Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How to Make a Ginger Bug Natural Soda Starter

A ginger bug, which is a natural carbonated soda starter, helps to give lacto-fermented foods an inoculation of the right type of microorganisms to get a proper fermentation going. I started using one when I began making lacto-fermented sodas a year ago, but have also found it handy for making honey wine, beet kvass, and anything else that needs a bit of "culture".

ginger bug lacto-fermented soda starter

It's simple to make, and requires only two ingredients: Fresh, organic fresh ginger with the peel intact, and sugar (see note below). To begin, mince or grate about an inch of ginger and add it to a tablespoon of sugar in a quart jar. Stir together with 2 cups of dechlorinated water (read here about how to dechlorinate your own water). Chlorine can inhibit the kind of growth we're aiming for, and it's easy to remove if you plan ahead. In this article, I discuss the merits of an awesome, low tech water purifier that removes chlorine and renders any water safe to drink, or ferment with.

A note on sugar: The natural fermentation that occurs in the formation of the ginger bug will be more successful if it's fed the trace minerals, particularly iron, that naturally occur in unprocessed sugars like sucanat and rapidura. There are lots of variations on these "evaporated cane juice" type sweeteners. If you are using plain white sugar, you should add a dollop of blackstrap molasses once in a while to beef up the nutrients in order to help the ginger bug grow.

Cover your jar with a cloth and rubber band, so it can breathe but stays free of dust and fruit flies. Give the starter a stir twice a day, and once a day add a teaspoon each of sugar and minced or grated ginger. In a couple days it will start bubbling when you stir it, but it's really ready when you can hear it bubbling before you stir it. It takes about 3 days to mature, or longer in a cold room.

I use about a cup of starter liquid for each gallon-size batch of soda I make, or 1/4 cup of starter per quart for smaller batches. Just pour your ginger bug through a strainer into a measuring cup and it's ready to use. Heat will destroy the enzymes, so make sure whatever you're adding it to has cooled to just warm.

Lacto-fermented honey wine, kombucha, and rootbeer
From Left: Honey Wine, Kombucha, and Rootbeer. The wine & rootbeer were both started using a ginger bug.
Replace the water in your starter jar, add some more sugar and ginger, and the ginger bug will be ready to use again in a day or two. If you don't need it that soon, just cap it tightly and stick it in the fridge. Remove it from the fridge and revive it with some more sugar & ginger a couple days before you need it again. It will keep indefinitely if fed and stored properly. When mine eventually got about 1/3 full of minced ginger I found I didn't need to add fresh ginger as often. As long as it's bubbly you know it's active. It should smell gingery; if it ever develops a foul smell, compost it and try again.

Now that you have a lovely, bubbling ginger bug going, Try out my recipe for delicious natural ginger ale. The ginger bug can be used for many other natural fermentation projects, so don't limit yourself to ginger ale. But it's a great place to start!

My friend tried making this from frozen ginger and got no action, so the natural enzymes present in fresh ginger might be deactivated by freezing. Also, I've read that the required enzymes are concentrated in the skin, so I would avoid using peeled ginger, and always buy organic if you can find it.

For more on ginger bugs, as well as a whole world of fermentation ideas, check out the original source of my inspiration, two books by Sandor Katz. Both probably available from your local library, but also definitely worth owning. If you buy either through my ad links below, Amazon gives me a tiny bit of cash. Thanks in advance!

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May 31, 2016 at 12:23 AM

Thanks for this, will definitely be giving it a go. I did GAPS Intro in 2014, which is when I got into fermented foods, and they're still a big part of my daily food intake. Always on the lookout for new ones :-)

July 25, 2016 at 7:33 PM

I am having a weird reactions with my starter and soda, which I also kept next to each other. I started the ginger bug and it was going great and bubbling and had a delicious ginger smell so on day 3 I made some blackberry soda with it and put them next to each other. The soda is on day 3 with barely any bubbles (I may not have strained it too well, I think that is a big part of the problem) and now my ginger bug has a different smell..not rotten but not the usual ginger. The water has turned kind of cloudy. It is also not bubbling much and it has been three days since I replaced the non chlorinated water. I'm going to give them both one more day away from each other, then if they haven't started bubbling I will start over. Sigh, I was so excited to have some soda soon! Oh well. Next time I will make a smaller batch.

March 11, 2017 at 11:17 AM

Hello, and thanks for this great info! Is it possible to use Maple syrup instead of molasses?

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