I guess it was only a matter of time. We started with yogurt, and then sourdough – but those are just the beginning of a very long list of foods you can ferment or culture at home. On our trip to visit my sister Rachel in Madison, WI, we stopped into a very fancy vinegar store. They sold things like blueberry and raspberry vinegar for $50 a liter. They sound interesting to taste and cook with, but were way out of our price range. And so, Jeth and I did the only natural thing to do: we decided to try making vinegar ourselves (it’s still working away at fermenting, but give it a couple months and I’ll share all about it).
The realization that so many good foods can be made by different methods of fermentation – pickles, sauerkraut, cultured butter, kombucha, soda – was inspiring. And so I set out to learn what I could about good bacteria and yeasts, and how to grow them at home. Jeth and I have already decided that we will be those parents; our kids won’t want to invite friends over because the house smells like vinegar and there are funny things growing on the counter. But it is so much fun to watch something like fizzy ginger ale brew out of the simplest ingredients.
I will share the full recipe for ginger ale later this week. Today’s recipe is for Ginger Bug, a fermented starter that can be used to brew any kind of homemade soda. Like sourdough starter, the goal is to capture bacteria and yeasts from the air (and the ginger peel) and feed them so they multiply enough to make an impact on whatever you add the starter to (in this case, a flavored sugar water mixture). The basic process is that microorganisms consume sugar and create carbon dioxide as a product. Ginger bug doesn’t taste spectacular on its own, because most of the sugar has been consumed, but it does make a darn good soda. You can use it to make any flavor of homemade soda, because the ginger flavor of the Bug isn’t too strong. The ginger is just there to help the bacteria and yeast get going.
And after all that talking, finally, the recipe:
Ginger Bug (Fermented soda starter)
1 c. of filtered or purified water (let tap water sit in a glass container overnight to rid it of chlorine)
Sugar – white or turbinado
4-6″ of ginger root
In a pint jar, combine the cup of water with 1 t. sugar and 1 t. grated/minced ginger root. Stir it well so the sugar dissolves, cover loosely, and let it sit in a warm place. Stir the mixture once or twice more throughout the day.
Feed the mixture 1 t. each of sugar and ginger every day until it starts fizzing. You will probably see a white layer of bubbles on top, and if you listen closely you can hear them hiss and pop. My ginger bug took 3-4 days to get to this point, but it could take over a week depending on your kitchen conditions.
If, after a week of feeding, it doesn’t look active, try sealing the jar with a canning lid. If the bug is producing carbon dioxide, the lid will feel tighter after several hours (canning lids are great because pressing in the center allows you to feel the pressure change that is hopefully happening). For some reason, both times I have started a ginger bug, it stopped fizzing after a couple of days. It was still producing CO2, though (in other words: not dead), and has worked fine for making soda. A sleepy bug might just need more feeding – a double portion of sugar got mine back to bubbling pretty quickly.
Once it is active, you are ready to use the bug! Normally, no more than 1/2 cup gets used at a time. Whenever I take some liquid out to start a batch of soda, I will replenish it with the same amount of water, plus a little ginger and sugar. Once it regains its activity (a day or so), it keeps fine in the fridge until its next use.