A ginger bug is a natural soda starter: a fermented slurry of ginger, sugar, and water that contains beneficial bacteria. Once started, you use the ginger bug to make naturally fermented sodas, such as ginger beer or sodas made with any type of fruit juice or herbal tea with sugar as a base. Just like making kombucha, a ginger bug requires sugar for the bacteria and yeast to consume and time for the fermentation to happen.
Gathering Your Ingredients
If you're using organic ginger, you won't need to peel it for this recipe. But since organic ginger can be a little expensive, it's OK to use conventional ginger as long as you peel it (the peel is where most pesticide residue would be found). You can use a standard vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife.
It doesn't matter what kind of sugar you use as long as you don't use honey, which won't ferment properly. Some purists insist on using natural, unrefined sugar or evaporated cane juice, but white table sugar works just fine.
Here's everything you need to start your ginger bug:
- Quart mason jar
- Sugar of your choice
- 2 cups dechlorinated or filtered water
- Tightly woven cloth and rubber band to cover
- 2 to 3 tablespoons grated or chopped organic ginger
Making a Ginger Bug
Start by pouring the water into the quart jar. Finely chop or grate the ginger, and measure out 2 to 3 tablespoons. Add the ginger to the water, then add 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon (don't use metal) to blend it thoroughly.
Cover the jar with cloth secured with a rubber band. Keep the jar at room temperature to begin the fermentation process.
Each day, add 2 more tablespoons of ginger and 2 more tablespoons of sugar, stir it well, and recover the jar. Continue this process for three or more days until the bug is ready.
If mold grows at the top of the jar, you can scrape it off, provided it's just a small amount. If you have more than one instance of mold, however, you'll have to scrap the batch and start over.
How to Tell When Your Ginger Bug is Ready
When the ginger bug is bubbling away vigorously, and it fizzes when stirred, it's ready to use. This can take as little as three days to a week or more, depending on the temperature of the room. However, if the bug is not ready after eight days, discard the batch and start over.
Making Lacto-Fermented Soda
Make your soda base, using fruit juice, sweetened tea, ginger boiled in water with sugar, or whatever you want. Keep in mind that fermentation will make your soda more acidic than it tasted before, so you may have to compensate by adding extra sugar. Also be sure to use flavors that blend well with ginger. If you're making tea or any other hot mixture, let it cool to barely warm, as heat will destroy the good bacteria and yeasts in your starter.
Pour 1 quart of the soda base into a glass container. Pour 1/4 cup of ginger bug through a strainer into a measuring cup. Add this to the soda base and stir it well. Cover the container with the cloth and rubber band. Stir the liquid well two or three times a day.
After three days, pour your soda into sealed bottles. This will make your soda fizzy, similar to secondary fermenting kombucha. Glass beer bottles or a mason jar with a sealed lid will work, as will plastic soda bottles. In fact, using a plastic soda bottle can help you tell when the ferment is ready, as the bottle will be hard to the touch, just like store-bought soda.
Note: If you use glass, be careful to check it and "burp" the bottles (release some of the gas) every 24 hours so they don't explode. Also make sure to open them in the sink or outdoors in case of spray.
After 24 hours or when the soda is fully carbonated, it is ready to drink. Keep it in the fridge, and use it within a few weeks so it doesn't get too flat.
Reusing Your Ginger Bug
After you've removed the liquid for making soda, replace the water in your starter jar and add 1 teaspoon each of sugar and ginger per day for two days. After two days, you can restart the fermentation process of feeding it 2 tablespoons of ginger and sugar each day and fermenting it at room temperature.
Alternatively, you can keep your bug "on hold" by storing it in the refrigerator and adding at least 1 tablespoon each of ginger and sugar every week. When you're ready to make a new batch of soda, remove the bug from the fridge and let it return to room temperature, then restart the fermentation process.