Thumb Your Nose at Big Soda: Naturally Carbonated Lemonade

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This past Monday, summer arrived here in Silicon Valley. I could hear kids splashing in the pool outside. The ice cream truck, which, oddly, plays “Little Brown Jug,” resumed trolling the neighborhood. And with school about to end, parents went into panic mode. But something else tipped me off that summer had begun: My bulk coconut oil completely melted. Time for lemonade.

I don’t know what to call this effervescent drink, other than delicious. It tastes lemony and spicy and refreshes on a hot day as it’s not too sweet. Lemginade? Gingemonade? Pleasemakemoreade? I’m sure it has a name…

fizzy lemonade
My coconut oil in the glass jar on the right doubles as a thermometer

Ginger bug

To make this fizzy lemonade, you first need to make ginger bug from organic ginger, sugar and water, and nurture it for about five days. Over time, I had accumulated a large bug so I strained it, composted half and started over. I refrigerated the liquid for two weeks so it had less vigor than freshly strained would. As insurance (and an experiment), I used double the usual amount for this batch (so 1/2 cup instead of the 1/4 cup you’ll find in the recipe below). It worked!

One of the many things I love about fermentation is this ability to improvise. Of course, that might drive some people crazy. Recently, I called my mom (an amazing baker) for her date squares recipe, a family favorite:

For the topping, use some flour, a couple of handfuls or so. Add enough oats. Then mix brown sugar and butter in and mush it all up with your fingers until it’s crumbly. For the filling, take a bunch of dates, say, about this much [we weren’t on Skype], and cook them with brown sugar and water until they look right…

I haven’t made them.

Naturally Carbonated Lemonade


  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup sugar or to taste
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice with or without pulp
  • 1/4 cup strained liquid from a ginger bug


1. Make lemonade. Boil water in a kettle. When the water has boiled, combine 1 cup hot water with 1/2 cup sugar. Once the sugar has completely dissolved, add remaining 3 cups cool water. You need your lemonade at room temperature. By making it this way—with 1 cup hot water plus 3 cups cool—you don’t have to wait long for the water to cool down. NEVER ADD YOUR BUG TO HOT WATER. You will kill the microbes and the fermentation will not work.

2. Add 1/2 cup lemon juice to the sugar-water. I like to harness the lactic acid bacteria present on the lemons, which will help ferment your drink (but mostly the ginger bug ferments it), so I add the lemon juice after the water has cooled to room temperature.

3. Add the ginger bug to the lemonade and stir.

4. Bottle your drink. Fill flip-top bottles and set them aside for two days, three if you have a very cool kitchen. As the microbes eat the sugar, they release carbon dioxide, which carbonates your drink. BE CAREFUL! If you let the fermentation go too long, the bottles may explode. I have never had this happen but have read about it, so I often put my bottles in a cupboard to ferment. A cardboard box works too. The garage is ideal. After you have made a few fermented drinks like this or kombucha, you will get a feel for how long to let the fermentation go. If you let the bottle sit for longer than a couple of days, PLEASE burp it (i.e., open it) to release gas. I usually do this every two days, sometimes one, depending on how fizzy the drink it.

5. Chill a few hours before serving.


You can also use your ginger bug to make naturally carbonated hibiscus soda. Get the recipe for that here.

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32 Replies to “Thumb Your Nose at Big Soda: Naturally Carbonated Lemonade”

  1. Give your mum a hug from me. She is 100% kinesthetic learner. She memorizes things by doing. I can understand her soooo well. BTW, nice lemonade recipe!

    1. I will have to watch my mum make them. She is an amazing baker. Glad you like the recipe 🙂

  2. […] thing we’re definitely doing is making this Naturally Carbonated Lemonade from the Zero Waste Chef. Refreshing and […]

  3. Yet another fun recipe to try! Thanks!

    1. Thanks for checking it out, Karen 🙂

  4. So after the secondary fermentation is over, can you store them in the fridge, or will they explode?

    1. Yes, move them to the fridge after they’ve fermented a couple of days at room temperature, otherwise they might explode. I have never had it happen but it does worry me…The fridge slows down fermentation. I just put some in the fridge this morning that looked super bubbly. You might find one day is long enough for the secondary fermentation. It depends on your kitchen environment.

  5. […] Bugs are also great ways to craft lightly effervescent, pro-biotic, natural “sodas” (“Thumb Your Nose at Big Soda,” as Zero-Waste Chef tells you) — but I like the purity and ease of “harvesting” […]

  6. I’ve started my ginger bug and am ready to make all the fizzy drinks! Just a question though: Is the lemonade alcoholic? Would it be safe to let my 3 year old drink it?

    1. If you let it ferment for only two or three days it shouldn’t be alcoholic. Technically, all fermented foods have some alcohol in them, even bread, but the level is very low. I am a lightweight and so am a excellent gauge for alcohol content (one glass of wine and I am practically under the table). I haven’t detected any alcohol in the lemonade. If I let my ginger beer ferment in the bottle for a couple of weeks (you need to burp the bottle every couple of days if you ferment it so long b/c CO2 builds up), it definitely has alcohol. I hope that helps and that you enjoy your fizzy drinks 🙂

  7. For the secondary fermentation, I’m guessing the caps are on while the microbes do their work? Or is the top left open?

    1. That’s right Brianna. Otherwise the CO2 will escape and you won’t get any fizz. If you let it ferment in the bottles for a while, burp them (i.e., open the lids) every couple of days (depending on how fizzy they get) to release built-up CO2 and prevent explosions. It’s a good idea to cover the bottle with a towel just in case they are super bubbly and spray your precious drink all over. ~ Anne Marie

  8. […] I’m currently fermenting Zero Waste Chef’s Naturally Carbonated Lemonade in my pantry right now–it’s so good! You start by making a ginger bug and then add a […]

  9. Is it better to reuse my plastic bottles if I’m afraid the drink will explode and break the glass?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Hieu,

      If you have them and are worried about exploding glass, that will work. When the bottle starts to bulge, you will know it’s time to burp it (i.e., open the bottle) to release carbon dioxide. ~ Anne Marie

    2. I’ve been grating my ginger for my big. Should I strain it before I add it to the lemonade mix and just add the liquid or should some of the bits go in too?

      1. Hi Maya,
        It’s up to you. You can strain it now or you can strain it later when you drink it. I sometimes make drinks using only the gingery bits. Just be sure to burp your bottles. The extra ginger bits will likely add more carbonation. (Either way, be sure to burp your bottles.)

  10. Hi, I’m giving this lemonade a shot, but am not sure it’s working. My ginger bug was never bubbly as such, though the ginger was floating, it smelled slightly yeasty, and there was plenty of whitish sediment at the bottom. It’s been two days in the lemonade and so far there’s not any bubbling to speak of, but there is an increasing amount of sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Is this right? If it is fine, should the lemonade be stirred before drinking, or should the goop be left where it is? Thanks, I’ve been enjoying your site.

  11. Hello Anne Marie!
    I just made the ginger bug and began making the lemonade. In order to keep my bug going, should I add back any water to the jar? Additionally, should I keep it covered with the cloth or should I put a lid on the jar in which it is stored?
    Thank you!

  12. I made this, but my husband doesn’t like ginger and it was too ginger-beery for his tastes (I loved it!). So I wondered, “If it’s the yeasty sediment that does the work, why do I have to add the gingery liquid…?”

    Result: I tried making lemonade using just the leftover sediment at the bottom of my finished ginger beer bottle + lemon and sugar water (I cook like Anne Marie’s mum* – some water, dissolve in some sugar, add juice of a lemon). It worked! Took a few days, but I now have fizzy lemonade with no ginger flavour 🙂

    *I’m gonna try her date squares recipe now I’ve got some dates LOL

  13. THOMAS W SHUE says: Reply

    Here is a tip, Instead of boiling water to dissolve the sugar and following the recipe, I suggest you make a simple syrup. You can a 1 to 1 sugar/water or dissolve as much sugar as you can in the boiling water and use as a super concentrate sweetener. Let it cool and store in an old milk jug at room temp (or the fridge).

    By using a pre made syrup, you can save a lot of time, and make this soda in bulk without fear of killng the yeasts in the ginger bug. I have also used water Kefir to make soda. Ill be trying this very soon.

  14. Hi again! I tried to burp my first batch of ginger beer that I made 2 days ago and it got fizzy like crazy and spilled so much…is it normal? Should I have closed it quicker or should I burp it more often?

    1. Hi Subin,
      I would burp it more frequently and try to do it quickly. You can also move it to the refrigerator to calm it down if it looks like it will ooze out when you try to burp it.
      ~ Anne Marie

  15. Thanks so much for you blog! I’m new to sourdough, food fermentation etc. but I’m in grad school for microbiology…don’t know why I didn’t start this sooner! So fun
    I made two bottles of lemonade two days ago with my ginger bug and burped them yesterday afternoon. When I woke up this morning, one bottle had shattered!
    To other first timers: maybe the first time burp every 12hr or so until you know you won’t have explosions…


  16. Ian Walters says: Reply

    Hi, I’ve trawled your site for an answer to my problem. If I missed it please send me to it.
    Here’s the problem. I have a Cape Lemon in my garden, I live in the Western Cape, South Africa.
    These are rough skinned lemons with a very thick skin that you can peel like a what we call a”naartjie”,
    i think the rest of the world call it a tangerine. We have an abundance of these lemons so I found a recipe for
    making a syrup which is simply juicing the lemons mixing them at a ration of 2 quantities of lemon to 1 of sugar
    allowing to come to the boil and then pouring into a sterilised bottle. It makes the most wonderful zesty drink,
    a tiny amount in a glass mixed with club soda is wonderful with gin or if you like things very zesty drunk on its own.
    Before I’ve done the juicing I have shaved off the and made your recipe for lemon peel preserve. The pith I put in the compost, My problem is the pulp? Do you have any ideas? I had to dump my first load onto the base of the lemon tree.
    I suppose a sort of peace offering for taking all her fruit!

  17. I’m really excited to try making this lemonade and some ginger beer. I have a good ginger bug going that was made with Rapadura sugar. When making the lemonade, do you know if using a sugar-substitute like Swerve will work? I want to have a sugar-free, low glycemic lemonade. Thanks.

    1. Hi Andrea,
      I’m not sure if it will work or not. Is it like Stevia? Something like Stevia apparently doesn’t work. If you let it ferment for a long time, it will have less sugar in it. If you give them enough time, the microbes will eat all the sugar in there. I hope that helps.
      ~ Anne Marie

    2. The sugar will be consumed by the bacteria which in turn will produce lactic acid. So, if you let the fermentation go until all of the sugar has been consumed, you can then add your non-caloric sweetener just before drinking it.

  18. Hi! I’ve made a ginger bug twice now–it gets bubbly and fantastic, but when I’ve made the lemonade or ginger beer for the second fermentation phase it doesn’t carbonate. What’s going on? I make kombucha so I have bottles that work well and know how to bottle for the second ferment, I just don’t understand why the ginger bug doesn’t seem to be working its magic? (Thanks by the way…I love your blog!!!)

    1. Hmmm, maybe just let it sit longer without burping it. That might do the trick. Sometimes, I’ll burp a bottle, get nothing and then let it sit for two days, after which, it has become very carbonated. You can also try adding more of the ginger bug to the bottles. You might want go gradually with both of these strategies because you don’t want to have the ginger beer too carbonated. I hope that helps.
      ~ Anne-Marie

  19. Hi there, Can you make this in a mason jar if you don’t have the bottles?

    1. Yes, you can! The tight seal of flip-top bottles increases carbonation but this usually gets so carbonated that a jar will do. I have a couple of bottles that get almost too carbonated.

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