Help! My Roommates Hate My SCOBY

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They call it the monster in our kitchen. It’s light brown and tentacled and floats in a vat of its own liquid. It’s my SCOBY and I love it very much. My roommates, on the other hand, just wish it would stop smelling so bad. They've reasoned with me: Throw it out, destroy it, chop it into bits and never speak of it again. Once, they even asked me to move out and take it with me. However, I stand resolute, SCOBY in hand jar. There has to be a better way.

For the unfamiliar, a SCOBY (which stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) is sometimes called a mother or culture. Because of their composition, SCOBYs are smooth, slippery, and gelatinous to the touch. If they get big enough, they start to develop wispy tentacles and the whole entity starts to look like an alien crossed with a jellyfish. I'd be remiss not to say that, yeah, they're pretty terrifying to behold. It's essentially a hotel for a whole cast of microbes. But it is truly the only thing that can take my big jar of tea and turn it into my big jar of fermented tea. I'm forever grateful.

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My SCOBY and I have been together for five years and countless batches of tart, tangy, refreshing kombucha. Ever since a friend in Texas introduced me to the art of brewing, there has been no looking back. I’ve torn off layers for friends (don’t worry, that does no harm); I've brought it on planes and driven it across state lines in tiny jars; I tried, unsuccessfully, to keep it in my freshman year dorm, but the combination of closet-sized quarters and a constant caravan of guests didn't bode well. Lets just say I left that room with a carpet stain that wasn't there when I moved in.

Its current home is the cupboard above my kitchen sink. I call it the fermentation station. My roommates call it hell. I also keep jars of carrots and jalapeños submerged in brine, as well as finely chopped cabbage languidly making its way to sauerkraut, in there. The SCOBY marinates happily in a giant gallon jug of brewed black tea. That is, until I open the cabinet to check on its progress. It’s then that a wave of vinegar, a noxious funk so thick it’s almost visible, begins to seep across the kitchen, into the living room, and...into my roommate’s room. (No, my SCOBY is not rotten, it's just being it's smelly lil' self.)

My fermentation station: where all the magic happens.
My fermentation station: where all the magic happens. Photo by Valerio Farris

My SCOBY is like that hard to manage house guest. They'll leave an unwashed dish on the coffee table or make a snide remark about your roommate's bedding (so what if it's floral?). They track mud through the front door and probably leave the cap off your tube of toothpaste, which they insist on using. It's all a bit much and just when you're about to ask them to leave, you come home to a velvety pasta sauce simmering on the stove, freshly baked bread rising in the oven. Welcome home, they gush, and spoon something unbelievably delicious into your agape mouth and suddenly all their wrongs are righted and you love them and you ask them to move in, messy habits and all. Your roommates shake their heads in anger and confusion.

Which leads me to wonder: Can I fix this? Which friend do I ultimately part with: my gelatinous or my human one? My SCOBY is consistent, reliable, and we're going on 5 years strong. It works on a schedule and feeds me an elixir teeming with fruity effervescence. I can't say the same for my human friends. All they can do is talk. You tell me, what would you choose?

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I’ve tried, I really have, to find some type of deodorant for my SCOBY, a meet-me-halfway kind of salve for a souring roommate relationship. But there’s really nothing that seems to work. The old box of baking soda didn’t do much. Thanks to an unseasonably cold spring, open windows aren't currently available. Reed diffusers and scented candles only mask the stink with fragrance (and Tahitian Vanilla & Vinegar is arguably much, much worse).

After a long day, my roommate comes home disheveled, angry. Probably her train took too long or she had a tough time at work or someone stepped on her foot crossing the street, who knows. Regardless, I pour her a cold glass of kombucha. This one I've flavored with lemon and ginger. It has a bite, just what one needs after a blustery February day. She gulps it down, feeling refreshed, satiated, slowly brought back to life. "Thanks SCOBY," she nods towards the cabinet, begrudgingly. So for now, my SCOBY stays where it is, au naturel.

Do you have a stinky SCOBY? How do you deal? Tell us in the comments.

Tags: Alcohol-Free Drinks