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Place your scoby in the tea

Help! My SCOBY Is UGLY and Other Common Issues

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scoby ugly 2
There are a lot of common misbeliefs when it comes to SCOBYs – the wonderful SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeasts) that makes our beloved kombucha! Here are some of the issues I get asked about the most:

My SCOBY is Moldy!

(which is almost never the case . . .) You see, every time you make a new batch of kombucha and add your starter tea and SCOBY,  you will get a new SCOBY that forms on top of whatever vessel you are using.  In days 1-3, when your new SCOBY is beginning to form, it begins by developing a thin film or spots on top of your brew. This is often mistaken for mold. Mold is very rare when it comes to kombucha. If you ever do develop mold, it will be fuzzy and on TOP of the brew. As the days go on, it will be become a very distinct spot and color – either stark white, blue, or black. This can only happen if something is majorly off with your brew such as using the wrong ingredients (or forgetting one). Or you added your starter tea and SCOBY while your tea was still very hot, killing the good bacteria. Or your brew belt is getting much too hot for your vessel, killing the brew itself. Essential oil diffusers in the same room as your brew and other ferments can kill off the good bacteria and cause an imbalance as well. The only other reason you would get mold is if you have mold somewhere in your house. So before you panic and throw out the whole batch, give it a few more days and allow what most likely is a SCOBY to finish forming on top.

There Are Brown Strings and Dark Spots!

Scoby Yeast Strings Congrats! Everything is still okay. These are simply good yeast strings forming on your brew and are a normal sign of fermentation as well, especially after your first few brews. They will increase in numbers over time.

My SCOBY is Very Light!

Scoby White-001 Again, no worries here either! This comes from either your first batch or you are using green or white tea. The lighter the ingredients, the lighter the SCOBY.

My SCOBY is Lumpy??

Scoby Yeast There is no truly “perfect” SCOBY and not all SCOBYs look the same. They can differ dramatically due to different ingredients, temperatures, seasons, and from your very own unique bacteria that already resides in your house. We’ve seen a number of unique looking SCOBYs over the years and almost nothing surprises us anymore. Do you see this SCOBY? It has many different colors and is lumpy but perfectly normal.

Gnats Flew Into My Brew and Laid Eggs on My SCOBY!

ALWAYS make sure to use a rubberband and a tightly woven cloth like a napkin or fabric square, or even a paper towel or coffee filter, to cover your brew. Also make sure that your sweet tea is covered while it is cooling and you will never have to deal with this problem. If this does happen, you will need to toss your whole brew.

My SCOBY Has Bubbles On Top of It!

scoby bubblesThis is GREAT! That means your brew is so carbonated that some of the bubbles have started forming on top of your brew. While this is not the goal of your brew, it is fine and can be normal in warmer areas 🙂

My SCOBY is Sinking!

Don’t panic! The SCOBY you use to start your brew can do whatever she likes. She can float, she can sink, she can lay sideways, or she can attach to the new SCOBY forming on top. You will get a NEW SCOBY on top of EVERY new brew. The new SCOBY will grow to fit the size of whatever size jar you are using. If the new SCOBY sinks, it is because she got moved. If you move the jar or the SCOBY on top, then the brew will start over with forming another new SCOBY. This is okay as well. Always go by the taste of your brew and not the SCOBY. Keep in mind that your SCOBY will only grow during the fermentation of a new batch. The starter SCOBY you add into the jar will stay the same size as when placed in the jar.

My SCOBY Has a Hole

Scoby holesCongrats! You have a nicely carbonated brew! The holes in a SCOBY come from bubbles forming and then popping to release pressure! Your house is most likely on the warm side or your starter tea was extra strong. Either way, way to go!

My SCOBY is Trying to Escape!

Climbing Scoby Haha, this is my favorite! This happens when you fill your jar a little too full and don’t provide enough room for the new SCOBY. Or your batch is extra fizzy. The scoby will start to climb the neck of the jar and carbonation will push it upwards. It’s fun to see! This is perfectly fine as well, so enjoy the show!

By the way this is delicious Hibiscus Tea Kombucha – hence the red color.

My  Whole SCOBY is Dark!

ScobyMonsterThe color of your SCOBY doesn’t matter. The darker you brew your tea (or coffee), or the darker the sugar you use (like Sucanat), or the longer a SCOBY remains in the jar from batch to batch, the darker she will get. This is simply staining from ingredients, so no worries!

My SCOBY Has White Spots!

Scoby white spots copy This can be bubbles forming on your SCOBY from carbonation! As mentioned above, this is NOT mold unless it is on top of the SCOBY and fuzzy and can be wiped off. If this is a white spot naturally formed on the SCOBY, then all is well!

Some Tea Leaves Got in and Attached to My New SCOBY!

scoby tea leavesThis is okay as well. It happens from time to time. I have even had a whole tea bag escape my vision and wind up attached to my SCOBY! They are very hardy and it won’t hurt them or your brew 🙂

My New SCOBY Attached to My Old SCOBY!

Triple ScobyYay! That is perfectly fine! It doesn’t have to happen, but it’s fine if it does. No worries at all here. You can tear them apart to start your next batch or you can leave them together as well.

My SCOBY is Very Thin.

scoby film 2If you are able to see through your SCOBY, a few things could be going on.

1. It may not be finished forming. As always, taste test your brew to know when it is ready. This is much more important than the SCOBY. But most often if you allow the brew to ferment a few more days it will get thicker and the brew will get less sweet.

2. If the brew has been fermenting for a while and the SCOBY is still very thin, it could be that your house is very cool. In the winter, or in houses below 70, the SCOBY will not thicken up like it will in warmer temps or in different seasons. Your brew can also take up to 3-4 weeks to finish. If your house is very cool, or if you are fermenting in winter, you can do a couple of things to help.  Try adding double or triple the starter tea. The more starter tea you add, the faster your brew will ferment. You can also get a heating strip to speed things along.

3. Now if you have established that the above reasons are NOT why your SCOBY is very thin, then something may be off. Make sure you are not cutting the brew time on your tea or using fewer tea bags than recommended. If there aren’t enough tannins in your water from the tea, this can make the brew taste weak Not using enough starter tea, or using the wrong ingredients or measurements, can also make your brew off. So in the beginning especially, follow our instructions to the tea (pun intended). 🙂 Once you have a good base going you can do more experiments with extra SCOBYs.

There is No New SCOBY!

If you have been fermenting for over a week and there is no sign of a new SCOBY forming on the top, and your house isn’t freezing cold, then something is wrong. You will ALWAYS get a new SCOBY forming on top. So either you killed your starter or you weren’t following instructions correctly.

What Do I Do With all these SCOBYs?!

IMG_7069As you know, after brewing for a while you will have dozens and dozens of SCOBYs. Even more if you make more than one batch or different flavors! We have a few options for what to do with them listed here: Scoby Dog Treats: Garden Scoby: But stay tuned very soon for a huge blog on fun and creative ways to use all those extra SCOBYs! So, don’t worry if your brew looks funny or your SCOBY isn’t a perfectly flat round pancake. SCOBYs are their own unique creation that adapt to your home. It’s all good.

42 Responses to "Help! My SCOBY Is UGLY and Other Common Issues"
  1. My water kefir and Kombucha are side by side and I noticed a thin “scoby” in my kefir. I don’t really care because they are both delicious but, will this negatively impact either one? 😳

  2. Just a question, I brew my kobucha and milk kefir side by side on the top of my fridge. Is this okay or could they taint each other? I use a paper towel and elastic over each of them.

  3. Hi Donna, Thank you for sharing your recipes and wisdom of cultured foods with us. I am second fermenting my Kombucha with bottled cherry juice. It has an unappetizing odor, and I am not sure if it is bad. What might have went wrong?

    • I’m not sure how many carbs the juice had. It was 100% tart cherry juice – 365 brand organic. I had forgotten to put a lid on the jar (I had covered it with a paper towel and I didn’t put enough cherry juice in it. The next day when I realized this, I added the appropriate amount of juice and put a lid on the jar.

  4. We keep missing her window for bottling and we end up vinegar. Can I use the vinegar as started with my scoby for a new batch?

    Thanks a bunch!

  5. Thank you for this helpful article and the other helpful questions and comments it has inspired.
    My SCOBY is currently in the fridge, between batches, and the jar got pushed too far back and partially froze. Will SCOBY survive freezing?

    • Hi John! Cloudy is usually fine! It usually comes from the type of sugar you are using and there is a small amount of cloudiness cause by natural fermentation. You may also need to clean out your vessel. If you have a lot of yeast strings in your brew it will be more cloudy. The yeast strings are fine though 🙂
      ~Maci The Team at CFL

  6. My kombucha doesn’t have a lot of fizz to it. Am I doing something wrong? I usually brew it for about 7 or 8 days. Also, I use 4 black tea bags and 2 green bags to 12 cups water. What is a good combination to use; also what is another good flavor

    • Hi Peggy,
      We have a few blogs on go to help with fizziness but first I would reccomend adding more tea bags. I usually add at 4 or 5. It will create a better flavor as well. Also make a note that your 1st ferment Kombucha will not have much fizz to it at all. If you really want fizz you need to 2nd ferment and the best way to get fizz on a 2nd ferment is 2 oz of juice to 14 oz of kombucha in a brew safe bottle and ferment again for 3-10 days depending how warm your house is and make sure that your kombucha is just a tiny tiny bit sweet before you bottle it for 2nd ferment. If your kombucha is very sour or overly vinegary it wont create much fizz in the bottle. ~Maci The Team at CFL

  7. I keep getting a papery thin layer… not a scoby. Im pretty experienced as i have been fermenting for approx 4 years. Its not cold and it still tasted fine but the scoby or layer was so thin it falls apart in my hands as i try to lift it out the jar. I ended up tossing the brew and start again using a spare scoby i had but had the same issue. After a few fails i decided to start a fresh and grow my own scoby from store bought. I think my brew was contaminated or maybe something environmental or maybe the balance of bacteria was effected some how? Have you had this issue before?

  8. Thank you, very reassuring. My second batch has a strange looking SCOBY. I have been wondering if I should throw it out. I think I will wait and see if it gets fuzzy. I was also doing pickles and Sauerkraut and kimchi in same back bedroom although a crossed the room. P S bought your book Cultured Food for Health. Love it.

  9. I’m on my fourth batch since getting my Scoby from you. It’s turned out perfect everything. I’ve been making it in a gall I n size ball jar with a plastic spickot. I can smell and taste the alcohol fermentation each time, I really didn’t expect it. 😆 I can only drink it before bedtime, it puts me to sleep. My new Scoby (s) are quite large. I’ve also been making milk Keefer and cultured Vegy’s. My milk Keefer has the carbonation in it after I refrigerate it for a day. I wish I had known about using the whey for culturing before, I’ve been making Greek yogurt for several years and always poured it down the drain and used some on my face. 😉

  10. I enjoyed your pictures of the scobys. I started in March of this year. I am in Phila. Pa. I am on my 7th batch. The first 2 had no scoby, I figured it was the cold. What I have now is a gray like powder on top. The next one I rinsed off the scoby and threw the tea out. The next ones I threw out the scoby and kept the tea. I even had one batch in the bedroom upstairs, the same thing again. I started with black tea, then oolong, and now Irish Breakfast. I finally like the taste of Irish Breakfast. I thought if I do not find one I like I do not know what I will do. I want to try the Hibiscue tea, next. So what do you think? I did not see any thing like mine. Thanks.

    • Hi Josie! If you do not get a scoby on your kombucha then something is really wrong. You will ALWAYS get a new scoby on top. I would get a new scoby and a new starter tea. I wouldn’t rinse the scoby in water as it doesnt need it and it can actually strip the scoby of some of its good bacteria. Make sure you are using starter tea as well. (which is plain kombucha) the starter tea is Much much much more important than the scoby and you will not be making a balanced brew without it. ~Maci The Team at CFL

  11. my scoby died a gruesome death and I am in need of a scoby what anybody like to send me a scoby and I will pay for postage I really am in need of one and I’m in Colorado my phone number is 720-288-9444 and I have kefir grains if anybody needs kefir grains. I don’t know if this is sending but I’m going to send it anyways and see if anybody response

  12. Thank you for the article. It is most informative. I often was wondering about y scoobies appearances. I took a brake from brewing because my blood glucose level was going up after I drank Kombucha. Even when brewing for 10 days to have less sugar in my Kombucha; longer made it turned to vinager. That made me very sad and thus promping my brake! So I put my scoobies in a mason jar with kombucha and a lid on it. It has been there for about 2 months already. Are they still good you think? And if I brew 12 cups of kombucha what is the minimum amount of sugar I can use in it? Thank you very much.

    • Hi Michele!
      You must use the 1 cup of sugar per 12 cups of water and 1 cup of starter tea in the brew. The sugar is for the brew and the scoby and not for you and if you add less it will either not work or it will just turn to vinegar faster. But yes your scobys that you saved (plus the starter tea kombucha) should be fine to make a new brew with just make a note that your starter tea will be very strong so check your brew a day or two early as it may be ready quicker. ~Maci The Team at CFL

  13. Ok this is a crazy question!
    Since scoby is a bacteria do you think it would workin compost toilet/outhouse?
    I apologize if I have offended anyone.

  14. Thank you for the article! Excellent. Answered a lot of my questions! Fabulous! Yahoo! I enjoy Kombucha so much I had to buy a new gallon glass jar to make even more. 😄

  15. This was/is a fascinating and very helpful topic to enlarge upon. You answered many questions I often wondered about. A generous offering of your immense talent and experience.
    Bless you !

    • Hi Debra! I use either spring water or filtered water from a Pur or brita filter. Filtered water works great as long as it isnt overfiltered. Reverse osmosis water removes the minerals and doesn’t work very well for any of the cultures ~Maci The Team at CFL

  16. Thank you for the informative article- can’t wait for ideas on what to do with all that scoby.

  17. This information is very helpful. The illustrations help very much. I have scobys that look like some of these, and mine are not all the same. Thank you for this “class”.

  18. Thank you for all this reassuring information. I have many scobys that I have saved in very little liquid in a covered container. How long do they keep, and can i still use them? It has been several months.
    I also made a batch of kombucha that there was a mini scoby in the final bottle, I did not see it before I drank it, there was no taste to this but I did not like the texture in my mouth so I strained it before drinkingthe next time. How can I prevent this in the future?

    • Usually a month or two is about the limit to store a scoby. You can filter your kombucha through a coffee strainer before you bottle it to keep it from forming another scoby.

  19. I thought you needed to put a lid on your storage Scott’s but I see there is a cloth on this one

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