Help! My Roommates Hate My SCOBY

April 26, 2018

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.

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.

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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. 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.

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Top Comment:
“Oh no, sounds like you should start fresh. Kombucha really shouldn’t smell that pungent. I also recommend changing your brew location. Kombucha needs plenty of airflow and shouldn’t be stored in a closed cupboard. Yeabucha.com has lots of great info and tips for home brewing kombucha. ”
— Brooke F.

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?

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.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


Andrew R. September 5, 2019
I use a molekule air filter. Destroys vocs. Works fantastic.
witloof April 29, 2018
I use Facebook as a creative outlet, posting stories about my life, and I often exaggerate certain things in order to increase contrasts, which makes the situation funnier. Some of my readers get the joke, while others take what I say literally and feel it is their duty to offer me advice, explain life to me in a condescending manner, or scold me. {They get acquaintance zoned after the second offense.} Lots of mean spirited scolding on this thread. People! The author is using literary license to tell a funny story. I can tell by her writing that she has more than enough self awareness to be a good roommate.
witloof April 29, 2018
Oops. That should be he, not she!!!
Maria April 29, 2018
I think the word you're looking for is drama queen. She's being that dramatic friend who makes a huge deal out of a situation for attention. Surely, you have enough self-awareness to get that.
Guillaume D. April 27, 2018
SCOBY's bews stink. I brew kombucha and I hate the SCOBY smell as well. Here's how I do it: I brew 1 gallon in a 2.5 gallon jar with a large opening. I put a cloth cover on it then i put the glass lid on top. The air volume in the jar is sufficient for the fermentation and bonus the brew gets slightly fizzy as CO2 does not escape so much. It works and it does not smell.
Valerio F. April 30, 2018
Ah, not a bad idea. I'll try it next batch!
Alvni P. April 27, 2018
I think this entire article is a justification for being a terrible, selfish roommate who values their own hobbies over the personal space of others.
Brooke F. April 27, 2018
Brewing kombucha isn’t a selfish hobby. And it’s not gross or stinky either. She just needs to reset her brew and start with a new SCOBY and tea. As someone who has 3-5 gallons brewing weekly all in small batch gallons, I have zero smell in my kitchen. Brewing kombucha is a fantastic hobby and shouldn’t bother anyone.
Alvni P. April 27, 2018
While it doesn't have to be, the author has made it clear what they want is more important than the rights of others to not have a sweeter smelling environment, even after pleading.
Valerio F. April 30, 2018
you're so right! A lot of this was written with comedic hyperbole in mind. Luckily, my roommates and I have a fantastic relationship!
witloof April 30, 2018
Valerio, my neighbor across the hall brewed kombucha and I could never deal with the SCOBY. But one day he decanted it and brought me a jar. I let it sit in the refrigerator because I was too afraid to try it, but one hot day I was thirsty and there it was, all cold and golden, so I chanced it. It was unspeakably delicious, really amazingly wonderful, but I refused his offer of a SCOBY so I could brew my own.
Maria April 27, 2018
Yes yes! Like everyone else recommends, throw out the scoby and start fresh! My scoby gives off just the slightest of kombucha tangs and as soon as it starts stinking, I change the tea and wash out my scoby jar
dtremit April 26, 2018
Put the SCOBY in your bedroom. And if you can't handle it, then maybe you'll conclude your roommate has a point :-)
Brooke F. April 26, 2018
Oh no, sounds like you should start fresh. Kombucha really shouldn’t smell that pungent. I also recommend changing your brew location. Kombucha needs plenty of airflow and shouldn’t be stored in a closed cupboard. Yeabucha.com has lots of great info and tips for home brewing kombucha.
Valerio F. April 30, 2018
Thanks for the tip! Love this site
Ttrockwood April 26, 2018
My scoby doesn’t have a strong scent unless you lean over the jar and smell it. Maybe it’s time to get a new scoby and scrub your fermenting jar really well...
Filip T. April 26, 2018
just candy it! we candied the scoby and it was great.
Valerio F. April 30, 2018
I've heard of this. How does it actually taste?!
Bo C. April 26, 2018
I completely understand your love for fermented foods (as a Korean, this is part of my identity!), but I think you might need to part with your scobi. If you lived in your own space, you can do whatever you want, but living in a shared space means that your rights to stinky foods are somewhat limited. Why don't you move your scobi to your room?
foofaraw April 26, 2018
That would be what I think too. Rational solution for solvable problem.