It is time for “ginger bug” to have its day in the sun as a fermented tonic drink in its own right. Long considered just a starter for ginger beer, this quick to ferment beverage is low in sugar, spicy, warming and pungent. In our house, we enjoy it straight up.
It’s all about the bugs
Fermentation guru Sandor Katz tells us ginger rhizome is rich in wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria. These micro-organisms drive the fermentation process, gobble up the sugar and release the fizz (carbon dioxide).
You will need fresh ginger root with the skin on to start your ferment. Choose ginger that is certified organic or not treated with agri-chemicals or irradiated – otherwise, the yeasts and bacteria could be altered, or not even present.
Once my bug is established I alternate between organic and conventional ginger to maintain, depending on the season and my budget.
When making ginger bug, you are capturing the microbiome of the root, culturing the micro-organisms to ferment your drink. You then drink it down where the bugs interact with your gut microbiome!
Fermentation also has the added benefits of boosting flavour and nutrition.
Ginger root: what to look for
When choosing ginger root look for taut skin. It should smell fresh and spicy, the inner flesh should be slightly juicy and lemony yellow. Avoid sections of the root with thick, wrinkly skin and soft, dark spots.
Ginger root and your health
Fermented ginger beverages have been used for thousands of years not only for their delicious
In India ginger is revered as the “universal medicine” (vishwabhesaj). Across all herbal traditions, ginger is used for health complaints ranging from nausea, dyspepsia, gastrointestinal spasm, chronic rheumatic complaints, improving circulation in the limbs and respiratory conditions associated with cold and flu.
Many of the traditional uses for ginger are now backed by Science, and new effects on human health are also being explored:
- Ginger contains chemicals that are antioxidant and inhibit inflammation. Evidence suggests that it may be helpful in the prevention and treatment of chronic degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular disorders, arthritic conditions, and diabetes.
- Research has also validated its use in soothing nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy, post-surgery, and chemotherapy.
- Current research also shows positive initial results regarding cancer prevention, protecting the lining of the stomach and protecting the structure and function of the liver.
“… ginger has the potential to be an ingredient for functional foods or nutraceuticals, and ginger could be available for the management and prevention of several diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, obesity, neurodegenerative diseases, nausea, emesis, and respiratory disorders.”Mao, Q.-Q.; Xu, X.-Y.; Cao, S.-Y.; Gan, R.-Y.; Corke, H.; Beta, T.; Li, H.-B. Bioactive Compounds and Bioactivities of Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe). Foods 2019, 8, 185.
Use a ginger bug to start more fizz
Add 50mL of strained ginger bug to every 1L base and ferment your brew in a robust bottle or jar. You will need to remember to burp it twice a day for several days When you have the level of fizz and flavour you love, pop it in the fridge to slow the ferment. It will be ready to drink.
We are surrounded by apple trees where we live. When they are in season one of our favourite treats is to juice the apples and ferment them with
You can also use the ginger bug to spice up other fermented drinks such as kombucha, jun and water kefir. Our favourite concoction is water kefir, with a second ferment of damson plums and ginger bug. The result is an extra fizzy delicious ferment, with a beautiful rosy blush and a sublime fragrance. My daughter thinks it tastes like Turkish Delight!
Let’s hop to it and make ginger bug!
- 100g grated organic/chemical free ginger root, skin on
- 200g organic raw sugar
- 1L filtered, rain or spring water
- Fill a clean jar tag can hold just over 1L of fluid with water.
- Grate the ginger root finely, including the skin.
- Add the grated ginger root and sugar.
- Place a lid on the jar and shake vigorously to dissolve the sugar.
- Loosen the lid on the jar, just enough to let any excess gases escape. Even though you will burp your bug twice a day we don't want any explosions!
- Sit the jar out of direct sunlight in a position where you will remember to burp and feed your bug. I keep mine on the kitchen sink, if the jars leak a little it doesn't matter.
- Depending on how warm your environment is, your ginger bug will take anywhere from a couple of days to a week to get nice and bubbly.
- Once you have an active ferment you will have to maintain your bug. Shake and burp your bug twice a day. Around every 4 days you will need to add 25g of grated ginger root, 25g of sugar and 25mL of water.
- You can strain some of your bug fo a strong tonic drink or you can use it as a starter for other drinks.
- To use your bug as a starter for other drinks add 50mL of strained ginger bug to every 1L of fruit juice or sweetened tea. Ferment is a screw top jar, burping once a day. When you have reached the taste and fizziness you love, pop it in the fridge and enjoy!
- Your bug will become your friend. You will get to know it's moods and what conditions it likes best. Sometimes you will need to feed it more and at other times it will get by on less feeds.
- You will need to start your ginger bug with an organic/chemical free ginger however I have maintained my bug with both organic and conventional ginger, depending on supply and my budget!
- If you go away and want to preserve your bug, pop it in the fridge. When you return take it out, let it come to room temperature and then give it a double feed. After this you can maintain it as per normal.
- My bug has been going for nearly a year. If it starts to taste funny, not as fresh, I strain about 3/4 of the grated ginger root off. I then give it a double feed and after that go back to normal maintenance. If all else fails and there is an off tone to your bug, don't take any chances and start afresh.
- When you strain excess ginger pulp from your ferment you can use it up in smoothies and stir fries.
Are you ready to ginger bug a go?
this looks awesome. i did something similar as a kid to make non-alcoholic ginger beer, but back then we fed bug with dry ginger powder rather than fresh. i’ve gotta try this one – looks great!
btw – i think fowlers vacola sell a jar with an airlock in the lid just for making ferments – saves burping. or i’m sure i could get a smaller fermenting vessel from the local home brew shop. if the ginger bug is too vigorous for an airlock i could switch it out for a blow-off hose with the end in a small bucket of water.
Hi Jeremy :) you know a brewer’s shop backwards. We make our own jars airlock friendly jars. We drill the lids 1mm larger than a black rubber o ring, inset the ring and then pop the airlock in.
The Fowlers are superb and I give them as gifts to new fermenters. We just need way too many and have to manufacture our own ;)
Will have to try the dried ginger. The flavour profile would be very different. Even more warming!
Thank you so much for posting the photo of the bubbles in the ginger bug! And…for putting the tip about keeping the skin ON. I have tried making this with other people’s instructions and the results were touch & go–I was composting the skins! Aaah! Again, thank you for the tip and the photos–very appreciated.
Wow Kilee, I am so happy it is working for you. I am also very happy I was able to give you all the information you needed to get this very perky ferment up and going. Yes, the skin makes all the difference.
Great post, thanks! I haven’t tried with fresh ginger yet, we make ours with ground ginger (cheap and easy to find in bulk at Indian grocers) and a handful of sultanas to provide the wild yeast at the start of the process. The recipe for the bug is 2 cups water, 2 tsp ground ginger, 4 tsp sugar and small handful of sultanas. It gets crazy active really quickly and makes a nice brew. I will try your recipe when I get my hands on some nice fresh ginger though, all the best!
Wow! I have not tried the dried ginger version – how does it taste? It would definitely have a deeper, more robust flavour. Extra warming. I am definitely going to give it a try. Thanks Amy!
Thank you for this information! I was able to get a nice and bubbly ginger bug ready.
I got stumped when I tried using it- I tried a small batch as this is new to me.
I used mint tea 120 ml, sweetened it with 6g organic sugar and added 10 ml ginger bug that was bubbly and good. I saw bubbling starting to develop the second day but no carbonation formed- like in the bug and now its just flat- any recommendations? The weather here is nice and warm (33 C/ 91 F and humid! :/)
Any suggestions would be much appreciated. Thanks :)
The sugar content in your brew may be too low. Carbonation is created when yeast in the ginger bug consume the sugar and release carbon dioxide gas as a byproduct. If there isn’t enough sugar for the bugs to feed on, there won’t be enough carbon dioxide to create carbonation. In warmer weather, the microbes are more active and may metabolise more sugar. Try adding a bit more sugar to your mixture and see if that helps.
Secondly, the humid weather in your area may actually be inhibiting the carbonation process. High humidity can make it more difficult for the carbon dioxide to escape the liquid and create bubbles. Try moving your brew to a slightly cooler and drier location, like a pantry or cupboard, and see if that helps.
Good luck! It is all experimentation!! I pour failed brews over ice and garnish with fresh herbs to make the most of what I end up with :)