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

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