How to Make a Ginger Bug

How to Make a Ginger Bug for Natural Soda How to Make a Ginger Bug

If you aren’t familiar with naturally fermented beverages, you might be asking what the heck a Ginger Bug is and why you should make one…

A ginger bug is a culture of beneficial bacteria made from fresh ginger root and sugar. It is similar to a sourdough starter for bread or a kombucha scoby for making kombucha. The ginger imparts its flavor and as it naturally ferments, creates a mixture of beneficial bacteria.

Though not overly tasty by itself, the Ginger Bug is the base for many homemade sodas and tonics. We use it to make Root Beer, Ginger Ale, Fruit “sodas” and more.

The recipe we use is an adaption of the recipe in Nourishing Traditions (p. 591) and is the culture we use for all homemade sodas. There is also an easier way to make soda that doesn’t require a ginger bug if you prefer to skip this step, but to make an authentic soda, the bug is needed.

Once this ginger bug is made, it can be kept alive and used continuously to make healthy soda at any time.

4.7 from 3 reviews
How to Make a Ginger Bug
 
How to create a ginger bug to use as the beneficial culture to make healthy fermented homemade sodas like old fashioned ginger ale or root beer.
Author:
Recipe type: Cultured - Beverage
Ingredients
  • 1-2 fresh ginger roots
  • ½ cup white sugar (important for starting the culture. Honey, stevia or other sweeteners will not work)
  • 2 cups of water
  • Quart size mason jar
Instructions
  1. Cut a piece of ginger root about 1.5 inches long to make 2-3 tablespoons of grated ginger. You can also finely chop instead of grating. There is some debate about if it is better to peel the root or not. My genera rule is that non-organic ginger gets peeled and organic just gets rinsed before grating.
  2. Place the ginger in a quart size mason jar and add an equal amount of white sugar (2-3 tablespoons). Nourishing Traditions insists that white sugar is needed to create the bug and I've had the best success with this, but a local friend claims that unrefined sugar or sugar with 1 tsp of molasses added works better. Try what you have and adapt as needed.
  3. Add 2 cups of filtered water to the mason jar. Make sure that the water has been filtered so that it does not contain chlorine which can affect the culturing process.
  4. Stir with a non-metal spoon and lightly cover. I cover with a coffee filter and rubber band.
  5. Each day for the next five days, stir the mixture at least once and add 1 tablespoon of grated ginger root and 1 tablespoon of sugar. (note: depending on temperature, it may take up to eight days of adding sugar and ginger to create the desired culture).
  6. You can tell if culture is active if there are bubbles forming around the top of the mixture, it "fizzes" when stirred and it takes on a sweet and mildly yeasty smell. It will also become somewhat cloudy and opaque. If mold appears on the top, scrape it off if it can be removed. It this happens more than once, you will need to start again. If the mixture hasn't taken on these characteristics by the 7-8th day, you need to discard it and start again.
  7. Keep the culture away from other cultures like sauerkraut and kombucha or it can cross culture.
  8. Once the ginger bug has cultured, it can be used to create fermented sodas and drinks at the ratio of ¼ cup ginger bug starter per quart of sweetened herbal mixtures (for ginger ale or root beer) or diluted fruit juice (for fruit flavored sodas).
Notes
To keep the bug alive and continue growing it, you will need to feed it regularly. Add 1 teaspoon of minced ginger and 1 teaspoon sugar per day if kept at room temperature. You can also "rest" it in the fridge and feed it 1 tablespoon each of ginger and sugar once a week. To reactivate it, remove and let it reach room temperature and begin feeding it again.

Do you have a pet ginger “bug?” Will you make one?

Reader Comments

  1. Christina Rottinger says

    my question is- do you strain it before putting in the next round of ginger and sugar? I’m thinking that if there’s a pause in how often you make the soda, then the ginger would build up, right? Even if kept in the fridge?

  2. Jessica Rech says

    If honey wont work then how did people back in medieval times and during the American migration west make carbonated beverages? Because we know they did. Does it have something to do with this being alcohol free and the medieval/migration recipes being lightly alcoholic?

    • Sean Perry says

      Yeast + sugar => alcohol. The question is how much. There is also the possibility of bacteria eating the alcohol.

      Honey is naturally anti-microbial. It _CAN_ be turned into alcohol but this requires using a fair amount of active yeast. The goal here is to encourage the existing yeast and bacteria (which the honey would also inhibit).

      How did they do it in ye olde times? Grains are the likely option. This is where the yeast for bread and beer come from. Another option would be sweet/starchy roots like say beet or potato.

      • b1e2n3 says

        This is, at the very least, highly misleading. Honey contains natural yeasts (in raw form) that will wake up once the honey is added to water. That’s how one makes a simple mead. My first mead was made with processed honey, water, and a cut-up peach, so even introduced yeasts (from the skin of the peach and/or the air in my case) can culture in the presence of honey. It may be that some bacteria are inhibited by something in honey, but I can say with confidence that at least some yeasts don’t mind it at all.

        • LP says

          I would guess that the processed honey may have been laced with corn syrup, a very common occurence surprisingly. That combined with the sugars from the peach made it easy to ferment.

        • erena says

          Processing honey kills the bacteria that would inhibit the yeast. Once you heat and process honey it turns into a sugar and little else. Raw honey eats yeast.

      • Wychymom Iron Willow says

        Just verify that your honey is organic. Too many honeys are actually corn syrup filler with honey to taste.

  3. Mottfolly says

    Many water water do not remove chlorine, check your filter.
    Ginger does NOT create bacteria and it is really the natural yeasts in the air that make the starter. So, put it outside without lid but covered by cheese cloth to allow natural yeasts to find a home.
    Also, anytime you have created carbonation you have also created alcohol. Mama Wellness seems to be somewhat science illiterate.

    • Lily Stark says

      Yes, you have created alcohol, but I don’t think it’s necessary to scare people by putting it in those words exactly. The amount of alcohols is slight, especially compared to what society considers an “alcoholic beverage.” :)

    • Twig says

      I think it is really rude to say things like that about people on their website. I find wellness mamas recipies and advice very insightful and thorough and helpful. Mottfolly are you trying to say that drinks such as pepsi and coke are alcoholic?

    • nox says

      All roots fruits and veggies have yeast unless they are irradiated. So you are correct in some respects. It is not bacteria as we understand it. Because our food is irradiated if it comes from a store we probably are using yeast from the air. To be fair though there seems to be little research into the finished products of ferments. Kombucha for instance uses a mat of bacteria and perhaps yeast as well. You are really just arguing semantics. Not that the science isnt interesting..

  4. bigmama says

    I already have a jar of grated ginger with a touch of lemon juice in it. will this work to make the bug or do I need to use ginger alone?

  5. Cezanne Pellett says

    Could you use this to flavor dry ice carbonated root beer as well? Sorry if this is a dumb question, but that’s the only kind of homemade soda I’ve ever made before but I REALLY want to try your fermented Ginger Ale recipe too!

      • Michelle says

        Thank you xx My mama does this each night, fills a jug, and leaves it open. I’ve been doing that for the water I’m going to add to the fishy tank too before adding their conditioner :D

      • William Babishoff says

        Many cities now use chloramine instead of chlorine. This cannot break down without chemical assistance. Check with your local water supplier to see if you have chlorine or chloramine. Also, there are many other chemicals in tap water that are dangerous besides chlorine/chloramine.

        • says

          I was thinking the same thing, my city puts fluoride in our tap water, so I am not able to use it for my cultured foods, I would guess that would be the case here. I have been buying filtered water at the grocery store, but another thing I heard with the filtered water is that it takes away the minerals that the cultures need too, so I add Himalayan sea salt to my water kefir, wondering if I would want to do the same for this?

      • Luna says

        This will work, yes. But make sure they haven’t also added chloramine to your water. That will NOT evaporate. If you don’t know, ask at a fish store. They’ll know, because you have to treat chloraminated water or it will kill fish.

  6. Bev Heptinstall says

    How “fizzy” should the bug be? Mine looks and smells great but does not seem very fizzy, just some slight bubbles on the edge before I feed it and very very slight fizz when I stir it, it’s getting up to 6 days olds now. I’m not sure how to tell if it’s ready or if it did not work.

  7. Chris says

    In your recipe you never add any water back to the culture. This is something that is obviously done when removing some for use. Your instructions also didn’t really mention straining the culture before adding it to a “soda” recipe which also would be a good addition to the instructions. What if you feed it everyday for 3 weeks but never use any? Your culture is now going to be pretty darn sweet and full of ginger particles. How do you manage this? Part of the feeding instructions should also include discarding some of the culture if it is used or not, maybe on a weekly basis? I havent manged one of these so I dont know exactly how to maintain it properly.

  8. Ghada629 says

    Thanks for adding the instructions about how to keep it alive! If it was there already and i missed it the 1st time, sorry!i have couple more questions, I’m making this now but i forgot to feed it on the third day, but when I checked it this morning, it did have the bubbles on the top and little fizzy when I stirred it, so I fed it again, do you think its okay still too use? Also for keeping it alive, how moloch water shop you add top it and when? Thanks for all your help and sorry for asking so many questions but this is my 1st real fermented thing I’m making tonight, hopefully :-)

  9. Angela says

    My Ginger Bug is complete! With a nice fluffy layer of fine little bubbles across the entire top. Hmmmm……now to decide what to make with it. Thanks for the recipe!

  10. Debi Durkee says

    I started my ginger bug tonight.I sure hope it takes off and ferments.
    One question, when bug is done and you make you batch of ale, when you take out 1/4 cup, it says to add the sugar and ginger, don’t you add water at that time? I’m guess replace the 1/4 cup? If you do, can you take 1/2 cup for double batch, or do you only take 1/4 cup per time?

  11. Tom Franklin says

    I followed your directions, but my ginger bug never took off. I covered it with a coffee filter and dutifully added sugar and grated ginger every day. Now, weeks later, I still have a jar filled with a lot of sugary ginger, but no naturally-occuring yeasty action has taken place.

    Should I add some yeast? Or take a bit of my Kombucha’s SCOBY and add it to the ginger bug?

    Thanks!

    • John Altmire says

      This method relies on yeast that is present in the air. If you bake bread fairly often or other things that use yeast, you will have a better chance of success. You should have a certain amount of yeast in the air regardless, but perhaps if you have an air filtration unit in your home this may be the problem? ….just a thought…and I would add some wine yeast (will not impart the “yeasty” flavour of bread yeast) to your bug, or just directly to your soda recipe….adding it to the bug will allow you to multiply it and not have to buy it every time, but in my area it would be cheaper to buy the yeast than to feed it sugar every day

    • Craig Beck says

      My first attempt at this didn’t do a thing except for some slight bubbles the third day, and nothing after that. Second attempt after reading some other articles on this I tried adding a little bread yeast. I activated the yeast according to packet directions and then used one teaspoon to start the bug. Has been doing great since, but I haven’t tried making soda from it yet (hopeully this weekend)

  12. Michelle says

    There’s been a few comments regarding straining the bug. Note this is only the bug recipe. In the actual ginger ale recipe she explains to strain before drinking.

    • Lori says

      I know I’m late on the topic, but my ginger bug has been sitting in the cupboard for about 2 months. I just took it out and wow, it has a very thick, opague white layer on top. I make kombucha so I know it’s nothing scary (or moldy) but I wasn’t expecting to see it :)

  13. Lucy Nissen says

    When you are keeping the ginger bug alive by adding more ginger/sugar every day, do you also at some point add more water? Since you are taking out water to make ginger ale/other sodas? I’m a little confused on that part.

    • RonB says

      Lucy…you should add 2 tbsp of each of water, sugar, ginger to the bug daily.
      It’s ready to use after 3 to 5 days. Take out 1/4 cup of the stuff replace with 1/4 cup water, 2 tbsp ginger and 2 tbsp sugar.
      And go from there. or put it in the fridge and add the 2 tbsp sugar, water, & ginger every 5 to 7 days.

      • smlowry says

        Oh – the recipe above says to add a tbs sugar and ginger each day but not water. So I was only adding the sugar and ginger. Is that why it stopped fizzing after the 5th day?

  14. RonB says

    Nice site and good info save for one little thing.
    #7 in the instructions is a tad mistaken. The ginger bug is an
    anaerobic bacterial culture not a pollinating flower. There are no
    spores that float in the air…wild yeast does that. There is no danger
    of sauerkraut, kombucha and ginger bug cross culturing…ever…it’s quite impossible. I keep all of them side by side…no problems.

  15. Katie says

    Wellness Mama, do you know what the sugar content is of the final product? I’m really really trying to watch my sugar intake. If you could tell me the amount of sugar in about 8 oz. of ginger beer I’d appreciate it. Thank you.

  16. Blair Higgs says

    My ginger bug looks great until day 5 and then when I wake up on day five ready to make ginger ale all the fizz is gone and it looks dead? :( I feed it 1 table spoon of sugar and ginger each day and stir at the same time each day. Any suggestions?

    • erikasalzeck says

      I am having exactly the same problems -fizzed nicely for the second & third day but now has stopped. I read on another blog to leave it uncovered during the day so am trying that – fingers crossed!

      • smlowry says

        Mine did the same thing! It was awesome, and so I went out and got more ginger, and found some bottles to make ginger ale, and now no fizzies. I fed mine each day at the same time too. This is the second time this happened to me. I may just give up.

  17. Danny says

    Hi,

    If the bug is just sugar, ginger and water, then wouldnt a ginger ale with just sugar, ginger and water ferment on its own anyway without the bug? (or am I missing the point)

  18. Amy Fletcher says

    You have peaked my curiosity! I have komboocha fermenting and want to start a ginger bug too. But now I want to know what would happen if they do cross culture? Lol. Must know.

  19. Laura Rich says

    I’m so excited to find this recipe! I adore ginger ale but hate all the store bought options with corn syrup. Started my ginger bug last night and checked it this morning. We have bubbles! I hope it keeps it up! BTW, I used unrefined organic sugar (all I had on hand) and a tsp of black strap molasses. ;)

  20. I Love Kismet Simple Sweets says

    Would you recommend this for someone with multiple food allergies, GI issues, and a Candida allergy? I am considering making ginger syrup (no sugar added) and just adding it to seltzer water. What do you recommend?

  21. disqus_dVIfXgPyYh says

    There is a much easier way to make natural soda.
    Fill one 2 liters soda bottle with 1/2 can 100% juice concentrate, 1/8 tsp champagne yeast, 1/4c sugar top it off with water. Seal and shake to mix. Wait 24 hours at room temp, check firmness of bottles. (time=firmer=more fizz) Then chill
    Replace the concentrate with grated/chopped ginger if you want ginger ale (powder might work too)
    I make four 2 litters bottles of Welch’s grape at a time take less than 5 min
    If you put it in a cupboard and forget about it, it will blow up; don’t ask me how I know.

  22. disqus_dVIfXgPyYh says

    There is a much easier way to make natural soda.
    Fill one 2 liters soda bottle with 1/2 can 100% juice concentrate, 1/8 tsp champagne yeast, 1/4c sugar top it off with water. Seal and shake to mix. Wait 24 hours at room temp, check firmness of bottles. (time=firmer=more fizz) Then chill
    Replace the concentrate with grated/chopped ginger if you want ginger ale (powder might work too)
    I make four 2 litters bottles of Welch’s grape at a time take less than 5 min
    If you put it in a cupboard and forget about it, it will blow up; don’t ask me how I know.

  23. Haley Holden says

    I was almost done with my bug… but then got too busy to feed my it for two days and now it has lost its fizzy-ness. How can I fix it to make my soda? Or do I have to start over fresh?

  24. Jamie Campbell says

    I created a bug with this recipe. I’m glad I read it again today — I’ve been overfeeding the bug, giving it a full tablespoon per day of both sugar and ginger. It hasn’t seemed to mind, it’s been making ginger ale just fine and is bubbling like a normal ferment should, but it’s good to know it will stay alive if I cut back to teaspoon amounts instead. I think that in reading it quickly I probably got confused with the “once a week” fridge feeding.

  25. Steven Lattimer says

    i have made this a couple times about 3 gallons now. I have used fresh home grown ginger and store bought because I ran out. I used a very small amount of distillers yeast (like 10 grains or less) in the wort. After the whole process as described in directions was complete I let it set in the refrigerator for 5-7 days and it was perfect. very fizzy like store bought. tastes better than store bought because I know it’s probiotic and contains no fluoride, HFC and not much refined sugar. I used molasses in one batch sorghum in another. Molasses was best for me. Fully intend to experiment with everything in the spice rack though. Thanks wellness mamma. I have been looking for this for awhile.

  26. annie says

    i don’t get how it makes a culture though, it is simply ginger with sugar water? where does it get the yeast and good bacteria from?

    • Amanda says

      Vegetables all have (good) bacteria on them so the ginger will already have bacteria that will grow with the addition of the sugar and wild yeast is present in the air and the culture will pick that up (which is why you can’t seal it while it is starting).

  27. says

    I started a ginger bug, basically from the recipe that you mentioned above, but before reading yours here. However, mine’s doing great and actually I did not start mine with white sugar. I started it first with unrefined sugar, and because We’ve been trying to stay away from so much fructose (namely the syrups and all) we’ve started trying dextrose to sweeten when we want something sweetened. I also like honey. So, the ginger bug actually really likes both here. :) The dextrose, which is pure glucose, it loves.. it just eats it up. My ginger bug is bubbly and has a beautiful smell and we like to use it for soda too. However, using the dextrose versus any other sugar it doesn’t get as sweet. So, I’ve also been using the dextrose with my water kefir, which again loves it and the grains multiply even faster with that than with the molasses added, however, again, it too is not as sweet as it would be when I’ve used other sugar. So, that actually makes me wonder if what it’s mostly eating up in the ginger bug or in the water kefir is glucose and the reason it remains sweet tasting or even slightly sweet later is because the fructose remains. It’s almost like it’s gobbling up all the glucose and leaving the fructose. Have any ideas? Thanks! :)

  28. says

    I tried this recipe step by step, but it didn’t work :( Not only did it never start bubbling, it also grew mould after a few days. I’m a fermenting enthusiast and have made kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut and ginger bugs (according to Sandor Ellix Katz’ recipe) before, so I don’t know what went wrong. Any thoughts?

  29. Laura W says

    FYI honey can be used. Sandor Katz’s ginger bug recipe in his latest book uses honey, ginger and water. And he stresses buying organic, preferably local ginger as most non-organic grocery store ginger has been irradiated & therefore might fail to ferment & carbonate. He also says you need to leave the skin on the ginger. I have had great success with his recipe using raw, local honey & organic ginger from my local farmer’s market. The sodas I make are perfectly fizzy & have lovely honey undertones.

  30. David says

    SO when you strain it into a juice to second ferment it, I dont want to have pieces of ginger in a juice, is it just the liquid you can strain or are you supposed to put 1/4 cup with the actual grated pieces of ginger in the liquid.?

  31. Dani says

    I made a bug 2 days ago. I did it in a regular quart mason jar… which gave me 2c Ginger Bug so far… & covered it with a coffee filter & elastic. Was I supposed to cover it with it’s real cover? It is fizzing a little on it’s own. How much should it fizz before it’s ready? Also, when it is done, I would like to double the recie, how do I do that? Just add water and sugar & ginger & continue like I did before? Thanks in advance :)

  32. Rose says

    How long after I remove the bug from refrigerator storage do I have to wait before I can use it in my root beer or ginger ale?

  33. bren says

    Ooooohhhh, shoot, i just made this today, but put in the jar the whole 1-2 ginger roots and the 1/2c of sugar. it appears, after re-reading it, that the ingredients are the total amount I’ll need by the time it’s finished? Lol, what would you do now? I have my jar with 2C water, 1/2c sugar, and a large hunk of grated ginger in it….. ?

  34. Sarah says

    Thanks for the recipe, I love your site! I am currently making this at home, however I forgot about the ginger bug for a bit and left it uncovered and out for 2 days. It still is fizzy and opaque and doesn’t have mold, however it smells a bit alcoholic, can I still use it?
    Thanks

  35. Jake says

    Hello there –
    I had a ginger bug going strong for a few days, and stopped bubbling like some others say.
    I’m wondering if the METAL SPOON I was using was bad for it? Do you know why the metal stirring device is bad?
    Great Blog!
    I’m a beginner root-beer-brewer. Your info is great :)

  36. JayK4258 says

    So I made the bug but I missed the part about feeding it everyday. It was doing great, forming bubbles and rising ginger. Now it is day 7 and all the bubbles are gone and the ginger has fallen to the bottom. I added a teaspoon of ginger and sugar today. Do you think I might need to start over?

  37. P. Frangos says

    I was so excited to find this recipe. I got right to it however; by day 4 my bug died. I believe it fermented within 2-3 days so…round 2. Let’s see what happens.

  38. kristin says

    Just wondering, many posts have said that this bug produces some alcohol. Does the final soda product have alcohol in it as my brother is an alcoholic and on meds that make him sick if he drinks anything with alcohol. I do not want to make him sick with my soda. thanx

  39. Brandi says

    Once I use the liquid to make ginger ale do I have to replace it with water in my starter to keep it going, or do I just add the ginger and sugar daily?

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