Separating Fact From Fiction: What Is a Mushroom SCOBY?

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The SCOBY, or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, is the starter culture for kombucha tea fermentation. Sometimes called a mushroom SCOBY, this colony of bacteria and yeast is, in fact, not a type of fungi.

Is a SCOBY a Mushroom?

Though they are sometimes referred to as a kombucha mushroom, a SCOBY is not a fungus (or mushroom) at all. Some confusion may come from the fact that they look similar or that kombucha is sometimes called Manchurian mushroom tea. However, a kombucha SCOBY has nothing to do with mushrooms.

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Paralepista flaccid mushroom caps

What Is a SCOBY?

Whether commercial or homemade kombucha brewing, the fermentation process starts with a “kombucha mother,” otherwise known as a SCOBY. The SCOBY is the thick, gelatinous mass that aids fermentation. The appearance of a SCOBY can vary, but most of the time, it is round, rubbery, and dense.

When fermenting a batch of kombucha, the mother SCOBY is added to sweet tea (either black or green tea) and fermented for 1-4 weeks at room temperature in a container covered with a mesh cloth or cheesecloth fastened with a rubber band, allowing it to breathe. As the SCOBY sits in the sweet tea, it grows a second SCOBY, which can be used in future fermentations or several other ways. Many brewers then add flavors such as fruit juices, herbs, or pieces of fruit and let it sit for a second fermentation.

Other fermented drinks and foods (like kefir, ginger beer, and sauerkraut) use similar symbiotic cultures in their fermentation process.

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Why is the SCOBY Called a Kombucha Mushroom?

The kombucha starter gets the nickname ‘kombucha mushroom’ because of its appearance, which is similar to a large tawny funnel cap or oyster mushroom. Though they may look similar, SCOBYs and mushrooms have about as much in common as broccoli and chocolate.

Other than kombucha mushrooms, SCOBYs are sometimes called tea fungi, kombucha fungi, tea mushrooms, or kombucha starters.

What is the Function of a SCOBY?

The bacteria and yeast in the SCOBY break down the sugars in the sweet tea, turning them into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and acids. This results in a fizzy, fermented tea that has a sweet, vinegary taste and is full of probiotics.

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Various kombucha tea flavors

How Do You Make a SCOBY?

You’ll need to start with a SCOBY to brew your own kombucha. There are a couple of ways to go about finding (or making) one:

  • Grow your own: You can grow a SCOBY using sweet tea and starter tea (i.e., unflavored kombucha).
  • Get one from a friend: If you know someone with a few kombucha SCOBYs, ask if they’re willing to share. Add sweet tea and raw, unflavored kombucha and allow it to ferment.

The latter is quicker than the former since you already have a SCOBY culture to start with.

Is it Okay to Eat or Drink SCOBY?

Drinking kombucha SCOBY (the slimy sediment at the bottom of unpasteurized kombucha) may not seem that appetizing, but it can be beneficial. SCOBYs harbor the same health benefits, if not more, as kombucha. The SCOBY and kombucha tea are full of probiotics, which aid in gut health and boost your immune system.

Some kombucha brewers use their extra SCOBY discs for other DIY recipes, such as SCOBY candies, jerky, or dog treats. There are several ways to consume the SCOBY and benefit from everything it offers.


Margaret has been drinking kombucha for its health benefits since 2010. Not only does she love drinking it, but she also enjoys brewing her own homemade booch. Her favorite combination so far is mint-strawberry, but she is always experimenting with new recipes.

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