Once you learn how to make real, healthy ginger ale…you’ll never drink soda again.
I once heard someone describe the process of fermentation as a spiritual experience…and ever since, the idea has stuck with me. Think about it. With a few small steps and a bit of tending, you’re rewarded with profound nourishment for body and mind, a substance — whether it’s kombucha or kimchi or kefir — that will drive impurities from the corporeal body and fortify the soul. Under your care, it brews itself, nature’s alchemy demanding nothing but a bit of attention and maybe a quick stir every now and then. I think about this spiritual connection every time I spy my quickly-expanding fleet of kombucha SCOBY’s sitting on the shelf, every time I’m left wondering what to do with the remaining liquid from homemade sauerkraut (drink it). Fermentation requires that we place our trust in nature, that we learn to read the signs; as a reward we’re bestowed with better health, increased energy and a system that runs like a well-oiled machine.
I’ve been making a point to incorporate more gut-healing fermented foods into my diet recently, which means my countertop and shelves are brimming with jars of mysterious-looking mixtures that bubble and fizz, the most intriguing of which is my most recent obsession: a ginger bug. I learned about ginger bugs (or ginger cultures) earlier this year, and no, they’re not little scurrying creatures. A ginger bug is a fermented culture made from water, sugar and chopped ginger root, and from it, you can make a naturally fermented soda full of probiotics and good-for-you enzymes. Not even remotely related to the sugary nightmares found on store shelves, fermented “soda” uses naturally-occurring yeast in the air to ferment and bubble and, after a short time on your shelf, you’re rewarded with a healing brew that will ease an upset stomach or just refresh on a hot day. Below is a recipe for both the “bug,” which takes several days to develop, as well as an all-natural ginger ale, but feel free to experiment with different mixtures for the final “soda” once you get the hang of it!
A note on sugar: for the bug/culture, regular white sugar is necessary. This is what the enzymes feed off of — other sweeteners will not work.
How to Make a Ginger Bug
1 extra large piece organic ginger (if using non-organic, be sure to peel it)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 cups filtered water
1 quart size mason jar, sterilized + air-dried
Coffee filter or cloth
Grate or finely chop 3 tablespoons of ginger. If using organic ginger, there is no need to peel it, but non-organic should be peeled.
Place 3 tablespoons of the sugar and the grated ginger in the mason jar and top off with the filtered water. Stir with a non-metal spoon (wooden or ceramic). Cover the jar with the coffee filter and use the rubber band to secure it in place. Store in a room-temperature place, away from direct sunlight and other fermenting cultures like kombucha to prevent cross-pollination.
Every day for the next several days (about 5, but sometimes less and sometimes up to 8 days), add 1 tbsp chopped ginger and 1 tbsp white sugar and give it a stir with a non-metal spoon. If you see mold form on the top, you can scrape it off, but if mold appears more than once, toss the whole thing out and start over (hey, fermentation takes patience). You’ll know the culture is ready to go when it becomes somewhat cloudy, smells a bit like yeast and fizzes when you stir it.
Once it’s brewed, you’re ready to start making “soda”!
To keep the bug alive: feed it daily with 1 tsp sugar and 1 tsp chopped fresh ginger. You can also house it in your fridge to give it a rest, but you’ll need to reactivate it by bringing it to room temperature before feeding it again.
How to Make All-Natural Ginger Ale
1/4 cup ginger bug
4 cups boiling water
1/4 cup grated or minced fresh ginger
1/3 cup raw sugar
3 tbsp raw honey or maple syrup
Large glass bowl
1-liter glass bottle with a sealable flip top
Coffee filter or cloth
Place the grated ginger in the mixing bowl and carefully cover with boiling water to create a ginger tea. Allow the water to cool completely.
While the water cools, pour the sugar and maple syrup into the glass bottle. Add the ginger bug and cooled ginger tea, and stir to combine (you can also seal the bottle and turn it over a few times to mix it). Uncork the bottle and cover the top with the coffee filter, holding it in place with the rubber band. Allow it to sit for 24 to 48 hours, then seal, turn it over a few times to mix. Allow to ferment for 3-5 days with the cover sealed (this is what creates the bubbles). Enjoy!
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