What is a scoby? The crazy kombucha ingredient putting people off the drinks

Maddy Kinkead

The ‘scoby’ is the secret ingredient that turns tea into kombucha, and when you see one, you’ll want to reconsider drinking kombucha ever again.

A viral TikTok posted on May 11, 2023 has gained over three million views in three days, and had viewers going down endless rabbit holes about what a scoby actually is.

If you’re a kombucha lover, you’ll know this health drink has a bit of a cult following, but you won’t believe what the process of making it looks like.

What is a scoby?

“Scoby” stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” And although this may sound like a boring scientific term, this thing looks like a giant alien jellyfish. This things are also sometimes called a ‘mother’ which may or may not be connected to the fact it looks like a placenta… The scoby discussion has been fueled by this crazy TikTok:

This TikTok shows a member of staff who works in a kombucha factory, pulling a scoby out of a huge vat.

People in the comments were horrified at this thing, with someone commenting, “I absolutely thought that scoby was raw chicken.” And another saying, “Is that not an octopus?” People were even noting that it literally looks like human flesh.

Much like sourdough bread needs a ‘starter’ made from yeast, kombucha, hard seltzers, ciders, and other home brews need a scoby for part of the fermentation process.

People on TikTok were equally grossed out and amazed by this thing, and many were going down rabbit holes learning about this crazy ingredient. Have no fear, you’ll be a scoby expert by the time you’re done here.

How is a scoby made?

A kombucha scoby
This gross-looking thing is what makes kombucha possible.

Scobys can be bought online, and some home brewers even share them among friends like a friendship bracelet for organic homemade drinks. Whatever way you accquire your scoby, this opaque, rubbery mass is unsettlingly like a big piece of human flesh that you put in iced tea to turn it into kombucha.

To make one of your own, take a store-bought bottle of kombucha and add the last quarter of it (the bit with all the gunk at the bottom of the bottle) and add it to your iced-tea of choice. Ensure your iced-tea is sweetened with a cup of granulated white sugar, as this is what ferments and gives the kombucha its signature fizziness and tanginess. Leave this concoction for 1-4 weeks and your scoby will be born.

The idea is to use your scoby over and over again until it becomes like a really weird pet that you keep in your home.

What is kombucha?

Kombucha is just fermented iced tea, and is meant to be good for your digestive health. It’s something that you’d find in Trader Joes, and something that many organic food-heads are very passionate about.

It’s been around for centuries and many swear by its health benefits, but it has become very popular in recent years with the kind of people who like to get up at 6am to do yoga. It’s become so popular in fact, that PepsiCola bought its own kombucha company in 2016.

Even avid kombucha drinkers were shocked to find out that one of these scobys will have lived in their favorite drink, with people vowing that they would never drink kombucha again.

Kombucha drinks have become a health food trend.

Among the dozens of people saying that these TikToks ‘ruined kombucha’ for them, as well as some saying the fact that anyone would drink kombucha is insane – some people had a different outlook:

“The people watching this and saying they are never drinking kombucha are the same people who go and eat those mystery meat nuggets from McDonald’s,” one person noted. Although kombucha is definitely lower in calories than McDonald’s nuggets, there is definitely no mystery meat involved. McDonald’s nuggets are made from 100% chicken – which is kind of what a scoby looks like anyway.