Perfect for making healthier sodas and naturally fermented ginger beer, a ginger bug is a delicious ferment that is easy to make at home.
What is a ginger bug?
If you aren’t familiar with the term, a ginger bug is a homemade ferment that is similar to a sourdough starter. Rather than using wheat flour, it is made with water, ginger, and sugar.
The sugar and ginger mixture feeds wild yeasts and lactobacillus bacteria in the air, forming a slightly acidic, bubbly ferment called a ginger bug.
The ginger bug can then be used to carbonate homemade sodas or make a probiotic ginger ale or ginger beer.
I am not much of a soda drinker, but I enjoy the challenge of making something new. I also happen to love ginger so I’m very happy to have stumbled upon this delicious ferment. Homemade ginger beer and kombucha are my favorite fermented bubby treats!
All you need to make a ginger bug is sugar, filtered water, and some ginger.
I always use white sugar for ginger bug making, but some say it can be done with other types of sugar and sweeteners. I’ve never tried using anything else, so I’m not how well they work. Most people agree that white sugar is best for ferments like this and kombucha. The majority of the sugar will be consumed by the fermentation process, so don’t worry about it too much.
Use fresh ginger for this recipe. You can decide if you want to peel the ginger or not. When using organic ginger, I don’t normally bother peeling it. Instead, I rinse it and peel off any areas that show mold or dirt. When peeling the ginger root, I purposely leave small bits and pieces of peel that help introduce local yeasts and bacteria into the ferment.
You can also grate the ginger or cut it into small pieces, whatever is easiest for you. Fell free to prepare enough ginger for two to three days and store it in the fridge for easier adding each day!
Using filtered water helps remove the chlorine and other contaminants that could interfere with the fermentation process.
How to make a ginger bug
Making the ginger bug is simple and doesn’t need a lot of hands-on time, but does take several days and a bit of patience.
On the first day, add a tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon of grated ginger to two cups of filtered water in a glass jar. Stir it all together and cover the jar with a clean cloth using a rubber band to secure it in place. We want air to be able to pass through, but not bugs and dust. A paper towel or coffee filter can be used in place of the cloth.
Once covered, set it aside undisturbed for 24 hours.
The next day, add another tablespoon of sugar and another tablespoon of grated ginger. Once again, stir it, cover it, and leave it for another day.
Repeat the process every day until you start to see bubbles forming and a white precipitate starts to fall to the bottom of the jar. Depending upon the temperature, the process should take anywhere from 4-8 days. (In cooler temperatures, it may even take longer than that.)
Once your ginger bug is ready, you can use it to make either a ginger bug soda or ginger beer. (If you leave it alone, exposed to air, you can also make a delicious ginger vinegar!)
At this point, you can choose what you want to do with it. Generally, a ginger bug is used to ferment homemade sodas or ginger beer.
How to make a ginger bug soda
To ferment a homemade soda, add some of the active ginger bug to fruit juice. Use around a quarter of a cup of ginger bug for every liter of juice. You can also ferment a mixture of fruit puree and water. When using low-sugar fruits like berries, you’ll also need to add some sugar syrup.
Sugar syrup is easily made by mixing together equal parts water and sugar and cooking them together over low to medium heat, while stirring, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once dissolved, remove the mixture from the heat source and allow the sugar to cool.
Sugar syrup can be used in homemade sodas and liqueurs. It can also be poured over cake layers to add moisture to your cakes. (This is especially helpful when making fondant-covered cakes.)
Basically, you’ll want to mix the ingredients together and pour them into an airtight bottle. Seal the bottle and keep it at room temperature to allow it to ferment. During this second fermentation, the mixture will develop gas as the microbes consume the sugar (if the bottle is well-sealed).
Regularly check on the bottles by opening them and checking for gas formation. Be especially careful if using glass bottles as the amount of gas that forms can be enough to explode the bottles if you leave them unattended for long enough!
When you are happy with the amount of carbonation, filter out the fruit (if you used a purée) by straining your soda through a sieve into a clean bottle. Move the well-sealed bottle of soda to the fridge to chill it and slow the fermentation process.
At this point, you can serve the soda immediately, or store it in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
Have fun trying to make different soda types. Fruits and juices with a higher sugar content will ferment more rapidly and create more gas. You may need to experiment to see how much sugar syrup, if any, needs to be added. You can also add some water to lighten up the flavor. Adjust the ratio of fruit juice or purée to water, depending on your taste.
Storing the ginger bug
Sick of needing to feed the ginger bug every day?
To keep the ginger bug active and ready to ferment more soda or ginger beer, you should continue to add sugar and ginger each day. (You can also add water, as needed.)
If, however, you need to take a break, you can place your ginger bug in the fridge to rest for around a week (up to 10 days or so). You’ll need to add more sugar and ginger every week or so to keep it healthy. While it should remain healthy, the cold slows the fermentation. That’s why you’ll get the best results if you feed your ginger bug for two to three days before using it for soda again.
If you’re really sick of using your ginger bug, I suggest letting it go to make ginger vinegar!
Homemade Ginger Bug
For the ginger bug
- 1 ginger root
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 cups filtered water (More may be added, as needed.)
For the soda
- 1 liter fruit juice
- ¼ cup active ginger bug
Make the ginger bug
- Add 2 cups of filtered water to a jar with a tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon of grated or finely minced ginger.
- Mix everything together and cover the jar with a cloth to keep bugs and dust out. Hold the cloth in place with a rubber band. Leave the jar undisturbed, at room temperature, for 24 hours.
- The next day, add another tablespoon of sugar and another tablespoon of ginger. (You can also add in a little water whenever you see the mixture is too overrun with minced ginger.) Once again, mix everything together and cover it with the cloth. Leave it undisturbed for another 24 hours.
- Repeat step 3 each day until you get an active ginger bug. You can tell that your ginger bug is active and ready when you start to see bubbles forming at the top and a white precipitate falling to the bottom. (This normally takes place after around 4-8 days.)Once the ginger bug is active, it can be used to make sodas.
Making a probiotic soda
- Mix together the fruit juice and active ginger bug and pour into sealable, air-tight bottles. (Flip-cap bottles are my favorite!)
- Seal the bottles and leave the juice to ferment with the ginger bug at room temperature overnight.
- The next day, check on the gas formation by opening the bottle. If not much gas has formed, seal the bottle again and leave it at room temperature for several more hours.
- After several hours, check on the gas formation again. Again, if not much gas has formed, seal it and continue to ferment it. When you are happy with the amount of carbonation achieved, store the soda in the fridge. The cold will help slow the fermentation process.
How big is a ginger root? Is this like the length of your thumb (otherwise known as “a thumb of ginger”) or the whole root, which can be very large indeed?
Tracy Ariza, DDS
I buy one whole root, but you’ll see that you add a Tablespoon of grated root each day. So, you won’t be using it all at once, you’ll slowly grate through and use a bit each day you add more water, sugar, and ginger.
In what ratio do you mix the fruit juice ginger bug? Do you just use the liquid or the minced garlic part of the ginger bug or all of it?
Tracy Ariza, DDS
I just use the liquid part, straining out the minced ginger.