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. 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.
Ginger Bug Recipe
Once this ginger bug is made, it can be kept alive and used continuously to make healthy soda at any time.
Ginger Bug Recipe
- Cut a piece of ginger root about 1.5 inches long and grate 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 general rule is that non-organic ginger gets peeled and organic just gets rinsed before grating.
- 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.
- 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.
- Stir with a non-metal spoon and lightly cover. I cover with a coffee filter and rubber band.
- 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. Depending on temperature, it may take up to eight days of adding sugar and ginger to create the desired culture.
- You can tell if the 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.
- Keep the culture away from other cultures like sauerkraut and kombucha or it can cross-culture.
- 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.
Do you have a pet ginger “bug” sitting on your counter? Will you make one?
Discussion (428 Comments)
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 🙂
It should still be fine…I just add water as needed
María Salcedo Repolês
Hi. I left um ginger bug with my sister over a quick one week trip and she forgot to feed it. When I returned and looked at it, there seems to be a kind of “SCOBY” (like kombucha) on top. It still smells healthy, but I am wondering if this is normal. Should I take this part out and continue, discard it completely? Thanks!
Surface growth of cultures can appear. Most of the times it is a Kahm yeast or acetobacter (vinegar making bacteria). Both can be removed and do not render the ferment inedible.
3 times now I have had great success until day 4. On day 4 all the bubbles stop and disappear.
Twice I’ve used organic ginger. Then once I used peeled the non-organic ginger.
What could be happening?
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.
Agree, this info would be sooooo helpful! Please update the post! Love your blog btw! <3 TIA 🙂
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.
It should work… the fizz will vary based on the natural bacteria but it sounds like it is good…
I’m on day 5 no fizz no yeasty smell. I used bottled arrowhead water, ginger, a teaspoon of molasses, and white sugar. Should I try yeast nutrient and energizer or just be patient? If it doesn’t take, is there any use for it or should it just be tossed out?
I had to give mine a little warmth and a little nutritional yeast to get it started. I used 1/2 tsp nutritional yeast to the standard beginning batch, and then put it in my dehydrator on the lowest setting overnight. by the next morning, I had fizz….
I haven’t tried this yet, but to my understanding it’s a method of ‘harvesting’ the wild yeast on the surface or peel of the ginger. My question is, if I let this process continue for long enough, would it be within the realm of possibility to use the bug to ferment beer? Of course I’d have to build up a starter with a viable cell count before attempting this. Are there other chemical constituants in the ginger that might interfere with successful fermentation on this scale?
Is there a way I can get the chlorine out of my water w/o a filter?
You can let it sit out overnight or boil it without a lid…
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 😀
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.
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?
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.
Kills fish, but the govt put it in drinking water. Hmmmmmmm……yeah, that sounds sensible?! NOT!!
It’s so terrifying! I’m horrified by the chemicals the government not only deems safe, but then ensures the American public is regularly consuming. ::shudder::
Nearly anything you drink will kill a fish you put in it, so that’s not a great argument.
How much refined sugar have you drank today? Have you looked at how much worse for your health that is than fluorine?
I agree. I leave a gallon jug of water sit overnight. I do this before adding water to my fish tank and have not lost a fish yet.
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!
You could, but it will carbonate naturally without the need for dry ice…
I’ve never tried with lemon in it, but if it isn’t much it would probably work just fine as long as the ginger is really fresh
I am on day 6 of making the Ginger Bug.It has started to bubble but I think I will go the 8 days to get a better bubble.I am having fun with this.
i was worried because i used tap water and didnt dechlorinate it.., it would fizz on shake and then go away…sooo…i poured a little juice from my kombucha scoby hotel and by day 7..fizz!!!! and my first batch turned out great…but next time i will strain it before the second bottling!!! so fun!!
Hello, can I just use kombucha or water kefir grains for the fermentation process? Thank you!
I used to make this many years ago. My starter used the dry ginger powder and sugar as a feeder each day.
would love the original recipe.
did it work ok as using dreid ginger seems so much more practical on a daily bases an would probebly not take as much space up over time?
I’ve successfully made one 9 these in my glass canister. Love it in OJ & fresh mint but, I stopped feeding it and put it on the shelf… It gas been months, I don’t know if it’s safe to drink without getting drunk or something worse? I’d like to use it, seems bubbly still and fermented for sure. Thanks for the recipe’s, I adore your healthy chocolate!
Katie - Wellness Mama
I’ve never let one sit that long, so I’m not sure it is still good… TO be safe, I probably would not use it
Do I have to strain the ginger bug before I add it to the ginger beer recipe, or can I stir it and use it with the chinks of ginger in it?
I did try it with lemon and lime as a flavoring but with the citric acid it did not ferment. So I tried it again and heated the lemon when making the tea and it was just great and delicious.
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?
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?
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.
Potato is a new world product that didn’t exist in medieval times in Europe.
I hope you mean new to europe because potatoes have been around a lot longer than america has. It was first domesticated in around peru and bolivia before Christ.
“New world” is a fairly common way to refer to the Americas in when speaking of products in historical terms 🙂
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.
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.
You can brew mead without adding yeast. So I’m not sure why you can’t use it in this recipe . I have fermented natural honey with wild cultures.
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.
Just verify that your honey is organic. Too many honeys are actually corn syrup filler with honey to taste.
Yeast + sugar + oxygen (aerobic fermentation) => water and Co2. Co2+ water => carbonated water.
Yeast + sugar and no oxygen (anaerobic fermentation) => co2 and alcohol.
And the honey.. If honey contains more than 20% water it can begin to ferment. That’s why the bees wait until the honey is solid enough before they put a wax cap on the cell.
So you don’t need anything else than honey and water to make mead. I know this because I make mead, beer and now thanks to wellnesmama – also ginger ale 🙂 mine didn’t start to ferment though. Maybe because of the dry inhouse air. So I added a knifes tip of brewers yeast and now it’s bubbling away! First batch of ginger ale two one day away from straining and bottling.
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?
Yes, I occasionally thin out the ginger pieces when they start to build up and I strain out before using in soda recipes
thanks so much, I had the same question
ty I need to do this I make my own soda , but not this way would love to learn this.
How do you keep it alive though? In the fridge? To use all the time and not start over again
My question is… Do you need to add water to keep it alive…. Since you will be drinking it.
yes, when you remove some of the bug, how do you know how much of each component to add to keep a stellar bug on your counter.
Personally, I use 1 T each of water, ginger, and sugar every time I feed my bug. When I restart it after I use it, I put 1 T of old bug mash, 1 T of fresh ginger, 2 T water (1 T for the old, 1 T for the new), , and 1 T sugar to start the new bug.
I have been making my ginger bug for 7 days and I have no bubbles and no yeasty smell
Me too. Wonder if it’s just a late bloomer?
Me too! I’m at day 6. I have a tiny amt of bubbles when I stir it. I used organic cane sugar. I think I may start another one and go buy white sugar.
I had this problem too but then I added yeast energizer and yeast nutrient. You can find them on beer brewing sites. They provide minerals and nutrients that ale yeasts to thrive. Follow the instructions on the bottle. Remember a little goes a long way. Dint underestimate the small amount of energizer and nutrient it takes for yeast to kick start your ginger bug.
Maybe it’s an issue of temperature? My kitchen is typically pretty cold so I’m culturing the bug inside the oven with just the oven light on. That keeps the bug nice and warm but not hot, with the result that after only two days I’m seeing lots of bubbling.
My worked well, and my kitchen was a bit cool. I keep it on stove under the light and for 10 days. Also it didn’t bubble or smell a lot but the ginger ale turned out great!
Did you use filtered water? you want to make sure their is no chlorine in the water which could kill the yeast.
Try adding TJ Clark’s colloidal mineral sup. to absolutely pure water, NO hydrochloride at all! also make sure pH is 6.5 or above. test strip should be available at most health conscious retailers.
I as well …have had it going for 8 days and nothing…:(
What do I need to do ?
I have the same issue. I see Mamma did not address this question though. I’m on day 8 and I dont see any visible bubbles and I’m not sure it’s “yeasty”. there is not off-smell or any weird color or mold. It looks cloudy like the description but no real fizz when stirred…at least not like the fizz of a carbonated drink or anything. I’ll hold it to the light and try as well as sample a bit to see what it tastes like.
I have very clean well water, not hard at all and definitely no chlorine. I make Kim-chi so I know what fermenting tastes like. Maybe I should sit it outside in the shade….it’s hot outside these days.
Hopefully it will work like Debra. I have followed the directions exactly. dumping and making another is like the definition of insanity, doing the exact same thing and expecting a different result!
Hi to All with problems getting the bug to start!
For me, non-organic ginger is a (pardon the pun) non-starter. For those wondering, “non-organic ginger” are generally very large ginger roots (more than 1 inch diameter) found virtually in every grocery store. and the issue is not that they aren’t organic. Rather, non organic ginger usually come from China, and has been pasteurized — treated to kill of any bad stuff. But, of course, that kills of all the good yeast that you need to start the bug.
True, untreated ginger (usually much smaller at max 1 inch diametre pieces) will start bubbling within 2 days, and rarely any longer. If it takes a week then either the temperature must very cold, Or the ginger you bought was treated and has no live yeast left in it. If you leave your bug out uncovered long enough, it’ll catch yeast from the air, and start fermenting from that, but otherwise it’s just a sign that your ginger is very much dead and contains none of the good probiotics which once in your ginger beer will bring you the same goodness as Kombocha.
Good luck sourcing the real, untreated ginger. Once you do, not only will it ferment quickly, but it’ll taste a whole lot better than that treated stuff as well,
That makes ALOT of sense!! I started mine with organic and it was bubbling and fizzing, looking wonderful. I ran out of organic and bought a big root from Walmart (non organic) and now day 7 I have no more bubbling or fizzing 🙁 what a waste of time :(.
Does it do better in dark or light – I keep my kombucha Scooby in cabinet and thought I should do this with ginger too,?
according to the “nouidhing traditions” cookbook that ti think wellness mama uses u can do w/ ground ginger? is my first time so idk if i should use ground or fresh ginger? if i use fresh ginger it may not be organic but i could get organic ginger, even un-irradiated and maybe that may be better? has anyone used ground ginger?
By day 3 put the lid on the mason jar and shake every time you walk by the jar. Remove the lid and listen. The more you shake the more oxygen you add to the water. This is similar to making compost tea for your garden. You are growing bacteria and it needs oxygen and food (sugar).
Interesting concept Billy! Thanks for sharing. Of course, not all bacteria are grown aerobically. I find I can ferment water kefir in an anaerobic vessel as well. I guess the same wouldn’t be true for ginger ale?
I had the same problem – the bug would actually go well for about three days and then lose the bubbles. The reason for this was too much ginger and not enough sugar. So as soon as you see your bug losing bubbles stop adding ginger and just add sugar for the next couple of days. You can start adding ginger again after the bubbles start to appear but I’ve find that sometimes all I have to add is the sugar until I am ready to use it.
That sounds good, I’ll try that today. I’m on my third failed ginger bug now. The first I made with plain sugar but the last one I added the tsp of molasses and left it to ferment in a different area. Still didn’t work. I’m on my 4th day of feeding it and this this morning I stirred and my bubbles are disappearing. Thanks for the advice. I’m about to give up
Felicia, did you see Charlie’s information above about the big difference between organic and non-organic ginger? Makes sense to me…
Thank you so much for adding this awesome recipe! I never thought I could make such an active culture out of ginger sugar and water.
Just so you know, I used raw honey instead of sugar and it worked perfectly! This is only the fourth day and my culture is super active. It pops when I open the Mason jar, the foam rises and it fizzes when I stir. The lid is metal but it hasn’t been a problem, however I stirred with a wooden spoon. I’m gonna use it to make ginger ale before it explodes, hehe
I had the same problem with my 1st two batches.
Then researched a bit and had a suggestion to stir the bug in the morning, and then again at night when you are adding to it. Or vice versa depending on when you are adding to the bug. Seems to be working for me in this 3rd batch.
I have done this with other things besides ginger. It is actually formed from the yeasts and microbes that are in the air. A coffee filter does little more than prevent insects, debris, and other large organisms from getting in, however anything that is in the air can and will get in. If you do this in an environment where you have made cheese, it will taste cheesy. If you make it in an environment where you brew beer or wine it will eventually become alcoholic.
This is also a method that they use in some Belgian breweries. They are called open fermenters, typically used in farmhouse ales. These have been brewed in the same facilities for years, so there is a lot of yeasts in the air that like the malty wort.
I have been home brewing my own mead for nearly 20 years now, and often times use the same yeast over and over for a number of years.
The same results could be achieved by using a good fruit wine yeast.
This is true. A further ‘helper’ was the stirring paddle or spoon (stick) used by the brewers of ancient times. Particularly, in Africa, the mama would brew the beer for the men always using the same equipment as much as was possible. The Catholic Priests in Belgium would ensure the beer vats were never washed out completely nor were their ‘special’ stirring paddles – after all, even God needs a little help when it comes to brewing.
In this light, I always use the same little wooden spoon when stirring my bugs. I use it, give it a bit of a shake, cover it in its cloth and store it away in a dry, dust-free place. My little helper.
Kind regards from Africa.
You feed it more ginger and sugar everyday to keep it alive.