Perhaps kombucha isn’t your thing. To make that effervescent sweet–sour tea, you first need to get a hold of a live culture of bacteria and yeasts—a SCOBY. Perhaps you can’t find a virile, healthy one. Or maybe you find the look of SCOBYs revolting. You can still ferment sweetened tea. Just use a ginger bug instead of a SCOBY.
A ginger bug is to natural soda what a sourdough starter is to real bread. Full of good bacteria and yeast, both a ginger bug and sourdough starter transform a handful of ordinary ingredients into something absolutely delicious through the magical process of fermentation. And like a sourdough starter, you don’t need to hunt down a ginger bug to get started. You simply make it following these four simple steps:
1. In a glass jar, combine 1 tablespoon grated unpeeled organic ginger and 1 tablespoon sugar.
2. Add 1-1/2 cups water and stir vigorously. Cover your jar with a small breathable cloth to allow air to circulate and to keep out pests and dirt.
3. Feed your bug 1 tablespoon grated ginger and 1 tablespoon sugar daily. Stir vigorously.
4. Your bug should be ready to use in about 5 days. It will bubble and smell yeasty, with a cloudy yellow color and white sediment at the bottom of the jar (this is yeast) and some of the ginger floating at the top.
When your ginger bug is ready, stir it to incorporate the yeast from the bottom of the jar, strain off about 1/4 cup of the liquid and add it to 4 cups of sweetened hibiscus tea that has cooled to room temperature. If you add your ginger bug to hot tea, the microbes will die and your drink will not ferment. Bottle the mixture and let it sit for a few days to carbonate before transferring it to the refrigerator.
Some notes on the ingredients
The ginger. Use organic ginger to make your ginger bug. Non-organic may have been irradiated, in which case, it lacks the naturally occurring bacteria and yeasts necessary to perform the fermentation.
The sugar. I use organic evaporated cane sugar. Any granulated sugar will do. The amount of sugar looks shockingly huge when you add it but the microbes eat it. The longer you ferment your tea, the more the microbes will consume and the less sugar your beverage will contain.
The water. I use filtered water but you don’t have to. If your tap water contains lots of chlorine, fill a jug with it the day or night before you make this, leave the lid off and chlorine will dissipate. (Chlorine can kill microbes.)
The hibiscus tea. Two people on social media this week asked me what this is so I thought I better post a picture of it. This herbal tea is made from dried hibiscus flowers. Although the hibiscus tea tastes delicious, you can use any type of herbal tea for this recipe.
Bombs and alcohol
As the bacteria and yeasts in your sweetened tea consume the sugar, they produce carbon dioxide, which builds up and can lead to exploding bottles. Store your bottles in a cupboard or box. If things go wrong, at least you’ll have a smaller contained mess rather than an hibiscus-colored ceiling and flying shards of glass.
Burp your bottles every day or two, depending on the progress of the fermentation. A reader recently told me that because she lives at a high altitude—6,600 ft—she has to burp her ginger beer twice a day. On the other hand, if you open the bottles too frequently, carbonation will not develop. After you have made this natural soda a couple of times, you’ll have a better feel for what works best in your kitchen.
Finally, all fermented foods contain some alcohol. Anything I make with my ginger bug seems to have more. If you stop the fermentation early by transferring your hibiscus soda to the refrigerator, it will contain much less alcohol than it will if you let it ferment longer. If you do want a more alcoholic drink, ferment your tea for a week to 10 days or more. Just be sure to burp those bottles every day or two and let someone else drive.
If you don't have hibiscus tea, use a different type of herbal tea.
- 1 heaping tablespoon hibiscus tea leaves
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 cups water total
- 1/4 cup strained ginger bug
- Steep the hibiscus tea leaves in 1 cup of hot water to make strong tea.
- Strain the tea and stir in the sugar.
- Add the remaining 3 cups of water. By diluting the tea this way, you cool it down faster and can add the ginger bug sooner, which speeds up preparation.
- Once the tea has cooled to room temperature, add the ginger bug.
- Fill glass flip-top bottles with the mixture and set aside in a cupboard or box to carbonate.
- Burp the bottles every day or two to release built-up carbon dioxide and prevent geysers and exploding bottles. Simply open and close the bottle quickly.
- The soda will be ready in approximately 3 days. Transfer to the refrigerator or ferment for longer for a higher alcohol content.
Exploding bottles can and do happen. Store your bottles in a cupboard or box to contain any possible explosions and subsequent messes. Burp your bottles every day or two, depending on the progress of the fermentation. If you open them too often, carbonation will not develop. After you have made this drink a couple of times, you'll have a better feel for what works best in your kitchen.