What is a Ginger Bug?
Have you ever heard of a ginger bug? No? I hadn’t either, that is, until just a few weeks ago. But once I read about it, I couldn’t wait to give it a try.
A ginger bug is a natural lacto-fermented ‘soda’ starter. Lacto-fermentation is an anaeorobic process (meaning without oxygen) by which friendly bacteria and yeast break down sugar to form lactic acid.
Another amazing fermented drink that is similar to ginger bug soda is kombucha soda. You can read more about kombucha here.
Today we are going to dive into making ginger bug soda, I mean really, how great is that name right?
How Do You Make a Ginger Bug?
To make a ginger bug all you need is ginger root, unrefined sugar, and non-chlorinated water (chlorine kills bacteria). Similar to a sourdough starter, the ginger bug traps wild yeast and beneficial microorganisms, which in turn break down the sugar to produce lactic acid and carbon dioxide.
The production of carbon dioxide produces the fizz or effervescence in the finished ginger bug ‘soda.’ Alcohol is also a bypoduct of the lacto-fermentation process; but don’t worry, the ginger bug isn’t fermented long enough to produce anything beyond negligible amounts of alcohol.
You might expect the ginger bug soda to be sweet, with the addition of sugar over several days, but it’s surprisingly not. Remember, the sugar is for the bacteria, and not for you.
Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
While I’m generally skeptical about most health food claims, there appears to be consensus that fermented foods are all-around good for you. Heck, people have been fermenting food for hundreds of years. It’s how they were able to preserve food before refrigeration.
In the words of Sandor Katz (who has written several books on fermentation): “Fermented foods are alive. Industrially processed food is dead.”
Here are just a few benefits of fermented foods.
- Fermentation not only preserves nutrients, but breaks them down into more digestible forms.
- Fermentation creates new nutrients; microbial cultures create B vitamins (including folic acid, riboblavin, niacin, etc.).
- Fermentation removes toxins in food.
- Some ferments function as antioxidants, scavenging harmful free radicals from the body.
- Fermented foods are rich in lactobacilli (aka health enhancing probiotics like those found in yogurt); they promote the growth of healthy flora in the intestine which helps with digestion.
Watch Out For Commercially Fermented Foods
Now that I’ve told you about some of the health benefits of fermented food, I must also warn you that most commercially available fermented foods (found in stores) have been pasteurized, which kills off all the good microorganisms such that you lose all of the aforementioned benefits.
So best to ferment foods at home yourself. Plus it’s fun and easy. The microorganisms essentially do all the work. You just need to sit there and wait patiently while the microorganisms do their thing.
You can see that after a couple of days in the bottle, the ginger bug soda is nice and fizzy and bubbly.
It really helps to have these flip top bottles! I love mine and use them all the time! In fact I am getting ready to buy a second case!
Customizing Ginger Bug Soda With Tea or Juice
You can use any type of fruit juice, tea, or herb for your ginger bug ‘soda.’ I made a couple of batches so far: The first batch with a combination of watermelon juice (you’ll need a juicer for that) and hibiscus tea, and the second with black cherry juice.
To make hibiscus tea…
Bring 48 ounces of water to a boil. Turn off the heat and add 3 tablespoons organic hibiscus flowers and 2 cinnamon sticks, and let it steep for 20 minutes. Strain. You can sweeten with a little sugar or honey if you like (about 2 tablespoons, more or less to taste).
You can even make your own fermented root beer ‘soda’ with an assortment of herbs and roots (including sassafras and sarsaparilla). Definitely want to try this next. You can order all sorts of interesting roots and herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs.
- ginger root
- unrefined sugar
- unchlorinated water (chlorine in water will kill off or inhibit some of the beneficial bacteria)
- 1/4 cup ginger bug liquid (from above)
- 1 quart fruit juice and/or tea
- For the Ginger Bug: Mix 2 tablespoons grated ginger, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 2 cups of unchlorinated water in a clean class jar. Cover with cheesecloth or coffee filter and secure with a rubberband.
- For the next 5 to 7 days, add 2 tablespoons grated ginger, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 2 tablespoons unchlorinated water. After 5 to 7 days, the ginger bug will begin to foam and bubble, and is ready to use.
- For the Ginger Bug 'Soda': Mix 1/4 cup of the ginger bug liquid and fruit juice/tea, and transfer to flip top bottles and allow to ferment for 3 days at room temperature. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill before opening.
- Note: Once you have your ginger bug, you can store in the fridge and feed 2 tablespoons grated ginger, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 2 tablespoons unchlorinated water once per week.
Equipment Needed For The Ginger Bug: Clean class jar, Cheese cloth or coffee filter, rubberband
Equipment Needed For The Ginger Bug Soda: Flip top bottles washed with vinegar and hot water, and rinsed (soap can kill the beneficial bacteria, so use white vinegar)