You will probably be surprised to hear that in my house, we drink soda every day. Grape, Strawberry, Sassafrass, Lemon and Ginger sodas all make regular appearances in our glasses. It might also surprise you to find out that I put these beverages into the “health food” category. Why? Because they are homemade, fizzy drinks that are low-sugar and full of healthy gut-supporting probiotics. If you too would like to have a fizzy treat, read on.
I’ve never been a big soda drinker. I like iced tea, but I can’t drink it sweet any more. Mostly, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been a water drinker. Well, and coffee. My point is, soda doesn’t really float my boat. However, my kids really like fizzy drinks, and if those fizzy drinks are sweet, they are in heaven. Just because they like it doesn’t mean they get it though! Coke, soda, cola, pop – whatever you call it, it’s full of undesirable ingredients and it wreaks havoc on your body. While you can get sodas made with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, that’s still a lot of sugar – 39 grams or almost 10 teaspoons in each serving. For a while, we drank fizzy water from the store, but then I realized it had the ubiquitous “natural flavoring” in it. If it’s SOOOO natural, I’m sure it would be easier to put the actual ingredient on the label. Since I’m sure I don’t have to justify that drinking soda regularly is not a good thing, I’ll just skip ahead.
You can make your own soda and there are at least four different ways that I know of to do it.
Three of those ways make homemade soda with less sugar, naturally flavored with fruit and full of health promoting probiotics or beneficial bacteria.
The first method I will detail uses something called a “ginger bug”. I first read about it here. Since the recipe requires only fresh ginger, sugar and filtered water, I got mine going that very day, and so can you! It takes about a week for it to be strong and ready, so in the interim I found several different methods all with varying amounts of ginger and sugar. You can see another recipe here. Somewhere I read a recipe that used powdered ginger instead of fresh. Traditional Ginger Beer has its roots in a ginger bug. My point in mentioning all these variations is that wild fermentations and cultures are a blend of science and experimental art. There isn’t only one way to do it; there are many. Try it and if it works, stick with it. If it doesn’t, try another method. Here’s mine.
In a one quart mason jar or the like, put the following:
2 Tablespoons of fresh chopped ginger, preferably organic
Large knob of ginger. I broke off the arm on the right and chopped it, leaving the skin on.
2 Tablespoons of sugar, the least refined you have available. I started mine with organic cane sugar, but now use a mixture of cane sugar and sucanat.
Put the jar in a warm place overnight. My kitchen’s happy place is on top of my refrigerator.
The next day, and every day for the next week(ish), add an additional:
2 T fresh chopped ginger
2 T sugar
I left the lid screwed on, but not tightly. You are not trying to build up carbonation during this stage, so you do not need or want it to be tightly closed. You may notice as the week goes by that you will hear a little “pfft” when you unscrew the lid. This is a good sign, since it means that the bacteria are getting active.
A friend and I happened to do this as the exact same time and we compared notes after. She chopped her ginger for the week and kept it refrigerated so that her time was minimal. I chopped mine daily. They both worked!
After 3 to 5 to 7(ish) days, your “bug” will be fizzy(ish). You should see little tiny bubbles rising to the top. It should smell different than ginger, sugar and water, but still pleasant. If you see a filmy mass, mold, gelatinous anything or it smells super funky, start over. If you taste your bug at this point, it probably won’t taste sweet at all. It should not taste alcoholic either, but faintly gingerish and a little taste that maybe you can’t put your finger on. It will not taste unpleasant. If it does, start over.
At this point, you are ready to use your ginger bug to make homemade soda. This is the fun part! If you don’t feel ready to make the soda, you can continue to feed the bug 2T of sugar every 3 days or so until you are ready. If you really lose track of it, you can refrigerate it, but it will take a day (or more) to revive once it has slept in the refrigerator. If you wait too long (which I once did outside of the fridge), there will be more alcohol in the bug than you want. It will smell alcoholic. Don’t fret, just drain almost all the liquid, leave the ginger and a tiny bit of liquid in the jar and feed it every three days until it is effervescent again. Plan around being ready to bottle your soda after 1 week.
Now, before I give you a recipe for the soda, let me explain what is happening here and how we will make soda. Ginger is used in many countries around the world, not only as a delicious flavoring, but also as a traditional folk remedy, mostly related to stomach upset, nausea and diarrhea. In other words, it’s got good stuff going for it already. When we create a ginger bug, we are feeding and pampering the bacteria that naturally reside on the ginger’s skin so that they will grow. The bacteria eat all of the sugar in the bug (I am basing the use of the word “all” on the fact that I have tasted the bug multiple times and it is not sweet at all). If you read about the traditional preparation of ginger beer and ginger ale, you will see that this is exactly the method used. Now, we now live in a culture obsessed with eliminating bacteria. While that’s a discussion for another time, what matters here is that many bacteria live in and on our bodies and we should support them, as they support our overall health. I think most everyone is familiar with the “probiotic” benefits of yogurt. We are doing something similar here, even sharing some of the same probiotic bacteria. According to the website Gingerbeerplant.net, what we have created here is a lactobacillus brew. So here’s what the bug does. First, we introduce the bacteria to a happy (room temperature filtered water) environment full of tasty food (sugar). This makes a solution that is full of good bacteria that have various attributed health benefits. These anecdotal benefits include, but are in no way limited to:
- Increasing the flora and fauna of the digestive tract
- Decreasing the ability for fungi and “bad” bacteria to flourish
- Increasing the body’s natural ability to fight diarrhea and other pathogens that manifest in the digestive tract
- Increasing the body’s overall health and ability to battle allergens
Then, we’re going to add a little more sugar for the bacteria to eat and a little for us to taste, flavorings and some extra liquid and bottle it tightly. Bottling it tightly means that the gas produced by the bacteria when they eat sugar will stay in the bottle until we open it. Voila! Carbonation!
Check back soon for a collection of ginger bug soda recipes.