Kombucha can be brewed even with tiny amounts of inocculate, such as the little bit of sediment at the bottom of store-bought kombuchas. Over 1-2 weeks, this can grow into an inch thick film covering the entire surface of the brew; a very striking accumulation of biomass. Where is the material for this biomass coming from?
It seems like most recipes for kombucha brew consist of:
- 5.7% sugar
- 0.7% black tea
- 10-30% of a previous, "finished" kombucha
- SCOBY (optional, the kombucha in the previous step is sufficient)
I can see how the sugar provides carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and energy. Of course, merely providing the elements is not necessarily sufficient, since often enough cells require specific compounds as well. But I'll assume the SCOBY community, in aggregate, is able to transform the sugar into every CHO compound it needs. However, what about nitrogen? The amount of tea seems minute, and tea seems like not a very rich source of protein/amino acids. Sugar doesn't contain nitrogen, and while dead SCOBY constituents from the initial kombucha can conceivably be cannibalized, the cannibalism cannot account for dramatic increase of SCOBY biomass because of conservation of mass.