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.

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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.

Here is the full recipe for ginger beer.

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.

111 Replies to “Ginger Bug”

  1. Thank you for the recipe! I have tried it 3 times in the past month and was hoping you could help me. The ginger bug starts bubbling great, almost foaming, then goes flat on day 3 and grows a thin layer of fluffy white mold. I have changed the container, the stirring tools, and use Winn Dixie purified water. Do you know what might be going wrong? Every single batch has grown that white fluffy mold on top. Do I spoon it out and continue feeding the bug?
    Thank you so much!

    1. Did you cover it?

  2. Thanks for your recipe. I started a ginger bug with 3 c of water filtered and two tsp of grated ginger and two tsp if organic confectionery sugar. Another recipe said sugar didn’t matter but that organic is better. SO my question is do I replace ginger bug liquid taken out as you instruct above? Cup for cup and add more ginger and sugar? Also I made a fermented lemonade with honey wTer and fresh lemon juice. It was fermenting or so I thought so I added 1)2 c of the ginger bug to it. It was a tall 2 qurt capped bottle. Now hopefully it will ferment. What do you think?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Sheila,
      Yes, I would replace the bug you strained off with the equivalent amount of water and add sugar and ginger daily as before but use your organic sugar since it’s working better. If you added that much ginger bug to your lemonade, it should ferment. Be sure to burp it (open and close the lid) so the carbon dioxide doesn’t build up too much in there. If, when you burp the bottle, you don’t get much of a hiss, don’t burp it for two or three days. As you ferment more, you’ll get a better idea of how long to let these carbonated drinks sit. I hope that helps. ~ Anne Marie

  3. Maren Thalhammer says: Reply

    Hi Anne Marie, thanks for the great recipe! Just tried it and I am very much looking forward to the resu. I was just wondering if you can use screw top bottles as well, as I only had old wine bottles at hand now.
    Thanks! Maren from Germany

  4. If you want to make a gallon of ginger bug, can you just scale up the ingredients? Also would you use a scaled up amount for the feeding of it?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Chris, I have never made that much but I would increase the initial ginger, sugar and water by the same multiple that you’d need to get a gallon. For feedings, I think you can be a little more conservative. So if you multiply everything by 10 (I haven’t done the math, I’m just giving an example), I would do a little less for the feedings. I sometimes feed mine only a teaspoon of each and not a tablespoon and it works. I hope that helps. ~ Anne Marie

  5. Thanks, I will try that. The recovery time on the ginger bug should be quicker using a large batch. When a recipe only takes one cup at a time.

  6. Is there a way to kill the bug once it is bottled? I can’t pasturuze it because I use plastic bottles. Thanks

  7. So I have tried a couple of times now to make a ginger bug. The first couple of times failed. They started to bubble, then when I added sugar and ginger again on the 3rd day, it just stopped and would not come back. I was using standard white sugar and distilled water. I don’t know the provenance of the ginger, but it was from Sprouts, so likely organic? This time I decided to use purified water and after 3 days, it was only just barely bubbling. I found some demerera sugar and added that on night 3, and the next morning came out and saw a half an inch thick layer of foamy bubbles that smelled VERY yeasty, almost like wine! I figured that maybe that sugar must be what worked? I covered it with a coffee filter and canning ring, though I have some silicone airlocks too I could use. I made some ginger ale by simmering some ginger and demerera sugar in some purified water and putting it in a 2 qt jar, with about a half cup of the bug. It’s bubbling on top, but smells VERY yeasty, almost alcoholic-y. Is that normal?

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