A ‘ginger bug’ is a homemade starter culture that can be used to transform fruit juice and herbal teas into naturally-sparkling probiotic sodas. All-natural and easy to make, ginger bugs are a great way to experiment with making your own soda, and perfect for people who enjoy the taste of bubbles but are trying to cut down on over-processed foods.
The ginger bug is made from a simple slurry of sliced ginger root, sugar and water. Left to ferment for a few days, the mixture attracts ‘friendly’ bacteria and yeasts, which feed on the sugar, breaking it down into lactic acid and carbon dioxide. The bug is ‘fed’ with more ginger and sugar over the next few days.
Once the culture is established, it can be added to your favourite juice or tea and the bacteria will break down the sugars in here too, creating natural carbon dioxide bubbles.
Since the ginger bug is fermented, it does also produce a very small amount of alcohol, but not enough to have an effect.
The fermentation process can also add health-boosting properties to your homemade soda. It breaks down nutrients into more digestible forms, and even adds extra B vitamins, including niacin, riboflavin and folic acid. The process also has antioxidant properties, and attracts the same ‘friendly’ lactobacilli bacteria found in probiotic yoghurts, which encourage the growth of healthy flora in the gut and aid digestion.
Ginger is also thought to benefit digestion, and is often used to calm feelings of nausea, as well as various other ways to use ginger you may not have realised.
What's needed for a Ginger bug recipe
To get started, you'll need:
2 cups filtered or spring water - Don’t use water from the tap, as the chlorine can interfere with the yeast and bacteria.
2 teaspoons sugar
1-ounce fresh organic ginger - non-organic ginger may have been irradiated, which can impair the fermentation process.
To feed the bug:
5 teaspoons sugar
2 ½ ounce fresh organic ginger.
Remember always to use clean utensils to avoid contamination with unwanted bacteria. If you notice any strange smells or moulds, discard the whole batch.
How to make a ginger bug
Heat the water in a saucepan over a medium heat, and stir in the sugar until dissolved, then cool to room temperature.
Carefully cut the ginger into cubes, leaving the skin on. Some recipes call for grated ginger, but this can be tricky to strain, and diced ginger works just as well.
Place the ginger in an airtight container, pour over the sugar water, and seal. Don’t be tempted to leave the mixture open like other starter cultures - the ginger bug needs a sealed environment to work.
To feed the bug:
Every day for the next five days, add 1 teaspoon sugar and ½ ounce ginger to the bug, always remembering to seal the jar afterwards.
Sometime between day 3 and five, you should notice bubbles beginning to form, and the bug will take on a yeasty, gingery smell.
When the bubbles have formed, your ginger bug is ready and you can start straining off the liquid to make soda.
Customising your ginger bug soda
Now you have your ginger bug starter, there are endless delicious flavour combinations to experiment with. Add natural fruit juices to make sparkling fruit sodas, avoiding anything with preservatives, as these can interfere with fermentation.
Or for something a little different, you can also try teas, spices, vanilla bean or lemon zest. These are a few of our favourite recipes, and you can always invent new flavours yourself once you get a feel for what works.
Lemonade with a twist
For classic homemade lemonade, strain off ¼ cup of liquid from your ginger bug, and add ½ cup lemon juice, 3 cups of filtered or spring water, and the zest of 2 lemons. Serve chilled, with plenty of ice. Perfect for lazy summer afternoons.
If you’re looking for something a little more eye-catching, try some pretty-in-pink Pomegranate Punch. Simply take ¼ cup of ginger bug liquid, add 2 cups of pomegranate juice and 1 ½ cups of filtered or spring water, chill and serve.
Tea-lovers will enjoy the sophisticated herbal taste of sparkling peach tea. To make, brew 3 ½ cups of green tea, and cool completely (hot liquids will kill your ginger bug), add 1 finely diced peach, and ¼ cup of ginger bug liquid.
Ginger beer bug
Perhaps the most obvious choice is to enhance the natural ginger flavour of your bug. Ginger adds heat and aromatic flavour to drinks and cookery can be used to turn your bug into a fiery and refreshing ginger beer.
Take ¼ cup of ginger bug liquid, add 3 ½ cups of filtered or spring water, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 4 to 6 tbsp of sugar, and 1 to 4 tbsp grated ginger, according to taste
Leave to ferment for 3 days, stirring daily, and when the bubbles form, strain into a flip-top bottle and leave for a further 3 to 5 days.
But if ginger isn’t really your thing, why not try making a turmeric bug instead? Turmeric has health benefits of its own, including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, and the fermentation process makes it easier for the body to absorb. The milder flavour of the turmeric bug is perfect for zesty lemon and lime sodas.
Ginger bug vs ginger beer plant
The ginger bug is sometimes confused with the ginger beer plant, and while the two are similar, there are some key differences. Both are soda starter cultures that use lactobacilli bacteria to ferment sugar, but while a ginger bug can be made from scratch at home, the ginger beer plant is a pre-existing bacterial culture that has been passed down through the centuries.
They look different, too. Ginger bug is a liquid, while the ginger beer plant looks like a cluster of gelatinous white crystals. In theory, you can use either one to add bubbles to your homemade sodas, but to get hold of some ginger beer plant, you need to get it from someone with an existing colony. Ginger bugs are the easier option for most people, as all you need is ginger, sugar and water.
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