOBYs, Kombucha Leather, and Cocktail Laboratories in Switzerland

Written by Danielle Lopez-Cecetaite


Fermentation

1. Any of a group of chemical reactions induced by microorganisms or enzymes that split

complex organic compounds into relatively simple substances, especially the anaerobic

conversion of sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol by yeast.

2. Unrest; agitation


Kombucha

1. A fermented, lightly effervescent, sweetened black tea or green tea drink commonly

consumed for its purported health benefits. It is thought to originate in China where it is traditional and then spreading throughout Eastern Europe by the early 20th century. A kombucha culture is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) containing one or more species each of bacteria and yeast, which form a zoogleal mat known as a “mother.”



Fermentation can be described with network theory. It examines structural relationships between social entities, the interactions between nature and species, and diffusions, exchanges, and innovations. Regardless of if we look at the network of interactions that led to the growth of a SCOBY, the diffusion of ancient knowledge, the link between the physiological systems, or interactions of new flavour molecules. Fermentation is about collaboration and exchange. Evidently, there is a marketplace exchange of SCOBYs, which are symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeast used for creating kombucha, on Facebook.

This story began fermenting intellectual and experimental exchanges at Camera F, an atelier and transdisciplinary research space, run by research-based Matteo Fieni. Soon after discovering a community of fermenters. Noelle Bayyoud, a biologist working at the University Hospital in Zurich, began selling her kombucha SCOBYs on the platform in January because she wanted to make the practice of making kombucha at home accessible for others. We shared a brief correspondence on Facebook Messenger to confirm they were still available. We met a few days later in her apartment, a short tram ride away from Zurich city center. Along her kitchen counter sat a tall jar partially filled with kombucha, a bowl with four healthy kombucha SCOBYs, small Aperol-sized bottles with propagating vegetables, and a small mound of green apples collected from a nearby farm.

Admittedly, she has not received many buyers, but those that have been customers were ecstatic to find someone selling. As none of the buyers have been from Zurich, Bayyoud’s culture is now dispersed across Switzerland. However, this kombucha culture originates in Russia. As a child, Bayyoud observed her grandmother’s fermentations and preservations, one of which resembled jellyfishes floating in a jar but were actually the SCOBYs. One day she tasted the kombucha and realized she quite liked it. In 2011 she relocated to the United Kingdom and took 100ml of her grandmother’s kombucha to use as a starter tea. She carefully cling-wrapped an air-tight plastic bottle so it would not succumb to the pressure of the plane. Upon arriving in the UK, she combined liquid with sweetened black tea and patiently waited. After a short period, the SCOBYs began to grow. Then Bayyoud moved to Switzerland and initiated the process in Zurich as well. And now, with the help of one of Bayyoud’s SCOBYs and some starter tea, there is a healthy jar of kombucha culture sitting in my kitchen in Lugano.


Bayyoud in her home in Zurich with a jar of kombucha and SCOBYs.


Sitting together in Bayyoud’s kitchen with the SCOBYs in a jar between us, we discussed the human culture around fermentation. “If you have a community that looks out for each other, you have a community that supports each other,” Bayyoud stated.