In the hopes that I can have my sewing friends over again soon, I’ve been brewing various concoctions with which to ply them, including naturally carbonated drinks made with my turmeric bug.
As with a ginger bug or sourdough starter, microbes on turmeric and in the air, even on your hands, transform simple ingredients—in this case, turmeric, sugar and water—into wonderful yeasty goodness that you can then use to kickstart a ferment, such as a drink. Also like a sourdough starter or ginger bug—or pet—your turmeric bug needs regular feeding. But don’t let that commitment scare you off. You can always sever the relationship by consuming all of your turmeric bug if your number of starter-pets grows unmanageable.
Basic turmeric bug method
I made my turmeric bug following the same method as I use for my ginger bug:
- Place grated/minced fresh turmeric, sugar and water in a clean jar.
- Daily, stir in more grated/minced turmeric and sugar.
- After about 5 days, the bug should look cloudy and bubbly and taste tangy. At this point, you can use it in a ferment.
The three turmeric bug ingredients
Use organic turmeric. In the US, non-organic turmeric may be irradiated. Irradiation kills the naturally occurring yeasts and lactic-acid bacteria present on the turmeric, which you need to ferment the bug and whatever you ferment with the bug. Apparently irradiated food must feature a label describing it as such but I have never seen this label.
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 turmeric 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. But the bug consumes most of the sugar—not you—and emits carbon dioxide as a result, which creates that sought-after fizz. Once your drinks have fermented, they will contain much less sugar.
I’m not convinced that I need to filter my water but because I have naked charcoal filters for water, I use them. If you detect high amounts of chlorine in your water—you can smell it if you do—fill a bowl or wide-mouth vessel with water, cover it with a thin cloth and let it sit for a day before you need the water. Chlorine will dissipate. I haven’t had trouble with chlorine but I do know that too much of it will kill your microbes.
I use a jar. Any jar will do but I prefer flip-top jars. The lids don’t rust like metal Mason jars lids do when they come into contact with acidic ferments. You do not need to sterilize the jar. Simply wash it in hot, soapy water. The acid and good bacteria in the bug will kill any bad bacteria that may make its way into the jar. For this reason, fermentation is very safe.
Cover the jar tightly with a clean, tightly woven cloth to keep out impurities. I secure mine with a rubber band. Once my bugs have matured, I remove these cloths and close the lids. Leave the hat on if you prefer.
When you brew drinks with your mature bug, flip-top bottles will help build up the carbonation more effectively than screw-top bottles. You can buy these at beer and wine making stores or you can buy drinks that come packaged in these bottles, drink those and reuse the bottles. I’ve scored nice flip-top bottles from friends who buy ginger beer in these bottles. Again, you don’t need to sterilize these.
How to maintain your turmeric bug
Once you have established a vigorous bug, you can keep it out on the kitchen counter but you will have to feed it daily—and your jar will soon burst with turmeric. If you need a break from these daily cumulative feedings—after you have established your bug—store it in the refrigerator. At this point, remove the cloth from the jar and close the lid. About once a week, pull out the bug, let it warm up a bit for a couple of hours and feed it its usual meal: 1 tablespoon turmeric, 1 tablespoon sugar. Let it sit for a few hours and put it back in the refrigerator, unless you want to make a drink!
After you have removed the liquid to ferment a drink, replenish the bug with an equivalent amount of water. So, if you removed ½ cup of turmeric bug liquid, add ½ cup of water.
You can use the liquid alone to ferment a conconction or you can add the liquid and the turmeric bits to the bottle and strain those out before serving the finished drink. The bits contain lots of bacteria and yeast and will enhance the carbonation. You can also freeze these bits and use them later to ferment something.
Turmeric Bug for Natural Sodas
- 1½ ounces fresh organic unpeeled turmeric divided
- 5 tablespoons granulated sugar divided
- 1 cup water filtered if you have it
- In a clean glass jar, combine 1 tablespoon grated or minced unpeeled organic turmeric, 1 tablespoon sugar and all the water. Stir. Cover with a breathable cloth such as good-quality muslin or other fabric woven tightly enough to keep contaminants out of the jar. Secure the cloth tightly to the jar with string or a rubber band.
- Every day for 5 days, stir in 1 tablespoon of grated or minced unpeeled organic turmeric and 1 tablespoon of sugar.
- By the fifth day, you should see bubbling and the bits of turmeric with float to the top of the jar. The bug will be cloudy and taste sweet and tangy.