November 23, 2009

Meet My Ginger Bug

This is a ginger bugPerhaps I should begin by explaining that this is another experiment in fermentation. This time I'm going to try my hand at ginger beer. This isn't anything like "real" beer, but is a naturally carbonated soft drink. Both Nourishing Traditions and Wild Fermentation (info on these and more in this post) contain recipes for ginger beer, but I opted for the one in Wild Fermentation because it makes a smaller quantity.

The "bug" serves as a starter and is easy to make:

1 cup warm water (I used non-chlorinated)
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp grated ginger

Keep in a warm place. Add the same amount of sugar and ginger every day or so until it starts to bubble. Mine only took a couple of days.

Once the bug was active, I boiled 2 quarts of water and added 2 inches of grated ginger and 1 & 1/2 cups sugar. These are boiled together for 15 minutes and then allowed to cool.

Once the mixture cooled I strained the ginger out, added the liquid from the strained "bug," and enough water to make a gallon total. The recipe also called for the juice of two lemons, but since I only had limes on hand, I used that. I poured the mixture into bottles, capped them, and they must now sit in a warm place for two weeks.

4 quart bottles of ginger beerHappily I've saved brown glass root beer bottles from quite a few years ago. I like to save colored glass to store tinctures in, but these quart bottles are perfect for the ginger beer.

Depending on how well we like this, I may or may not try the other recipe. What I'm aiming for is a substitute for soft drinks. We don't drink a lot of them, but they are part of our Pizza & Dessert Night tradition. We've always known they aren't good for us, but some food habits die hard.

One thing I learned a long time ago about making dietary changes, is that there is a better chance for success if the changes are small and adapted slowly. Drastic changes in diet don't last when the motivation for them has worn off. This is why so many folks "fail" at diets or attempts to switch to healthier foods. When I first introduced my family to whole grain flours, I mixed them with white flour, gradually increasing the amount of whole grain. I knew I'd been successful the day everyone commented on how "yucky" store bought white bread tasted.

So. In two weeks I'll let you know how well this one goes over. If acceptable, I will definitely start experimenting more with homemade soft drinks. Heck. I'll experiment even if it isn't acceptable.

Meet My Ginger Bug photos & text copyright 


Sharon said...

I did that with sarsaparilla one time. Notice I said one time. I'll be interested in your report.

Robin said...

NO WAY! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Ginger beer. Do tell us the results from it as Lee and I have talked about trying to make it. I'm so jealous. I would so turn up at your house in two weeks if you were closer. :) I find it funny that I actually like ginger beer so much as I don't really like most other things that have a ginger flavor.

Theresa said...

LOL, you fooled me, I thought when I saw the post title you had a new kitty. Is there a recipe for birch beer?

charlotte said...

What an interresting post! I've never tasted ginger beer, but some people around here make a kind of wine from blueberies, rhubarb or dandelion flowers.

Randy said...

Wow, ginger beer sounds good!! I'll have to stay posted for the results!!

Nina said...

My aunt used to make Root Beer which was pretty yummy.

Anonymous said...

my husbands grandmother used to make ginger beer. it was delicious. they kept it in the attic.

Leigh said...

Oh Sharon, what happened? Did it not turn out? Did you not like it? I'd be curious to know more.

Robin, you need to make some! It seems pretty easy, the hardest part was getting the ginger as I wanted organic. (Actually the ginger is leftover from making the ginger carrots). That's funny that you don't like ginger in anything else. We adore ginger plus it's good for upset tummies.

Theresa, I never thought about that as a name for a kitty. I like it! When Dan is ready for another cat, we'll see. There must be a recipe for birch beer, somewhere. I really like birch beer too but we don't have any birch trees around and I'm assuming that's a crucial ingredient.

Charlotte you should try it! The recipe says it isn't alcoholic like wine, just fermented enough for some fizz. We'll see!

Lynn, I'm really hoping this is successful. We love ginger.

Nina, I'd love to have your aunt's recipe!

Anonymous, I wonder if her recipe was similar to this. I'm always on the lookout for a good recipe.

bspinner said...

I've only tasted home made root beer and it was great. When our children were small one of the neighbors made it for the kids and charged them $.3 a bottle. They loved it.

I'm sure you ginger beer will be wonderful.

Sharon said...

I think the problem was with the carbonation. We get so used to highly carbonated soft drinks - it wasn't highly carbonated. And it was sweet, big time.

I'm with Theresa - great cat name and would be a good one for Charlie. I wish I would have thought of it.

Michelle said...

What a fascinating post! I can't wait to hear about the results. My sauerkraut was a bit under-fermented because I didn't want to leave it until we got back from our trip, but my husband says he actually prefers mine to commercial! I'll definitely be doing sauerkraut again and might consider ginger beer, pending your results. Don't have any bottles, though; would canning jars work?

Leigh said...

Barb I would love to try root beer too as it was my childhood favorite. I did find some sassafras trees on our property, but they are still saplings and so won't be useful for a long time. I haven't been able to locate a parent tree yet.

Sharon, I suspect you're right about the carbonation. Like most things old or healthful, we automatically compare it to what we're used to i.e. the commercial product. I am hoping this isn't too sweet. Not that I don't have a sweet tooth, but I like to taste what I'm eating, not just sugar.

Michelle, I'm glad your having as much success with your sauerkraut as I am. Dan really likes what I made and he doesn't like cabbage! I never did refrigerate mine, so it's still sitting in the back room. One reader did say it could be rinsed if it gets to sour. Not sure how that effects the enzymes though.

For bottling the ginger beer, Sandor Katz suggests using 2 liter soda bottles. The main thing is needing caps or lids to keep the carbonation in as it builds up. He says to be prepared when the bottles are opened as there is often quite a fizz to it.

Julie said...

I can't wait to hear! It does sound like it could be good.

Leigh said...

Julie, I'm hoping so!

Lee said...

I didn't know this recipe was in Nourishing Traditions. I'm going to have to look for it.

It was my understanding that the traditional ginger beer culture was a "plant" which was a symbiotic pairing of a yeast and a bacteria. I'd be surprised if this same pairing would arise reliably from wild fermentation, not that it's a health risk, but that it probably won't produce the same flavor.

I was planning to buy a starter when we have a chance to try this, but I'll be interested in seeing how your wild version turns out. We do love ginger beer.

m said...

When I was a child my father used to make a "ginger beer plant" in much the same way, but using the powdered ginger which was all that was available in england in the '50s and '60s. This was only made for special occasions such as birthdays, and we never got round to bottling it.

m said...

I forgot to say that as children we only drank milk, water and the occasional home made ginger beer.
The first time I drank a commercial soft drink I disliked the sweet flavour, and drink them only if there is nothing else to drink.

Leigh said...

Lee, thank you for telling me that. This is the first time I've ever tried any home brewing, so the whole thing is all new. The recipe in Nourishing Traditions makes a pretty large batch. I hope you and Robin try it so we can compare results (and opinions.) I'd actually never heard of ginger beer, only ginger ale, which commercially is probably nothing like the original versions. I have found recipes for birch and root beers, but I'll have to research ginger beer as well. I would think that the yeast would give it an alcoholic content closer to real beer or at least small beer. The recipe I'm using is supposed to have no appreciable alcohol in the end product. We'll see.

Mary, now you need to give us a step by step description! Like you, I find modern commercial soft drinks too sweet. Between that and the type of sweeteners they use, I'm really hoping we will enjoy fermented homemade soft drinks better, which I suspect we will.

Everett Sizemore said...

So what's the verdict? I'm a HUGE fan of ginger beer and am always so happy when I eat a place and it's on the menu - rare though.

I don't drink much alcohol but there is one drink called a Moscow Mule that requires ginger beer and it's YUMMY.

So how did it turn out? Can I use powdered ginger? If so I might get started today!

We've been buying soda water and mixing it with fruit juices to make our "Movie and Pizza Night" beverages. We don't make them as sweet at regular beverages and they're actually much healthier for us - No Corn Syrup!

Thanks for stopping by Living Off Grid and commenting on our soapmaking video. We have a similar one up on my other site, Living A Simple Life (linked in my signature).

I've just added you to my daily blog feed reader. Can't wait to read what else you share with us.


Leigh said...

Everett thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I have 8 days to go before it will be ready to taste test!

Thanks for mentioning that about the soda water and juice. We've done that in the past too and really enjoyed it. I haven't been able to find carbonated water here, so I haven't made that in awhile. I agree about the corn syrup, definitely puts soda on the undesirable foods list.

Heather said...

I'll look forward to hearing how this turns out, Leigh. I'd love to try making some. We made homemade rootbeer when I was growing up and my brother and I loved it.

Unknown said...

I've done two batches of this and I'm on my third. Both batches turned out fantastic. They are extremely effervescent though. The last batch we let go for a month and a half and it tasted almost like wine. My guess is that it was about 4-5 percent alcohol based on how buzzed I was after a pint bottle. I suggest this recipe to everyone who enjoys ginger beer.

Leigh said...

Natebaum, thank you for this comment! Very encouraging. For my first batch I didn't secure the bottle cap and the "fizz" all escaped. I will definitely try it again.

Samuel Hershey said...

Hi Leigh! What other ginger drinks have you tried to make? Do you have other recipes of homemade soft drinks? My wife and I are thinking about reducing our consumption of sugar when we move to our new home in Memphis. I think you're right about making changes slowly. We haven't tried ginger beers, though. I hope it won't affect my implants.

Leigh said...

Samuel, this batch was a flop (literally, no fizz), and I haven't tried this sort of soft drink since. One thing we do like, is to take concentrated fruit juice (the 100% ni added sugar kind), and dilute it with plain carbonated water, i.e. seltzer water. It's great!

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm in the process of making the Nourishing Traditions ginger beer. It's only been going two and a half days and all ready I can see/hear/feel that there's some fizz. Will it BENEFIT from being left a few more days? Or should I move on to the next stage already?

Last week I made ginger beer from this recipe:
and it was amazing, after a few days it got quite beery. It had good fizz for at least four days. When I put it in the fridge it stopped fizzing so I kept it on the kitchen counter. When there wasn't much less in the bottle, the fizz stopped.

Is it safe to put the NT ginger beer into glass bottles, and just release the gas every day?

Leigh said...

Anonymous, hello back at ya! I was very interested in your comment. My ginger beer never did develop any fizz; all the bottles were flat. I assumed at the time that it was because I didn't tighten the lid enough. There are different opinions regarding the use of glass bottles for this, but I very much dislike plastic, and really, planned to drink the ginger beer fairly quickly. After that failure, I haven't managed to try it again.

Thanks for the link though. I recently discovered David Fankhauser's cheese making pages, so I'll have to try his ginger ale as well. Of course, my ginger beer didn't use yeast, but natural fermentation. Perhaps that was part of the difference(?)

Unknown said...

We love making "soda" with ginger bug! Our girls (11 and 9) take it to school almost daily. just a few ounces of ginger bug and fill the rest with 100% fruit juice (I use 12 or 16 Oz bottles) we mostly use cranberry variations, though we had pomegranate blueberry this week, delicious! I usually let them ferment for about 24-48 hours.
Great blog by the way, just stumbled upon it today:)

Leigh said...

Hi Annie, welcome! And thank you for your kind words about my blog. It's been awhile since I've tried my hand at ginger beer, but your variations sounds wonderful. I need to get back to it.

Anonymous said...

It is 2023 trying ginger bug question about that brownish pink slime on top is that a good thing or bad, if its good do i keep that in fhe bug or remove before use and or try to keep this in bug as you pour to use it and refill equal to what you use

Leigh said...

Anonymous, I honestly don't know. I haven't done a ginger but in many years, so my research pretty much starts and ends with this post.