How to Make and Use a Ginger Bug
After years of brewing kombucha, I finally got around to diving into another fermented delight: a ginger bug.
I know, the name sounds a little weird. This slurry of ginger, water and sugar – which produces a lacto fermented jar of goodness – can be used as a starter for all kinds of carbonated drinks. It’s basically like a sourdough starter for making homemade soda. More hippie bubbles!
Most commonly, it’s used to make ginger beer (fermentation master Sandor Katz is well known for his ginger bug and ginger beer recipe). Which for the record is leaps and bounds beyond your average ginger ale.
While a ginger bug takes some time to prep – you need to give it a few days for it to start fermenting, and then even a few more days to use it to make a fermented drink – the process is pretty simple: mix water, sugar and ginger, let sit for a day, add some more ginger and sugar, let sit, etc. etc. And once you have the ginger bug going, you can keep feeding it and making drink after drink. You will only be limited by how many glass jars and bottles are in your house.
Once you have used part of your ginger bug to make a naturally fermented soda, you can continue to feed it. Replace the water and feed it 1 tablespoon of grated ginger and 1 tablespoon of sugar, then continue to feed it as before. According to the blog Whole Lifestyle Nutrition, if you’re not going to use it right away, you can also let it “rest” and feed it 2 tablespoons grated ginger, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 2 tablespoons water once per week.
A note about the water that you use in fermentation: if you are using municipal tap water, you will want to think about chlorine. Chlorinated water is bad for fermentation, because chlorine is added to water to kill off microorganisms. And microorganisms is what we want for fermentation! So if you are using tap water and you can smell or taste chlorine in the water, there’s too much of it. You can either let the water sit out in the open for 24 hours, or you can boil it. If you do, be sure to let it cool before using it.
For the record, I myself have brewed kombucha as well as this ginger bug many times with municipal tap water without doing anything to it at all, and the fermentation process has gone just fine. So it is all going to depend on your water at home.
Adapted from Mastering Fermentation
3 cups (720 mililiters) unchlorinated water
1 tablespoon organic, unrefined sugar
1 tablespoon grated organic ginger (with the skin on)
In a quart-sized glass jar, combine the water and sugar and stir until the water has dissolved. Add the grated ginger.
When you grate your ginger, leave the skin of the ginger root on. As I learned from Mastering Fermentation (sidenote: if you’re even remotely interested in fermenting things, get this book), it carries beneficial bacteria that helps with fermentation. And because you are leaving the skin on, that makes it even more important to buy organic.
Cover with a cheesecloth or coffee filter (see how great mine looks with a Chemex filter as a hat??), and cinch in place with a rubber band. Place in a warm place, like on top of your refrigerator.
About every 24 hours, feed the ginger bug with approximately 1 tablespoon of grated ginger and 4 teaspoons of sugar. Do this for about 3 to 5 days. You should see some fizzing starting to happen. When it does, your ginger bug is ready to use.
How to use ginger bug to make fermented drinks
For making fermented drinks, you want about 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) of ginger bug for every quart (4 cups, 960 milliliters) of sweetened liquid (like a tea or juice). Strain the ginger bug and add the appropriate amount to the liquid. Place the mixture in a glass jar and cover with a cheesecloth or coffee filter like you do with your ginger bug and return it to the top of your refrigerator, or somewhere warm in your kitchen.
After about 3 days, your brew should start tasting fizzy and fermented. When it tastes to your liking, strain the liquid out and pour into glass bottles with a flip top. Let sit at room temperature for a second fermentation for 3 to 5 days (which will add some extra fizz), then store in refrigerator.
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