A ginger bug is a fermented slurry of sugar and ginger that creates homemade ginger soda and probiotic tonics. It's easy, though it takes a little over a week to create a fizzy beverage that's ready to drink. Once you get it started, you can keep the "bug" going and continue to make naturally carbonated drinks as long as you like for minimal cost. It's an excellent project for creative experimentation because there are many ways to vary the flavor.
The process of making a ginger bug at home is simple, and it doesn't require any special ingredients or tools. You simply need a good supply of fresh ginger root (organic is preferred, but not necessary), sugar, and water.
The ginger bug is fermented in a glass jar and fed a mixture of ginger and sugar daily. It's similar to a sourdough starter for bread; the slurry feeds off the wild yeast and bacteria in your kitchen. When the ginger bug is ready, it's mixed with sweet tea or fruit juice, bottled, and left to ferment for a few days longer, to give you a healthy, bubbly soda.
What You Need
Making a ginger bug and using it to make soda is a multi-stage project. Plan ahead so you have the following ingredients on hand for the various steps:
For the Ginger Bug:
- 2–3 tablespoons ginger, peeled and diced
- 2–3 tablespoons sugar
- 2 cups water (distilled or filtered)
For Daily Feedings:
- 2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and diced
- 2 tablespoons sugar
For Ginger Soda:
- 1/2 cup ginger bug liquid
- 7 1/2 cups sweet tea (or fruit juice, lemonade)
Additionally, you'll need at least a 1-quart jar for the ginger bug, bottles for the soda, and something to cover the fermentation jar. Use a finely woven cloth, paper towels, or a coffee filter to keep fruit flies and other tiny insects out. Some people use glass or plastic lids, and it doesn't seem to affect fermentation.
When making any fermented beverage, use plastic and wood utensils as much as possible. Metal can negatively affect the flavor and fermentation process. It's especially important to avoid metal lids on jars and bottles.
How to Make a Ginger Bug
Gather the ingredients.
Peel the ginger, and chop or slice.
In a 1-quart glass jar, combine the water, ginger, and sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved.
Cover the jar with fine-weave cloth (layer it if needed) and secure with a rubber band or string. Place the jar in a warm location.
After 24 hours, feed the ginger bug by stirring in 2 tablespoons each of ginger and sugar. Repeat the feedings daily for 4 to 6 days.
The ginger bug is ready when bubbles form, it fizzes when stirred, and it smells yeasty and gingery, almost like beer.
Prepare 7 1/2 cups of the soda base (either cooled sweet tea, fruit juice, or lemonade). Strain 1/2 cup of liquid from the ginger bug. Replace the liquid by adding 1/2 cup water to the ginger bug jar.
You can put the ginger bug to "sleep" by storing it in the refrigerator or begin the fermentation process again with daily feedings. For the first 2 days, use 1 teaspoon each of ginger and sugar, then 2 tablespoons each for the remaining 4 to 6 days.
Combine the soda base and ginger bug, stirring to combine.
Use a funnel to fill bottles, leaving between 1/2 and 1 inch of headspace. Seal and let sit at room temperature for about 3 days, or until it reaches the desired carbonation.
This process is similar to the secondary fermentation of kombucha. Use either glass or plastic bottles; 8 cups will fill three 16-ounce bottles with appropriate headspace. When using glass, "burp" the bottles—briefly open then seal again—daily to release excess carbon dioxide and avoid a possible explosion.
After bottle fermentation is complete, refrigerate the bottles. Drink cold within a few weeks, after which it will lose carbonation. Enjoy!
- Choose your favorite type of sugar. Standard white sugar works well, and raw sugars are popular. Avoid honey as it can inhibit fermentation.
- Sugar is also key to good bottle fermentation. It's food for the microorganisms that create carbon dioxide and balances the acidic taste naturally produced by fermentation. Make sure that your soda base includes a good amount of sugar. For instance, make a sweet tea with 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar for 7 1/2 cups of brewed tea. The natural sweeteners in fruit juices may be enough, or you can add sugar.
- Bottle a couple of batches at one time, retaining the 1:16 ratio of ginger liquid to soda base. Either split the 1/2 cup of ginger bug liquid in half or use an additional 1/2 cup for a second batch with a different base. For a half-batch, use 3 3/4 cups of the base and 1/4 cup of ginger liquid.
Customizing Your Ginger Soda
Every part of the ginger bug brewing process can (and should) be customized to see what works best for your home's environment as well as your taste:
- As with kombucha, black tea ferments very well. Green or white teas are not as boldly flavored, and many people enjoy herbal teas.
- Lemonade, as well as other fruit "ades," have a good combination of sugar and fruit flavor. Use a standard mix of 1 part each fruit juice and sugar with 2 parts of water.
- Choose fruits that complement ginger. Favorites include apple, apricot, blueberry, cranberry, grapefruit, lemon, lime, lychee, mango, passion fruit, pineapple, pumpkin, and strawberry.
- Try a mix of sweet tea and fruit juice. Start with equal parts and see what you think.
- Before bottling, combine the soda base and ginger bug liquid in a large jar, cover with a cloth for two days, stirring a couple of times daily. Then bottle the mixture, seal, and let sit at room temperature for one day, or until fully carbonated.
Ginger Bug vs. Ginger Plant
The ginger bug creates a bubbly soft drink that's not as sweet as ginger ale, but it's also much different than ginger beer. Though they're both fermented beverages, ginger beer requires a "ginger plant." It's actually a "scoby" —a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast—much like that used to brew kombucha or water-based kefir. While you can make the ginger bug with common ingredients, you will need to acquire a ginger plant from someone who brews ginger beer or buy it from an online store if you want to make a ginger beer, instead.