Wow, what a whirlwind of a holiday. I ended up going on an unplanned road trip for nearly a week, one of those “pack now” things, and I managed to grab my toothbrush but didn’t have time to even contemplate what to do with my kitchen pets. Thankfully though, I only came home to a very hungry sourdough and only lost some sprouts.
My ginger bug was fine, it was actually still bubbling though it hadn’t been fed in almost a week. I had some ginger cream soda (ginger ale with a vanilla pod thrown in) in the refrigerator that I was worried might explode, but that turned out to be okay as well. I was going to post about my cherry ginger cider last week, but I left my computer. Had a lot of fun on the trip though.
Also, sweetie gave me Wild Fermentation as an eBook and Art of Fermentation as an audio book :). Audio books are great when you do chores, during kitchen time, or when you don’t have a car and an errand can take from two to five hours. Right, ginger bug soda now.
If you don’t know what a ginger bug is, it’s basically a starter like sourdough, only for drinks instead of bread. You can use it to make your own lightly carbonated sodas without all the artificial additives and you control the sugar content. In fact, you can make a health tonic for it, as right away you are including ingredients with medicinal value. Ginger root itself has a number of healthy properties, and the lactobacteria within the root offer probiotic benefits. Even if you don’t care about probiotics and additives in your food, just the fun of mixing up your own flavors is worth it. I dare you to find a ginger cherry apple cider (with allspice) on the supermarket isle. Not gonna happen.
There are many potential soda ingredients that could work together as far as flavor is concerned while giving your body whatever therapeutic boost you might need. Just think of all the fruits and vegetables that are praised for their nutritional and therapeutic value: cranberries, blueberries, carrots, lemons, there are a ton of possibilities here. I have indeed added carrot juice to one batch of my soda hoping to increase my son’s vitamin A… Well that didn’t work for him but maybe you’ll like it. I loved it.
How to Make a Ginger Bug
It’s super easy. You get a jar and put in equal parts (I use 1/8 cup, many people use 1 or 2 tablespoons) of fresh ginger root, sugar, and water. Stir it up, cover the jar with something that can breathe (a loose lid or a cloth with a rubber band) and feed it this same amount every day. Don’t use a tight lid, the build up of carbon dioxide needs to escape so you don’t have a small and sticky explosion. In a few days, your ginger bug will start to bubble. If you want to take a break from feeding it, a ginger bug in your refrigerator only needs to be fed once a week.
I run my ginger root through a food processor and keep a processed root in my refrigerator, taking out a bit of it each day. That way I don’t have to cut it up each time. I’ve seen people use thinly sliced root, but when I was using a knife still I preferred to mince it as small as I could, exposing as much surface of the root as possible. Use organic; conventional ginger root may have been irradiated to increase shelf life, and the yeasts and bacteria naturally found in the root will have been damaged. Yes, I confirmed myself that I got better results with an organic root than a conventional root.
The sugar can be refined, but I use unrefined sugar. Brown sugar can also be used, just don’t use an artificial sweetener. The sugar feeds the yeast and lactobacteria in the root, so low-calorie sugar substitutes will not work. After my trip though, I’m starting to wonder if perhaps I might be able to use half a measure of sugar, since the bug was still going after so long and my sodas have been a little too sweet for my taste. I’ll play with that and get back to you on how it works. I’ve heard you can’t use honey because of antibacterial properties, but I’ve also heard that once it is diluted with water honey will work just fine (we can see this in mead). I’ve yet to try that, it’s on my “see what happens if I…” list.
For water I use filtered water. Tap water has chlorine in it which may interfere with bacterial growth. It might be possible to still ferment in it, but you may get decreased results. I’d also like to try different waters, to find out for myself if the minerals in my filtered tap water will benefit or damage my bug when compared to pure distilled water, or if spring water might be worth the cost. I do know this though: measure out your water every day. I read some recipes that had a set amount of water where you only measured out ginger and sugar every day, but I did not get results that were as good as measuring out the water along with the ginger and sugar. Besides, it would be harder to calculate how much sugar was in your mixture, by the time my bug was bubbly I ended up with something way too sweet and for some reason my bug wasn’t getting as bubbly as it does when I measure out the water as well. I think the mix got too thick and syrupy for the bug to bubble properly. Measuring the water daily means your bug is consistent in its flavor and thickness.
How to Make Soda From a Ginger Bug
When your ginger bug is nice and bubbly and you have about a cup or two of it (I’d use two cups in a gallon), simply strain the ginger out and add the liquid to whatever juice you would like to turn into a soda. If you are using juice from a store, make sure that it does not contain anything but fruit juice and water. It can be pasteurized, and doesn’t have to be organic (though that is preferred), but should not contain any additives or preservatives. Just fruit juice and water. Glass is the best container, if you use plastic go for a milk jug with a number 2 on the bottom and not the clear plastic with a number 1, number 1 plastic is not intended to be reused and is the plastic that leeches chemicals that may potentially mess with your hormones. A milk jug with a cap that screws on well will make the pressurizing step less dangerous (no explosion) and will be more air tight than with a cap that snaps on. Plastic is evil though. It makes baby dolphins cry.
You will likely need to remove some juice to make room for the bug, so pour out a glass and drink it. Funnel the ginger bug into the juice, cover lightly with a cloth or a loose lid, and wait a few days. Soon it should be bubbly. If you wish, you can then cap it tightly so the pressure builds and the soda is more carbonated. Careful, if the pressure builds up too much it may explode. This may be a good time to use that milk jug, you can squeeze it to see how the pressure is doing. If you’d rather use glass, you may wish to put it in a safe container. I had mine in a stock pot with a paper bag placed over it in the refrigerator when I was on vacation. You can “burp” it daily to release some of the pressure to prevent explosion. Best case scenario for a larger batch of soda: bottle the soda in reusable glass bottles and store in a cooler (that will contain explosions). Keep one plastic bottle, you can squeeze it to test how it is pressurizing and assume the glass bottle sodas will be comparable.
If you leave your soda on the counter longer, you will end up with something mildly alcoholic. Technically the soda is alcoholic as well, but in such small amounts that it’s comparable to many shelved fruit juices at the store, something so miniscule that it isn’t even required to be mentioned by the FDA. If you want to encourage alcohol growth, just leave it out on the counter until the bubbles start to decrease a little, indicating that either the alcohol is raising to a high enough level to start to kill the yeast, or that the sugar levels are decreasing (or both). Wild yeasts don’t tend to make a highly alcoholic beverage, they die off when the brew is about beer strength. This is a bonus for me personally (not looking for my daily healthy soda to make me all woozy), and even better it doesn’t need stuff like an airlock or sanitized equipment.
So, back to the recipe for this particular soda. Once upon a time, I had just filtered out my ginger bug and added it to a gallon of organic apple cider. I wondered what to do with the leftover ginger in my hand and had just decided to make tea with it when someone came by and gave me a giant bag of dried cherries. I quickly chopped about two cups of them up just a tad and threw them into my saucepan along with the ginger tea I had just made. I also decided to throw in about a tablespoon of ground allspice and 1/2 a cup of sugar (to offset the heat from the ginger being even more extracted than the simple bug).
Then I simmered it, covered, about half an hour on medium low. I believe the boozemakers call this a mash, and the resulting filtered liquid is a wort. So I strained the mash through some cheesecloth and simmered the wort uncovered to condense it (making a syrup) and let it cool before adding it to my jug of cider with the ginger bug in it already. Finally I covered it with an old clean tee-shirt scrap and a rubber band, let sit a few days and then:
A wonderfully spicy and sweet gently bubbly treat. Of the sodas I’ve made so far, this is my favorite, and not just because of the flavor. It’s also because of the leftovers.
When I was done, I still had a handful of ginger root to wonder what to do with, only now there were also some cherries in it. Thankfully, inspiration struck and it was magnificent. I can’t quite yet compost in my apartment (worms are on my wish list) and while I could cook with my leftovers (cherry gingerbread muffins sounded tempting) I thought of something better.
Yay food dehydrator! See, I’ve started a rejuvelac habit as well. It tends to be my breakfast, or the last thing I eat for the day (still haven’t decided which habit to keep). When I finish the drink, I just eat the sprouted grain (so far I’ve only tried wheat and rye). While I don’t mind the flavor, I don’t exactly look forward to it either. But if I powder things I strain in my ginger bug sodas, and add perhaps a tablespoon of flax seed (I’ve heard flax is more beneficial if not cooked) I can add this to the rejuvelac. I still get some sludge at the bottom that I spoon out to eat, and I’m sure I’ll come up with a smoothie type recipe soon, but for now this is working quite well :).
Next time I wish to add fruits to my ginger bug sodas, I’ll likely add the cooled mash to the jug for at least a couple of days so the probiotics can colonize the mash. Alternately, I might skip the mash part and just add all fruit ingredients to the ginger bug itself. Then when I strain out my flavorings, they will also be infused with probiotic bacteria. I can put my dehydrator on the lowest temp (which is 95°F, not higher than body temperature so safe for probiotics) and my rejuvelac flavor powder will contain even more beneficial goodness. If I manage to get into the homemade yogurt thing and use that as a smoothie base, I’ll have an even more diverse set of microbes and probiotic strains to my breakfast. That’s a work in progress though, and something I’m still thinking through. In the meantime, I’ve managed to figure out a great way to use instead of waste my leftovers from the ginger bug.
Update: It turns out that throwing a vanilla pod into your bug, or your fermenting soda (or both), works out very nice indeed for a Ginger Cherry Cream Cider. Also, I’m out of dried cherries and they don’t carry them at my local store. Sigh.
Fun stuff of interest by other people:
I’ve been collecting other people’s fermentation posts on my Pinterest. There’s lots of ginger bug stuff scattered throughout, including several soda recipes.
A Life Unprocessed shares the tidbit that ginger that has been frozen does not produce bubbly ginger bugs, and you probably shouldn’t use ginger that has been peeled. That’s good to know.
Holistic Squid shares a strawberry soda that I’m so going to try when they come back into season.
Sustainable Eats has a great article on different flavorings and methods from steeping to syrups.