Monday, August 13, 2012

ginger bug

My last fermented beverage success story gave me a lot of courage.  I have been continuously brewing kombucha from that SCOBY since I posted my method.  (Edit:  I had been, until just before we moved to Nashville, and I let my mother go dormant.  Fruit flies got into it, and I had to throw it out!  But I made another one in no time with the same method as before, and it is back to churning out the booch!)  It is delicious, helps my digestion, gives me energy, is fizzy and refreshing, and just generally makes me feel good.  Good knowing I made it, I know what's in it, and it's not toxic crap like I used to consume daily (i.e. Diet Coke). 

So I decided to give it another go.  I finally got my hands on a copy of Nourishing Traditions and saw a whole section on ginger bugs and homemade sodas.  It turns out that the reason sodas were originally served in pharmacies was because they were actually considered to be medicinal!  Before the advent of artificial carbonation, carbon dioxide could only be created in beverages through yeast eating sugar (this is still the case for all beer - the yeast eating the sugar also produces the alcohol, in that case).  The yeast produces all kinds of positive stuff as a by-product of eating the sugar.  B vitamins, probiotics, C vitamins (depending on what you put in as flavoring).  Healthy things.  No wonder these sodas were considered medicine!  I guess they could more accurately be called "health tonics."  And the sugar - the negative part - gets eaten up!  It's like magic.  I love watching these things come alive in my kitchen. 

Making a ginger bug was ridiculously easy.  Buy a big piece of ginger root and some white sugar.  If you don't have a water filter, buy some filtered water.  Put a cup of filtered water in a quart-size mason jar.  Dice or grate 2 tablespoons of ginger (you could peel it if you want, but why?  Plus I've heard that the spores on the skin culture the bug faster) and dump in the water.  Add 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Stir, cover with a cheesecloth or tea towel, and secure with a rubber band.  Put it somewhere warm and dark and leave it alone.  Every day for the next week, feed it with another 2 tablespoons of ginger and 2 tablespoons of sugar and stir.  By the end of the week, it should be bubbling vigorously, smell potently of ginger (if it smells foul, something went wrong - pour it out and start over), and have a film of white on the bottom of the jar (spent yeast cells). 

Now you have your soda starter ready to go!  The idea is very similar to a sourdough starter.  You have a culture that you keep at the ready, and then you use a bit of that culture to brew each batch of soda, just like you use a bit of sourdough starter to leaven each loaf of bread.

You can flavor it however you like.  The rule is 1/4 C sugar to 1 quart filtered water.  This time around, I put the water and sugar in a saucepan and added a chopped lime and 1/2 C blueberries.  I let it boil for a little bit, then cool to room temperature.  Then I strained it into a quart-size mason jar, added 1/2 C strained ginger bug, and capped it tightly.  

(Didn't get a picture.  Phooey.)

In a day or two, I started to see bubbles forming and the color of the soda (it had been dark purple) lightened.  I "burped" the jar each day to release excess carbon dioxide and let it ferment about three days.  I tasted it to be sure, and it was delicious.  Dry, crisp, bubbly, gingery, citrusy.  I put the jar in the fridge and we've been enjoying a soda we can feel really good about.  I let the baby drink out of my glass with absolutely no guilt!

(Do take care when you open the jars, as they might fizz over just like a bottle of soda pop.)

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