Fermented ginger ale
If you are at all interested in health, you almost certainly know how bad soda pop is for you. Most commercial sodas are packed with sugar - or even worse - high-fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, and of course, weight gain. The "diet" versions are even worse, if that's possible, containing cancer-causing chemical sweeteners such as aspartame.

So what is a soda lover to do? Must you give up those cold, refreshing, fizzy drinks forever?

Not at all! In fact, it is surprisingly easy to make your own healthy, homemade soda pop at home. When you make your own, of course you can control what goes in it, and even better, you can also use a natural fermentation method to create that fizzy sparkle, while actually turning your soda pop into something that is GOOD for you! That's right - natural fermentation creates healthy bacteria that support a healthy immune system and improve digestion. We've talked before about the many health benefits of probiotics, and fermenting your own beverages is just another way to get more of these healthy probiotic bacteria into your diet.

There are all kinds of fizzy fermented beverages that you can make at home - from juice-based sodas, to root beer, and more. If you want to take it to the next level, you could even make hard cider (something that I have been experimenting with over the past few years, with varied but generally delicious results), but today we're keeping it simple, and sharing a delicious recipe for a refreshing, bubbly, and healthy (non-alcoholic) ginger ale.

Below is my favorite recipe - I have made this several times, and I think I have finally gotten it down to the appropriate ratio of ginger for me; my first batch was not quite gingery enough for me, and the second was way too potent! I think the third time was the charm... You can of course experiment to find the right level for yourself.

Before making your ginger ale, you will need to decide which form of culture you want to use to activate the fermentation (and create those delightful bubbles). There are 3 easy ways to culture your soda, but since this is ginger ale, and I had plenty of fresh ginger on hand, I have always opted to use the "ginger bug" method. (Don't worry - it's not an actual bug!) :-) 

Ginger bug is a slurry of ginger, sugar, and water, which over several days, will begin to ferment and become extremely yeasty and bubbly. You may want to try using fresh baby ginger if you can find it, instead of the stuff from the store, which may be irradiated and some have reported having trouble getting the bug going. However, others have reported success with regular ginger from the supermarket. Try to find organic if you can.

I, myself, always seem to have a few issues with getting the fermentation going, anyway. Once the sugar ratio to water was too high. My mixture became syrupy, but still wasn't bubbling after several days. When I added some extra water, it began to bubble almost immediately. Another time, I think it just took longer than I expected, so I almost threw it out and started over, but luckily I hung in there another few days and then it took off all of a sudden.

How to Make Your Ginger Bug:

The directions for making a ginger bug say to add 2 Tablespoons of grated fresh ginger, 2 Tablespoons of sugar, and 1/2 cup of filtered water to a jar. Loosely cover with cheesecloth, and let sit on the counter for several days, until it becomes bubbly. Feed it another teaspoon of grated ginger and another teaspoon of sugar every day, and stir well. (I would add a little filtered water too - maybe every couple of days.)

You will want to MAKE SURE your water has no chlorine, which will kill all of your good bacteria!  Use only very well-filtered water (like with a reverse osmosis system), or bottled water. Don't despair if it takes longer than you think. Mine took 10 days last time - I think because it was rather cool in the kitchen. Fermentation happens best at temps between 70 and 75 degrees F. If you see mold on top of your bug, but no bubbles, you will need to throw it out and start over.

Once you have your bug nice and bubbly, strain out the solids, and you are ready to rock!

The recipe below is from the wonderful book, The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor E. Katz - with my own tweaks and modifications. It makes about 1/2 gallon (2 quarts), but can easily be doubled if you want to make a bigger batch.

Naturally Fermented Probiotic Ginger Ale

Equipment You Will Need:
  • Large pot or saucepan


2 Quarts Filtered (or bottled) Water, divided
3" Fresh Ginger - grated or thinly sliced, with the peel ON
1 TB Lemon (or Lime) Juice
1 Cup Organic Cane Sugar (or to taste)
1/2 Cup Ginger Bug

  • Bring 1 Qt of water to a boil and add the sliced or grated ginger.
  • Cover and simmer gently for about 15 minutes.
  • Strain liquid into a wide-mouth jar or other fermentation vessel.
  • Add sugar to the hot liquid and stir until dissolved.
  • Add cold filtered water to 1/2 c below top of vessel. Let cool to room temperature. Taste for sweetness and adjust if needed.
  • Once cool, add lemon or lime juice, and ginger bug. Stir well.
  • Cover with a cloth (or lid with an air-lock if you have one), and let sit in a warm place for a few days, stirring occasionally. Once you see bubbles, you may bottle your ginger ale.
  • Bottle in soda bottles or beer bottles with swing-tops or corks (a funnel makes this a lot easier)
  • Let sit at room temperature for 2-3 days, then refrigerate. Fermentation will continue slowly once refrigerated.
I have found that this gets better after sitting in the fridge for several weeks. If you open a bottle and it is not bubbly enough for your taste, leave the others for a couple of weeks longer and it should improve. I have found the ideal time frame for mine has been 4-6 weeks in the fridge. You can get the process going faster by leaving it out on the counter a few more days before refrigerating, but this gets riskier in terms of pressure, and exploding bottles are possible (though I have never had this happen).

If you have ginger bug starter left over, you can keep it alive by continuing to feed it a bit of sugar and ginger and filtered water every few days until you want to use it again. You can also use it for fermenting other flavors of soda, as well as hard cider and any other fermented beverage (I used this for last year's batch of hard cider with wonderful results).




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