Ginger Bug

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I have posted pics of my ginger bug on Instagram a couple of times but without directions. When people then ask how to actually make the ginger bug, they probably want more guidance than “mix some ginger, sugar and water together and add more daily for about five days.” But really, that’s about all you do.

Like a sourdough starter, to make a ginger bug, you transform basic ingredients—rather microbes covering the ginger and floating around in your kitchen transform them—into wonderful yeasty goodness that you can then use to ferment your recipe. Also like a sourdough starter, your ginger bug needs regular feeding. I would love to take on more starters but I have hit my limit at four. They are like pets. I don’t want wind up the crazy cat lady of fermentation.

If you have been yearning to concoct some fermented, probiotic drinks but can’t find a SCOBY to make kombucha—or you find the sight of a SCOBY utterly repulsive—ginger bug might be for you.

Once you have made a lively ginger bug, you can use it to ferment natural sodas like ginger ale and alcoholic drinks like ginger beer. I have also used it to ferment sweetened tea or to make grownup fizzy lemonade. I brewed up some lemonade earlier this week. It tastes fantastic! I will post that recipe separately another day.

IMG_20150429_054037
My kombucha SCOBY hotel usually induces revulsion, awe or covetousness

WARNING/NON-WARNING: After you have tasted natural soda, you will be unable to drink commercial soda ever again. I make ginger beer for my kids’ dad and he loves it so much, he has broken his 20-year soda addiction. It’s a miracle.

Ingredients

To make your ginger bug, you need only three ingredients:

1. Ginger

Use organic ginger. In the US, non-organic (I refuse to call it conventional) ginger may be irradiated. Irradiation kills the naturally occurring yeasts and lactic-acid bacteria on the ginger which ferment it. Only once have I made a ferment that showed zero signs of life after several days: pickled ginger. I read about irradiated ginger later and realized I must not have used organic ginger. (We almost always eat organic.)

2. Sugar

I use organic cane sugar, rapadura or sucanat. Jaggery should work too. Do not use stevia. You need real sugar. If you want to experiment with things like honey or maple syrup, I would wait until you have successfully made a bug with sugar. Sugar works and you’ll learn how your bug should smell and look.

The sugar feeds the bacteria and yeasts in the bug. The amount of sugar you add to your bug and to drinks may horrify you. I know sugar is terrible. I have read Fat Chance and have watched the documentary Fed Up. But the bug consumes the sugar—not you—and emits carbon dioxide as a result, which adds that sought-after fizz. Once your drinks have fermented, they will contain much less sugar.

3. Water

I use filtered water. If you have highly chlorinated water, fill a vessel and leave it open to the air for several hours or even a day before you’ll use it and the chlorine will dissipate. I haven’t had trouble with chlorine but I do know that too much of it will kill your microbes.

ginger bug ingredients
Ginger + sugar + water + time = ginger bug

Directions

Online and in books, you’ll find varying instructions for making a ginger bug, just as you will for sourdough starter. Everyone seems to do it a bit differently. This is just how I do it.

1. In a glass jar, combine about 1 tbsp grated unpeeled organic ginger and 1 tbsp sugar.

2. Add 1 1/2 cups water and stir vigorously. Cover your jar with a small breathable cloth to let air in and keep nasties out. I find cheesecloth too flimsy and loosely woven for this purpose. 

3. Feed your bug 1 tbsp grated ginger and 1 tbsp sugar daily. Stir vigorously.

4. Your bug should be ready to use in about 5 days. It will bubble and smell yeasty, have a cloudy yellow color with sludgy looking white stuff at the bottom of the jar and the ginger will float to the top. My mature ginger bug in the pic above—I named her Mary-Ann because Ginger got all the attention on Gilligan’s Island—is three or four months old.

ginger bug closeup
Mary-Ann on day 1

How to maintain your bug

Once you have established a vigorous ginger bug, you can keep it out on the kitchen counter but you will have to feed it daily—and you will end up with a lot of it. I sometimes keep mine in the fridge and feed it the usual meal once a week: about 1 tablespoon ginger, 1 tablespoon sugar. First I bring it to room temperature, feed it, let it sit for a few hours and put it back in the refrigerator, unless I want to make a drink!

I compost a little ginger occasionally. Otherwise your pile will grow to huge proportions. You can also regularly strain off the liquid, compost half the ginger-sugar mixture and start fresh—add 1 1/2 cups water and feed daily until it bubbles up again.

The basic recipe for ginger bug drinks

Stir up your bug to get the good white yeasty stuff off the bottom of the jar and strain off 1/4 cup of the liquid. Add that to sweetened tea, lemonade or water in which you simmered a lot of ginger and then sweetened. You can try adding it to juice also. I haven’t tried juice because I don’t buy juice. I would need to make it myself. DO NOT ADD YOUR BUG TO HOT LIQUIDS. You will kill the microbes.

Fill some flip-top bottles with your drink and let them sit at room temperature for three days max. Ferments with sugar can explode (I have never had it happen) so you may want to put yours in a cupboard or closet or in a box in the garage. Don’t let your bottles ferment for more than a couple of days without opening.

Once you get the hang of making this, you’ll have a feel for when yours has fermented enough. Fermentations go quickly in my kitchen. Yours may go more slowly or more quickly, depending on your environment.

fizzy lemonade
The two bottles on the left contain my fermented lemonade

Ginger Bug

Ingredients

  • tbsp grated unpeeled organic ginger
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water

Directions

1. In a glass jar, combine about 1 tbsp grated unpeeled organic ginger and 1 tbsp sugar.

2. Add 1 1/2 cups water and stir vigorously. Cover your jar with a small breathable cloth.

3. Feed your bug 1 tbsp grated ginger and 1 tbsp sugar daily. Stir vigorously.

4. Your bug should be ready to use in about 5 days. It will bubble and smell yeasty, have a cloudy yellow color with sludgy looking white stuff at the bottom of the jar and the ginger will float to the top.

77 Comment

  1. Thanks for all the great tips. Very helpful for novices and not-so-novices alike.

  2. Oho! I like this. My husband dislikes kombucha, but I bet he’d love this. And the lemonade sounds awesome!

    1. I think he’ll really like it!

  3. Although–I am afraid of explosions. I’ve had more glass jars crack in the freezer (not the same thing, I know) so I’m starting to think I have bad luck. Into the cabinet–surrounded by towels. 😉

    1. I do worry about the bottles. I haven’t had any explode but I have had the occasional one spew out like champagne when I opened it. I’m paranoid so I open my bottles outside or in the kitchen sink with a towel draped over them. I will revise my post and add that info… Thanks!

  4. Does this process make your drink alcoholic?

    1. This turns alcoholic the longer you ferment it–a benefit or disadvantage depending on who’s drinking it 😉

  5. I just got some used swing top bottles from my grandpa and have been using them for lemonade. I’ll have to try making the ginger bug this weeken!

    1. Nice! I love the swing tops and my drinks are fizzier if I use those. The screw top bottles don’t seem to work as well. Good luck with your bug. It’s a lot of fun 🙂

  6. My skobe hotel is also thriving to say the least. Looks like it’s time to brew some Ginger Bug! Thanks for more great inspiration Anne Marie 🙂

    1. That’s great Karen. Hot weather calls for a ginger bug 🙂

  7. Somehow I missed this post till just now. Have ginger and ready to try!
    What happened to the recent post on lemonade? I got it by email, but it’s not here.
    Thank you!

    1. The lemonade is up now, Aggie. I messed up with my scheduling…

      Let me know how your ginger bug goes 🙂

  8. I love the sound of your fabulous ginger bug! It’s gone on my list of amazing stuff to make! Not sure if i can get my hands on organic ginger though :-/

    1. Thank you 🙂 I hope you can find some organic ginger! This is so easy to make and delicious. I’m really happy with the results.

  9. Loved it! I’m totally going to try it! 😉

  10. […] I also want to try making a ginger bug for naturally carbonating beverages, as demonstrated by The Zero-Waste Chef. But, we’ll see how far I get; the bug might become a future goal because I’m a bit worried […]

  11. […] Kefir and Ginger Bugs are also great ways to craft lightly effervescent, pro-biotic, natural “sodas” […]

  12. Does the ginger bug like to be in a cool spot or a warm spot? Because I live in San Diego and my kitchen gets really hot. I currently have the ginger bug in my bedroom’s counter top away from direct sunlight.

    1. Hi Jennifer. From what I have read, I would keep your bug and other ferments out of direct sunlight. How hot is it? The ginger bug will ferment and bubble more quickly after you feed it if it is in a warmer spot. I would worry more about the heat affecting your bottled drinks though. They will ferment faster in a warmer environment so you don’t want to leave them out too long in a hot kitchen. The CO2 will build up faster in a warmer environment. Too much CO2 can lead to exploding bottles or to a geyser when you open your bottle–that’s messy and you lose part of your delicious drink 🙁 So I might put the bottles in the bedroom closet. I like the put my filled bottles in a cupboard because if they do explode (I haven’t had it happen), the mess will be contained.

  13. I forgot to feed my ginger bug and it appears to have developed a scoby on the surface about an 1/8 in thick. Ever had any experience of this happening?

    1. Cool! I haven’t had that happen, Charles. It has happened with my scrap vinegar though. I did a Google search and can’t find any info on SCOBYs forming on a ginger bug. How long did it take to form?

      1. It was about 8 days before I remembered to check. I wonder if there are any uses for it? I will send a picture tonight and will sample some of it and give an opinion on flavor.

        Chuck Johnson Backyard Farmer

        >

      2. Thanks Chuck. I’d love to hear more.

  14. I have just found your fabulous blog, and have started up a Ginger Bug already. Do you have a recipe for Ginger Ale that you can share with me, or other non-alcoholic drinks that my 10 year old can enjoy 🙂

    1. Thank you Chris 🙂 You don’t waste any time! I have a recipe for ginger beer. If you let it ferment for only two or three days, it won’t be alcoholic. Here’s the recipe for that: http://zerowastechef.com/2015/08/20/ginger-beer/ I also make lemonade with my ginger bug. It’s delicious. That recipe is here: http://zerowastechef.com/2015/06/14/naturally-carbonated-lemonade/ Enjoy!

  15. Thanks for your reply. Great, this is going to be fun!! 🙂

  16. Leonard Whittington says: Reply

    Hi,

    Thank you for all the awesome info regarding naturally fermented sodas, using a bug… I have a bug and was wondering if one could (instead of composting) use the excess ginger that accumulates from feeding one’s bug regularly, to bake ginger biscuits or some other possible uses you could recommend?

    Thank you in advance

    Leonard

    1. Hi Leonard. I haven’t tried that but it sounds delicious. I sometimes use the ginger to flavor kombucha and it works well. If you try baking with it (or doing anything else), I would suggest tasting the ginger first just to make sure it still tastes gingery. Also, will you please let me know how it works if you try it? I love this idea.

      I am roasting vegetables tonight and, inspired by your question, I’m going to try adding a teaspoon of grated ginger from my ginger bug to them. It might be good. Thanks 🙂
      ~ Anne Marie

  17. I have a question about the ginger bug.IHave had a bug going for 6 days now.When I feed it and stir it ,it makes bubbles then stops,are those the bubbles I’m looking for or does it need to be bubbling all the time on it’s own?

    1. Hi Kathy. It will bubble when you stir it and then pretty much subside except for the odd gurgle. Good luck with your ginger beer. It’s SO delicious!

  18. Hi, Thanks for your post. It’s the first I’ve heard of this. I’m a newbie to all of this. Would coconut sugar work in place of cane sugar?

    1. It should work Alissa. I have used coconut sugar for kombucha and that was delicious. I recently used sucanat and didn’t like it as well, which I found really odd. Rapadura works too.

  19. Hi, I’ve successfully made my gingerbug! 😊 I was planning on making a blackberry soda. But when making the blackberry can I use maple syrup or should I stick with sugar? Thanks !

    1. Oh yum. That sounds really good. I haven’t tried maple syrup with ginger beer (or any other soda) but it sounds really good. I did try to make kombucha once with maple syrup and my mother started to shrivel up. She didn’t like it. But I have heard of other people using it with success. What if you tried some bottles with maple syrup and some with sugar?

  20. Is the ginger bug supposed to taste sweet? It’s been going for 5 days and tastes a little like sugar water. I know in Kombucha, most of the sugar is processed by the SCOBY. Is it the same for the ginger?

    1. Hi Phyrē, I just fed my ginger bug a few minutes ago and tasted it. Mine is sweet and VERY gingery. It burns a little going down. The microbes do eat the sugar like a SCOBY. If you left your bug for a long time, I think it would turn vinegary eventually. I haven’t let mine go unfed long enough that it has reached that point. Do you have any of the white residue on the bottom of your jar? That’s the good yeasty stuff that will ferment your ginger beer when you make it. ~ Anne Marie

  21. Reblogged this on Dolphin and commented:
    I read a post on fermented lemonade…it sounded so yummy, but I cannot tolerate whey (not recommended on GAPS diet nor on the autism diet against gluten, dairy, soy, and corn). So I went searching for another way to ferment lemonade, and found this wordpress page. I can’t experiment with it right now, but plan to as soon as possible…fermented lemonade sounds refreshing as well as good for you with probiotics. Enjoy.

    1. Thanks for the reblog 🙂

  22. Hi, question re: maintenance. To keep it alive and going, but using it occasionally, how much do you take out to use it but also keep it growing? cheers, sorry if it’s clear – I get confused easily!

    1. Hi there, sorry I haven’t answered this until now! It is a little confusing when you’re just starting out with your bug.

      So after I strain off the liquid to make a drink, I take quite a bit of the ginger out, up to half. Then I add more water (if I used a cup, I’ll add about a cup), another tablespoon of ginger and another tablespoon of sugar. My bug is about 1 1/2 years old now and is doing well with the routine.

      If you use your bug only occasionally, I would store it in the refrigerator. That way you can feed it less often and you will add less ginger to it over time. Sometimes I keep mine out, sometimes I keep it in the fridge. All my starters are like pets that need constant attention and I sometimes need a break from them.

      I hope that helps. Enjoy!

      1. It does, thanks!

  23. Thank you so much for this blog post. I started my first ever komucha and my first ever ginger bug last weekend and I’m so excited try making homemade sodas for myself and my grandkids. Until I found your post, I couldn’t find any information on how to maintain my bug. Your post has answered all my questions… at least, the questions I have so far.

    1. Wonderful! I’m glad you found my post useful. Ginger beer is my favorite drink to make these days. I hope you and your grandkids enjoy your natural sodas 🙂

  24. Hi, I have a whitish, waxy film on the top of my bug is this okay?

    1. Hi Rach, I haven’t had that happen so I looked this up on the Wild Fermentation website and found someone who had the same situation. They just scooped it off daily. Here is the link to the discussion: http://www.wildfermentationforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=1782&p=4006 Go there and search “white film.” From the sounds of it, it’s not a problem.

      1. Thank you so much for your reply, I had thrown a couple out, my latest one has just done it again, and I was very careful not to overfeed it this time.

  25. OMG! I just have to say that this post & your responses to questions answered all my questions. Questions that numerous youtube videos, websites and blogs did not. Thanks for your help! 🙂

    1. Great! I’m glad you found the info helpful. Enjoy your ginger beer 🙂

  26. […] Ginger bug is naturally fermented sugar and ginger used as a starter for homemade sodas. It contains wild yeast that naturally grows on ginger if you let them, the same way as when you make a sourdough starter. Read a recipe on how to make ginger bug here. […]

  27. […] this case, we add pieces of ginger as well. Alternatively, ginger beer can be made from so-called ginger bug – a colony of wild yeast obtained by wild fermentation of […]

  28. I have 2 ginger bugs going. I’ve made it before with no problem. Now the bugs are a pale white colour that you can’t see through. One smells quite yeasty and the other like rotten food. Neither have a ginger taste. It has been hot here and there is no a/c. This is my 2nd attempt in 2 weeks as the other 2 went the same way. I don’t want it to ferment as I don’t drink. What am I doing wrong? Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

    1. 🙁 Sorry about your bugs. A yeasty smell is good but rotten food doesn’t sound right. My bug get cloudy with some white residue on the bottom (that’s the good stuff) but overall it’s a yellow color. Maybe you need to feed it more sugar??? Everything definitely ferments quicker in hot weather. Last summer, my kombucha would ferment in three days (it’s usually seven). I felt like I had a part-time job making kombucha! You could try using the yeasty one. Here’s a forum about ginger beer. I didn’t find your question, but someone did talk about a white film forming on theirs: http://www.wildfermentationforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=1782&p=4006 Sorry I don’t have a better answer.

      1. I just started a ginger bug yesterday, and it’s already started bubbling. I’ve been stirring it a lot, every time I think of it. But my house is really hot – sometimes up to 85 degrees (no AC, live in Denver). I was wondering what the hot weather would do to my ferments and now I know. I had two quarts of beet kvass going, and one of them kept getting consistently moldy, REALLY moldy, and turning a funny fluorescent color (I eventually decided to toss it). I was worried that may have been due to the heat. Now I think it may have been because the moldy batch got a little bit of yogurt in it when I was straining out the whey. Anyways, I think the ginger bug is kickin’ due to the heat. But the frequent stirring seems to help a lot.

      2. Wow! Your ginger bug is advanced! Yes, the heat will speed up ferments. My kombucha is ready after only a few days in the summer. During cooler weather, it takes about a week. I’m sorry to hear about your kvass. Kvass also ferments very quickly and mine is also prone to mold. If you have a bit of white mold, from what I’ve read, it’s okay. You just scrape it off as best you can. But fluorescent doesn’t sound good. Oh, you can also make it without the whey. The whey just speeds up the fermentation, which you don’t need from the sounds of it. My last batch didn’t have whey in it. Speaking of that last batch… I cooked some beets in my pressure cooker and used merely the peels to make that kvass! It made a small amount, maybe not even two full 16-ounce flip-top bottles, but I was pretty thrilled to get kvass for basically free. Enjoy your ginger beer! It’s so so good!

  29. I started my ginger bug about 5 days ago. I am very excited about this hole experience. I have been feeding it everyday (1 tablespoon of white sugar and 1 tablespoon of ginger). It still hasn’t made bubbles. Is this normal? The weather over here is really hot. I though that by now I would be ready. Anything suggestions?

    1. Hi Agathe,

      Sometimes ferments can take a little longer. Be patient and it should come to life. If it doesn’t start to bubble in the next several days, it could be that your water has a lot of chlorine in it and that is killing off microbes or your ginger is not organic and so possibly irradiated, which would kill the bacteria and yeast on it. I have fermented lots of different things and have messed up several by adding too much salt, neglecting my culture, or forgetting to cover it up so fruit flies fell into it…but everything has come to life and bubbled EXCEPT when I tried to pickle ginger. It just would not come to life. Just sat there in its jar doing nothing. So I think the ginger I used wasn’t actually organic. I hope this helps and that your ginger bug perks up soon. ~ Anne Marie

  30. How warm is too warm for a ginger bug? I made a gallon of blueberry juice and it cooled to about 110 degrees. Would that be too warm to sustain the ginger bug or help it ferment faster? If it fails.. Could I add a second dose of ginger bug or would I have to start over?

    1. Hi Joan, you should let it cool down to room temperature. 110 can kill your microbes. If it fails, you’ll basically just have blueberry-ginger juice. If it hasn’t gone bad, I would add some more ginger bug to it. I haven’t tried that but it sounds like a good idea. You should be able to tell quickly if it’s not fermenting–I’d say in a day or two. It won’t be carbonated at all and it won’t have a boozy smell to it. ~ Anne Marie

  31. Thanks for the great information. I have just started making fernented drinks. I have 2 ginger bugs going and I have found that spring water and unrefined sugar work best. My most recent bugs have been fizzy within a day or two although I have let them go 5 days just to be sure they will work. It was helpful to know that the ginger should float and there should be a cloudy white substance on the bottom. I had not read that on other sites. I made root beer yesterday. We will see how it turns out. My ginger ale turned out very well.

    1. Great! I’m so glad your ginger beer was a success, Joy. Root beer sounds delicious. Enjoy! ~ Anne Marie

  32. I’m now making Komboucha & ginger beer thanks to your sight. BUT, before I kidnapped daughters scoby, I was experimenting on trying to get a more vinegary ginger bug. I succeeded, BUT, since I love the Komboucha too want my ginger bug back to ginger bug. I restarted one but used 1/2 cup of previous ginger bug liquid. It’s still vinegary, also the Komboucha was about 1 foot away. Is it possible they are mixing? Is there a distance to keep? I just started a new bug from scratch bug sign the colder weather here in New England I’m wondering if I’ll run out of gingerbeer before it’s ready to use. And wondering if the 6 feet distance I now have is good enough.

    1. Hi Cheryl,

      Six feet sounds good to me (especially since I have a tiny kitchen!). I always keep my sauerkraut away from my sourdough starter, ginger bug and kombucha. I haven’t had a problem with my kombucha and ginger bug not getting along but I have read that can happen. I had to restart my ginger bug recently too. It was just way too alcoholic (I can’t remember if it was super vinegary or not). I tried to feed it to bring it back but after several days realized it would just be easier to start a new one. I hope you can get yours going in time before you run out!

      Anne Marie

  33. Robert Frankfurt says: Reply

    Do you ever just drink the Ginger Bug? I mix it with Sparkling water and love the flavor and texture of it w/out it being too sweet! Thx!, Rob

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      That’s a great idea. I have so much ginger bug right now. Thanks!

  34. I made a ginger bug, I fed it for five days and then I got sick and forgot about it for two… I ran to check on it feeling somewhat better today but am unsure how to proceed, I didn’t feed it for two days but it looks to be fizzy on top still, what do I do from here? Can I use it? Do I feed it? Or do I toss it and start again? Help! Thank you?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Tina, I’m sorry I’ve been slow to respond. I’ve been out of town most of the month. I would say keep feeding it and see what happens. If it has fizz, it has life. If you do have to start over, you’ve wasted only a bit of ginger, sugar and water. I hope that helps. Good luck! ~ Anne Marie

  35. […] did make my ginger bug, but I used brown sugar because it was all I had on hand, and it really just fizzled a little bit.  […]

  36. anaelle.charles@gmail.com says: Reply

    Hi ! I just finished making my first ginger bug. Can’t wait to try the Ginger beer and lemonade recipes !
    Thanks for the good ideas, I want to limit my store-bought soda intake 🙂

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Great! I hope you like the ginger beer and lemonade. They’re really delicious. ~ Anne Marie

  37. You are AMAZING!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you Lilly 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  38. I am struggling with my ginger bug. First I made it with a piece of ginger I had left over and it started to bubble a bit. But then when I ran out I bought new and made sure I got organic – but maybe it wasn’t?
    It stopped bubbling all together and I have been feeding it every day for a week now. My Kombucha has during the same time fermented quickly (compared to the colder seasons here) and I use the same water for both. However, I saw your comment above about chlorine in water – could it be that? Or could it be my ginger now is pickled.. and if so what did you do with your pickled ginger? I don’t wanna waste it! Suggestions welcome!

    Btw! I just got The Art of Fermantation book today it’s such a beautiful fantastic book. I am now learning about even more interesting natural sodas.. 🙂

  39. […] suivant les conseils trouvés ici, et là, j’ai préparé deux trucs : un ginger bug (je connais pas les termes techniques dans la […]

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