Before force carbonation and industrial foods, sodas were naturally-carbonated using live, active cultures. Fermentation would naturally produce carbon dioxide, so the bubbles were not added but created through the process. This ginger ale is fermented using a ginger “bug” starter culture. This can be used to create any of your favorite sodas at home, such as root beer or fruit sodas, while adding the benefit of gut-healthy bacteria. Naturally-fermented ginger ale is a great digestive tonic and can be tweaked according to your fondness for spice. If you like really spicy, potent ginger ale, use more ginger, or use less for a milder flavor. Try adding other herbs and spices to create sodas that are delicious actually good for your family! This is the perfect replacement for conventional soda and it goes great in cocktails as a mixer, such as Moscow Mule or Horse Feathers!
The starter for naturally-fermented sodas, known as a "ginger bug," is made similarly to a sourdough starter. By mixing small amounts of ginger, unrefined sugar, and water together daily, a culture starts to build. Because ginger is a root, it contains starches and sugars, along with lactic acid-producing bacteria that will begin to facilitate fermentation. The unrefined sugar will also help the fermentation along as well. Once your starter culture is active, it can be used to inoculate homemade sodas to produce natural carbonation through fermentation. You can also make your bug using half ginger and half fresh turmeric root for a different flavor along with the addition of turmeric's potent anti-inflammatory benefits.
Ginger Bug Starter
2 Tbs grated ginger root
2 Tbs turbinado or other unrefined cane sugar
2 Tbs filtered water
Mix the ginger, sugar, and water together in a small jar. Cover with a cloth and secure in place.
Repeat this process everyday for about 5 days, discarding 1-2 Tbs bug before feeding. You will know your starter is active and ready to use when it has become slightly effervescent and it has a lightly fermented, tangy smell to it. Depending on the warmth of your kitchen, this may take a few extra days.
When not using your ginger bug, you can store it in the fridge with a lid on it for about 2 weeks. If you will not be using it for longer than that, remove it from the fridge every few weeks and feed a couple of times (which will take 1-2 days). Return to fridge for storage until you are ready to use again. If it has been in storage for a while and you are ready to make soda again, feed it a few times before making your ginger ale so it is active and ready to ferment.
Naturally-Fermented Ginger Ale
Makes 1 quart
1 quart filtered water
2-4" fresh ginger root, sliced (vary amount based on taste preference)
1/4 cup unrefined cane sugar
1/4 cup active ginger bug
Lavender-Lemon: 1 tsp dried lavender flowers, 2 Tbs lemon juice
Cinnamon Spice: 1 cinnamon stick, 1 tsp allspice berries, 1/2 tsp cloves
Bring water and ginger to a boil. If making cinnamon spice variation, add spices at this time as well.
Cover and turn to low, and then let simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Strain out the ginger and immediately stir in the sugar. Stir to dissolve completely. If making lavender-lemon variation, add lavender flowers and lemon juice at this time.
Strain out ginger and other spices. Cool to room temperature and then add your starter liquid.
Transfer to a glass jar and cover with a cloth. Let sit at room temperature for 2-3 days to ferment.
Once the soda has become bubbly and fermented, transfer to a swing-top bottle. This will allow the soda to ferment under pressure, creating more carbonation. Let sit one more day at room temperature, then transfer to the fridge. If you don't have swing-top bottles, you can re-use kombucha bottles or place a lid on your glass jar to trap some of the carbonation instead. This will keep in the fridge for about 1 month.
For root beer:
Use your favorite combination of sassafras, sarsaparilla, licorice, cinnamon, star anise,
and ginger for a true root beer. Make your soda using the same method, using the roots in addition to ginger for flavoring. Let steep for 10-12 minutes, then drain and add the sugar and 1⁄2 tsp vanilla extract. Use the ginger bug and ferment as listed above.
For fruit or herb soda:
Alternately, you could add ginger bug to fruit juice or herbal teas to make a naturally-fermented soda of almost any flavor you like. Add active starter culture to sweetened herbal tea or diluted fruit juice (50/50 juice/water works well)and let carbonate for a few days, using the same method as the ginger ale above.
Brine & Broth
I am a gut health-focused nutritionist and online health coach based in Southwest Wisconsin. My recipes and philosophies center around traditional, nutrient-dense foods that support robust gut health.