Kombucha may get all the attention when it comes to fermented drinks, but we think ginger beer is just as fabulous. We show you how to get started with your ginger bug.
Ginger beer is a naturally fermented drink that is easy to make – with ginger beer you make a starter called a ginger beer plant or “ginger bug” and after it has fermented, you add that to sweet water and lemon juice to make ginger bug. Like sourdough, it must ferment to give it that sharp fizz.
To make a ginger beer plant you’ll need ginger – either the powdered dry variety or fresh ginger – sugar, rainwater or tap water that has stood for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate off.
You’ll also need clean plastic bottles that have been scrubbed with soap, hot water and a bottle brush and then rinsed with hot water.
I never sterilise my bottles and I haven’t had any problems. If you intend to keep the ginger beer for a long time, I’d suggest you sterilise your bottles.
How to make ginger bug
In a wide-mouthed, sterilised jar, place 1½ cups rainwater and add one dessert or soup spoon of ginger and one of sugar. You don’t have to be exact but be mindful that if you add a lot of ginger you’ll have a strong tasting drink, and if you add too much sugar it will be very sweet.
Every day for seven days add those amounts of ginger and sugar and mix it in well. Fermented foods and drinks thrive in aerobic conditions, so make sure you give it a good stir and mix in a lot of air.
Depending on how much natural yeast is floating around your kitchen, by about day three you’ll notice small bubbles appearing in the ginger mix each day when you add the ginger and sugar.
That means the natural yeasts in the air you’re breathing have colonised the ginger beer plant, they’re eating the sugar and giving off carbon dioxide – the bubbles.
Leave the mix sitting out on the kitchen counter during the entire seven day process and cover it with a loose weave cloth or net to allow the yeasts to enter but keep out insects.
This is an entirely natural and very healthy process. Fermentation needs a warm environment to flourish so any Australian or New Zealand kitchen in summer, or any northern hemisphere heated kitchen in winter would provide the right temperature.
On the seventh day, feed the plant, and using a wire strainer and some muslin, cheese cloth or loose weave cotton, strain the ginger mix through the cloth into a large bowl.
Squeeze as much liquid as possible into the bowl. This is what flavours the drink and continues to ferment it in the bottles. If it hasn’t started fermenting, give it another week – keep feeding it and see what happens.
When all the ginger starter is in the bowl, add four litres of water, 2-3 cups of sugar and the juice of two lemons. Mix well until the sugar has dissolved.
Bottle this using plastic bottles and let them sit on the kitchen counter for a couple of days to continue fermenting and develop the fizz again. Then add the tops and put the bottles in the fridge.
When it’s cold and you can see bubbles on the side of the bottle, it’s ready to drink.
Once you have made the starter and strained the mix into your bowl, the remains of the starter can be used again to start off another batch. Throughly clean and sterilise the jar again, drop the old starter into the jar and repeat the above process. This time the mix will ferment quickly, probably on day two.
This ginger bug recipe comes to us from homegrown homesteading extraordinaire Rhonda Hetzel, from her classic tome on living simply: ‘Down to Earth: A Guide to Simple Living’.