Fermented Friday #1: Ginger Bug!

Another repost from the old blog. I am coming to realize soda making is a super fun, fairly inexpensive hobby. It’s healthier than the store bought stuff, and you do not have to pay a sugar tax to your local Uncle Sam!

One of the reasons behind homesteading for us is the cutting down of stuff; a limiting of trash. Unfortunately – or not – a lot of this garbage comes from food packaging. Not only can we (most probably) all agree that refined foods are bad for you, but they also generate some of the most garbage – plastic bags inside of boxes, wrapped in cellophane? This means that the sleeve of saltines is one of the first things to go, which is not a huge effort for us, but a little tougher than kicking the saltines to the curb is our seltzer habit. Aside from milk, seltzer is the only beverage we buy from the store.

Embarking on a seltzer-less journey, I really wanted to find some sort of substitute for the whole family that could still give us that mouth cleansing effervescence found in a can of seltzer. Of course (mediocre) beer is easy enough to make, but even with a low ABV, it could easily result in trouble, especially if we start giving it to the kids, so that’s out. Then there is kombucha, which my daughter will devour, but my son is repulsed by. So I turned my eye toward soda.

Our kids very rarely have soda – mostly at church functions and birthday parties – as it is not exactly what I would call child-friendly or healthy. But as I thought about brewing a batch of soda, I remembered back to college, making a few batches of Birch beer soda, then I remembered adding sugar. Where as beer brewing the yeast convert the sugar into alcohol, with soda, the yeast only turn the sugar into carbonation and are put in the fridge. They are not given enough time to create an alcoholic brew. (Plus it is the wrong kind of yeast.) With this concept in mind, it became clear that the amount of sugar added to a brew is more-or-less up to the cook, and has potential to be a low-sugar beverage.

You can make soda a few different ways, most recently it seems that soda making machines are all the rage, but that sort of defeats the purpose of getting rid of stuff. You can also just add sugar water or juice to seltzer – again, defeating the less-junk purpose. But believe it or not, there is a way to make soda naturally, with lacto-fermentation. This is the path we decided to take. Where as kombucha needs a SCOBY to grow, soda needs a bug, and once you have a bug, the soda possibilities are only limited by your imagination. And there are a plethora of books out there to help you on your journey to soda making master.

Once you’ve made a bug – or otherwise obtained a culture – the process is fairly simple: boil some water, add some sugar, add some flavorings, cool, add some bug, bottle. But before you go making a bug or some soda, there are some things to consider:

  1. Grolsch style bottles are recommended, though they should be burped during the fermentation process. No one wants a ginger ale cocktail bomb in their pantry.
  2. For the cocktail bomb reason, you can always reuse older plastic soda bottles. (Plastic bottles do not really create shrapnel.)
  3. Carbonation is fleeting. We have found that once a bottle is fully opened. Soda should be consumed with in a couple of days lest it become a flat, nasty, mess. This is why we use 1-liter or smaller bottles. (Also, Grolsch bottles are smaller, single serving sizes. It also seems that cola-style sodas seem to loose their carbonation quicker.)
  4. Like beer, you can filter your soda and remove some of the flavorings before bottling, or you can leave them for an unfiltered taste and appearance. Once soda has become carbonated, it’s very hard to filter the flavorings without going flat, so we remove the flavorings prior to bottling.

Making the Bug

ginger bug
A bubbling, happy, bug.

Making a ginger bug is a fairly simple process. It requires a bit of prolonged attention, but very little time. To make a bug here’s what you’ll need:

35-45 grams of finely chopped ginger
35-40 grams of white sugar
2 cups of water
Quart Size Mason Jar

Before we make the bug, we process all our ginger in the food processor; after we’re done with what we need for the day, we put it back in the fridge until the next day we need it. The naturally occurring yeast that turn apples into cider and grapes into wine are found on the skin, so we include our ginger skin when making a bug, but you don’t have to. As for the sugar, you can experiment around with different types, but when it comes down to it, simple white sugar seems to be the best for making a bug. Remember, honey is an antimicrobial, so while you may be able to play around with individual batches and honey, your bug will have a hard time staying alive surviving just on honey.

On day one add 15 g (or 1 large tablespoon) of ginger to your mason jar. Add an equal amount of sugar, and your two cups of water. Stir it up so the sugar dissolves. Cover it with a coffee filter and rubber band, put it in a warm place and let it rest until tomorrow. (Supposedly, metal kills yeast and should not be used to make breads and other products that contain microorganisms. Growing up, we always used a fork to make pizza dough and never had a problem. All the same, we use a wooden spoon now.)

On day two, add 5 g of ginger and an equal amount of sugar. Stir, cover and let rest.

Screenshot_20180420-094202.png
Cold, green tea ginger ale.

Continue this process for a total of five days – so three more days – or more if you are in a colder climate and your bug does not seem to be generating much activity. You will know your bug is alive when bubbles start amassing on the surface. You also can start smelling faintly floral yeasty activity within the jar and if you’re quiet, you can hear the bubbles popping.

Once your bug is formed, you can use it right away to make some naturally fermented soda, or you can wait. There are two options to waiting, you can store it on the counter or in the fridge. If you store the bug on the counter, it will remain active and will need to be fed nearly daily 5 g of ginger and an equal amount of sugar. If you store the bug in the fridge, it will still need to be fed, but on a weekly basis. To be honest, I’ve had a bug in the fridge that I’ve forgotten about for three weeks, and it survived.

Replenishing the Bug

After making your first batch of soda – most recipes call for ½ cup of bug – you need to replenish your bug. Add half a cup of water, 5 g of ginger and 5 g of sugar. Typically after use we like to leave the bug on the counter for a day or two (feeding it each day) to really get active and incorporate the new water before we throw it back in the fridge. It’s been a fun experiment for both parents and kids and tastes pretty good, too, though I can’t say it’s a permanent staple in our fridge.

3 thoughts on “Fermented Friday #1: Ginger Bug!

  1. On day one add 15 g (or 1 large tablespoon) of ginger to your mason jar. Add an equal amount of ginger, and your two cups of water. Stir it up so the sugar —- do you mean add an equal amount of sugar?

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