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.
You can also use your ginger bug to make lemonade and of course, ginger beer.
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.
30 Replies to “Naturally Fermented Hibiscus Soda”
Once you start using your ginger bug, how often do you need to feed it? And do you store it in the fridge?
Hi Faue, I feed it every day if it’s out on the counter. If I store it in the refrigerator (which I often do), I pull it out and feed it once a week and then put it back in. ~ Anne Marie
I want to try this but just want to make sure this tastes like soda (which is what I would like) and not like kombucha right? Thank you,
Hi Cindy. No it doesn’t taste like kombucha. It’s sweet, not sour. If you let it ferment for a while (longer than a few days), the microbes will have eaten more of the sugar so it will be less sweet and slightly boozy but not vinegary. ~ Anne Marie
Dear Anne Marie, thank you for all your wonderful recipes! I loved the soda and am eager to try more fermenting soon!
Greetings from Bavaria (probably gonna try making sauerkraut soon 😉 )
Hi Sophia. I’m so glad you like the soda. Sauerkraut is so good and so healthy. Enjoy your fermenting adventures. Greetings from California 😉 ~ Anne Marie
Hi! After the initial five days of feeding the ginger bug, once it has the yeast, can you then put the lid on rather than the cloth?
Hi Josie, Yes that’s fine. In fact, these days I keep mine in a flip-top jar without the rubber seal. Air and carbon dioxide can escape from the jar and water doesn’t evaporate much, if at all. It works well. ~ Anne Marie
Thank you for your recipes and all of your responses. I’m 4 days in to my first bug. There is definitely ginger floating to the top and cloudy on the bottom, but no bubbles yet. I’m using sucant sugar (just read that you weren’t a fan of the taste of that, oh well) and t’s been cold this last week in Denver so maybe that’s why? Do I feed it longer or is it a lost cause? Also, I understand that you refil the same amount of water you take out, but do you have to go through the 5 day process again or just 1 feed and a couple hours out of the fridge?
The thing I was hoping to make with my bug was some kind of probiotic elixir with turmeric. I’m always drawn to the lemon, ginger and turmeric kinds at the store and really wanted to try making my own but am having trouble finding recipes for that. Would I make it like the ginger beer but with turmeric root instead? Or both? Would it even contain any of the anti-inflammatory benefits that turmeric has?
Thanks again for all of your help!
Hi, thanks for sharing such detailed information.
I have been making ginger bug starter sodas for a while, using all sorts of juices (purple corn, watermelon, lemonade, etc…) and have recently tried for the first time with sweetened hibiscus tea but there is no sign of fermentation. Have you had any issues with it? It’s kind of a midterm to me. Maybe the hibiscus is too concentrated
Hi Lucas, How long has the tea been fermenting? Mine usually isn’t as carbonated as my ginger beer but it does get pretty fizzy. Is there any chance the tea was still hot when you added the ginger bug? ~ Anne Marie
[…] If you’re feeling extra needy, you can always indulge in their Clay Pot Biryani and finish up with an organic hibiscus soda. […]
Hi! I am in the process of making the hibiscus soda, so excited. I put the necessary amount of sugar in it, but wanted to know if you could put in less so it’s not so sweet. I like a less sugary soda. Also, could you drink the ginger bug juice straight? It smells delicious and has all the goodies in it.
Hi Anne, if you let the soda ferment longer it will have less sugar. You could experiment and add less in the first place also but you will need some to feed the bacteria and yeast. Yes, you could drink the ginger bug if you want to and like it. There are no rules! People have told me they mix the ginger bug with other drinks and drink it that way. Enjoy! ~ Anne Marie
Thanks Anne Marie. My soda didn’t get bubbles, and actually grew mold after 3 days. Any suggestions on how that might have happened? Was my ginger bug bad?
Hi! I’m low on sugar and since I won’t be going to the store any time soon I was wondering if it’s possible to use organic light corn syrup. I have a bottle I never used and would love to be able to do something with it. If so how much do you think I should use?
I don’t think I have one jar big enough for 4 cups all at once. Is there a way to make all of this in one big bowl and just pour it into jars afterwards? Would the ratios be all messed up?
Try reusing a glass jar from spaghetti or even a pitcher if you cover it with several layers of cheesecloth and a rubberband it will be fine.
Hi Anne Marie ! At first thank you for your great posts ! When I take cups of liquid out of the ginger bug to make soda, do I have to add water back to the ginger bug ? Because when I take out all liquid it will be only ginger pieces left or ?
[…] Alternatives: You have so many to choose from! You could make iced tea, lemonade or, if you want to get adventurous, kombucha, ginger beer or natural soda. […]
Making my first batch now, so excited! Can I use a quart mason jar instead of a narrow necked bottle? If so, do I close the lid tightly? Thank you!
How long will the soda keep in the refrigerator?
Hi Alison, it will keep for months but the carbon dioxide will build up so I would burp it if you don’t drink it within a month. If you do keep it over time, it will become less sweet as the microbes continue to eat the sugars, which some people prefer.
~ Anne Marie
Thanks for the quick response and for all of the great posts 🙂 I am learning so much from you blog.
Hi, is it safe for kids to drink?
Just in the process of making this, will see how it turns out! One tip is if you have any leftover party balloons you can put them over the neck of the bottles, it allows gas to escape without allowing any nasties to get in. Useful if you are going away and can’t burp the bottles for a few days.
Hello, my ginger bug is ready and I’m done using it for ginger beer. My question is how do I maintain my ginger bug to preserve it and not get spoilt? Thanks
Thanks for these recipes! Does it have to be hibiscus specifically, or would other herbal teas or juices work?
No, it doesn’t have to be hibiscus. I’ve used other types of herbal tea and also green tea.
~ Anne Marie
We recently made some ginger ale and some turmeric ale, starting with bugs. Both went through primary bulk fermentation wonderfully and we bottled them just a few days ago for secondary fermentation. When we opened the bottles to check for carbonation last night, the ginger ale was PERFECT! yay! but, the turmeric ale all smelled awful–life rotten eggs.
I saw on a Reddit post that the hydrogen sulfide (egg smell) is likely a product of stressed yeast. Is there a way to fix this or do we need to dump the turmeric ale in the bottles?
Thank you, Star