Thursday, March 3, 2016

Fermented Juices (aka "Homemade Hooch")

At our house, we call the homemade soda that we make using a Ginger Bug "hooch."  It's not at all alcoholic, but "Hooch" sounds more fun than "Fermented Juice using a Ginger Bug."

Below are some of my favorite combinations.  I've been making these sodas with ginger bugs for a couple of years and have found that it is as much art as it is science.  Before you read my recipes, you might want to check out some of these websites for more thorough explanations and directions:
Papa's Homemade Hooch
Wellness Mama
A Life Unprocessed

White Grape and Lavender Soda
Lavender Simple Syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup lavender buds, rinsed
-- In a small saucepan, heat the water to boiling.  Lower heat and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve.  Add the lavender buds and simmer gently for 10 minutes.  Allow it to steep for 10 more minutes.  Strain out the buds using a fine, mesh strainer.  Cool the syrup to room temperature before mixing with the ginger bug.
For the soda:
-- Add the lavender simple syrup to 5 cups white grape juice and 2 cups distilled water.  Combined, your mixture should be 2 quarts.
-- Pour the juice mixture into glass or plastic bottles (See note below)
-- Add 1/2 cup of your ginger bug.
-- Cap the bottles and let sit for 1 - 3 days.  The stronger the ginger bug, the fewer days it will take to ferment.
(Note:  I like to use 2 liter pop bottles at this stage.  When the bottles become hard and cannot be squeezed, they are done.  Sometimes, I will put the fermenting soda in smaller pop bottles.  Some people like to use Grolsch-style bottles, but I don't want to risk exploding bottles. I have used glass bottles, but always put some of the mixture in a plastic bottle.  When the plastic is too hard to squeeze, the hooch is done.)

Rhubarb/Raspberry Soda
1 quart distilled water
1 quart frozen rhubarb
1 pint frozen rasberries
1 cup sugar
1/2 T. lemon juice
-- Place the above ingredients in a 2 quart pan and heat to boiling.  Reduce the heat and gently simmer for 20 minutes.  Strain the mixture, tossing the fruit and returning the syrup to the pan,  (At this point, I added a Raspberry & Hibiscus tea bag.)
-- When the syrup has cooled to room temperature, add 1 more quart of distilled water.
-- Pour the juice mixture into your bottle of choice.
-- Mix in 1/2 cup of your ginger bug.
-- Seal/cap the bootle(s) and wait 1 - 3 days until the plastic bottle is to too hard to squeeze.

Lemonade Soda
1 can frozen lemonade or limeade
Distilled water
-- Reconstitute the frozen lemonade according to the directions, using distilled water
-- Mix 6 cups of the reconstituted lemonade with 2 more cups of distilled water.
-- Add 1/2 cup of the ginger bug.
-- Bottle as per instructions for above recipes.

Be Creative!  You can make all kinds of simple syrups using fruits (fresh or frozen) or herbs and use them for the base of the soda.   You can also use any kind of frozen juice concentrate or bottled juice.  Since I'm looking for healthy drinks, I stay away from the "cocktail" mixtures or those with corn syrup.  One item of interest:  the sweetness of the base can be a challenging thing to get right.  Too sweet and the soda has a funky aftertaste.  Not enough sugar and it doesn't want to ferment.  So experiment.  And let me know if you come up with a winning combination.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

What's a Ginger Bug?

A couple summers ago, I experimented making some ginger ale.  One recipe I found was a simple syrup with something fizzy (seltzer or mineral water) added. Other recipes used yeast (#1 and #2) The one with seltzer water seemed a little like cheating while the yeasty flavor of the others were not satisfactory.

More searching of the internet revealed what has become our favorite method for making ginger ale, which requires using a ginger bug. A ginger bug is a water/sugar/ginger mixture that becomes a natural lacto-fermented "starter."  (Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process during which friendly bacteria and yeast break down sugar to form lactic acid.)  The sugar and ginger attract wild yeasts and beneficial microorganisms, which in turn break down the sugar to produce carbon dioxide.  This carbon dioxide causes the fizziness in the soda.

Like commercial sodas, my fermented juices are bubbly and effervescent.  Unlike a Coke or Sprite or Dr. Pepper, they are good for me because of the fermentation and the ginger.  See some of my favorite recipes here:  Fermented Sodas (aka "Homemade Hooch").

I've not only continued making my ginger ale "hooch," but when I had loads of fresh vegetables this past summer, I fermented carrots, celery, zucchini, etc.  And, I've got a brewing station for kombucha in another corner of the kitchen.  For those who are curious ...

Health benefits of fermentation:
Fermentation preserves nutrients and breaks the down into more digestible forms.
Fermentation creates new nutrients, microbial cultures create B vitamins
Fermentation removes toxins in food
Fermented foods are rich in probiotics that promote healthy flora in the gut.
Some helpful websites:  Wellness Mama, Dr. David Williams, Cultures for Health

Health benefits of ginger:
Relieves nausea caused by illness or motion sensitivity
Reduces pain and inflammation
Inhibits rhinovirus, which can cause the common cold
Inhibits harmful bacteria
Helps prevent toxic effects of some cancer drugs

Some helpful sites:,  Everyday Health, and Natural Society.

Want to start your own ginger bug?  Here's how I do it:

Ginger Bug
Start with:
1 quart non-chlorinated water (chlorine will kill the yeasts and bacteria)
3 T. grated ginger root (organic if it's available)
3 T. sugar (organic if it's available)

-- Using a non-metal spoon, mix the water, sugar, and ginger in a glass quart jar.  Cover the jar with a coffee filter or breathable fabric; fasten with a rubber band.
-- Each day for the next 5 - 7 days, stir the mixture at least once and add 1 T. of grated ginger root and 1 T. of sugar.
(You can tell if the culture is active if there are bubbles forming around the top of the mixture and "fizzes" when stirred.  It will start to smell mildly yeasty.)
-- Once the ginger bug has cultured, it can be used as a starter for fermented sodas at the ratio of 1/4 cup ginger bug per quart of sweetened mixture.

Some important details to remember:
-- Never use metal.  Use glass for starting the ginger bug, and wooden or plastic spoons for stirring.
-- Never use chlorinated water.  I use distilled water.

My favorite resources from my ginger bug research:
Cultures for Health
Wellness Mama
Nourished Kitchen
Splendid Table