Adobe Stock/Eric Hood
Various quaffable carbonations beckon to us from grocery store shelves. But the best way to get your fizzy flavor fix is to brew fermented sodas at home. For starters, home-brewed beverages cost a fraction of the price of the store-bought versions. Additionally, you can customize your own sodas based on flavors your family will enjoy — and who doesn’t love a carbonated drink? Even better, what if it were a healthy, invigorating, bubbly drink packed full of natural probiotics?
By consuming small amounts of fermented foods daily, you’ll help the digestive system become stronger so that colonies of healthy probiotic bacteria — or gut flora — can thrive. Not only do the gut flora benefit, but so do the stomach and intestines. When gut flora are off balance, our natural defenses against harmful bacteria weaken, making it difficult to combat these pathogens. It’s also equally important that we replenish probiotic bacteria in the digestive system once a round of antibiotics has been completed. Consuming fermented foods can even help lessen or reduce allergies for some people, and reduce inflammation in tissues for those affected by arthritis. Drinking fermented sodas made with a ginger bug starter will easily satisfy your daily fermentation consumption need.
Making a ginger bug is the first step in brewing fermented beverages, such as ginger ale, root beer, and homemade flavored sodas. An active culture produces bubbles around the top of the mixture, and will fizz when stirred. The culture will also smell slightly sweet and yeasty. If the temperatures in your home are too cool or too hot, this can affect how long it’ll take the ginger bug to culture.
This ginger bug culture will need to be fed daily with grated or finely chopped fresh ginger root. Missing a day can starve the culture, which leads to drastic consequences; if you starve the ferment, you’ll have to start again. If you aren’t using an organic ginger root, remove the skin; you can leave the skin on if your ginger root is organic. However, the decision is ultimately yours.
Keep your ginger bug alive by placing it into a “hotel” for storage when it’s not in use. Unlike kefir grains, the ginger bug can’t be preserved, so you can only rest it short-term. The ginger bug can rest in the refrigerator for an extended period. A glass canning jar with a plastic lid screwed on tightly will work well for this. Though it’s resting, it’ll still need to be fed once a week with 1 tablespoon each of grated ginger and sugar. Set a weekly reminder on your calendar to do this.
When you’re ready to begin using the ginger bug once again, it’ll need to be awakened. This can be done by first allowing it to warm up to between 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and then feeding it daily. You’ll know the culture is active and awake once bubbles appear. How long this process takes depends on the temperature of your home. If you’re waking the culture during the winter months, put it on top of the refrigerator, or next to the stove, to keep it warm and thriving.
Cultured foods fermenting too close together can cross-contaminate, meaning the wild ferment can travel from one vessel to another. To avoid this, keep ferments, such as sourdough starter, kombucha crocks, kefir grains, and ginger bugs, at least 4 feet apart from each other.
Learn how to put your ginger bug to use with these recipes:
Ann Accetta-Scott is a homesteader and blogger who lives in the Puget Sound area of Washington and teaches classes on food preservation. This article and its accompanying ginger bug recipe are excerpted from her book The Farm Girl’s Guide to Preserving the Harvest (Rowman & Littlefield).