Ginger is a powerful plant. The knobby root can be used in so many ways, from stir-fry to tea to kraut ingredient. Warm and spicy, lively and earthy, it's a versatile and adaptable culinary ally. It's also strong medicine, used for centuries as an immune booster and digestive aid. It's also delicious! It's hard to pin down just what my favorite way to use it might be. But this recipe for real-deal, probiotic ginger beer might be the winner.
Ginger is covered with wild yeasts, much in the same way that grapes and apples are. For this reason, it is sometimes peeled before being put into kraut and other lactic ferments, so as not to contaminate the bacterial action with yeast. This same property can be used to our benefit, when we make a ginger bug.
What's a ginger bug, you say? It's a charming name for a collection of bacteria and yeasts (bugs, for fun!) that will readily colonize a bowl of sweetened ginger left out on the counter for a few days. It's easy to make, and easy to tailor the intensity of the ginger flavor. All you need is ginger and sugar and some clamp top bottles. (OK, and a bowl and a funnel and some boiling water, too.) This recipe is taken from Sandor Katz, in his book Wild Fermentation, but similar recipes abound. Use the one that works for you! Here's how to do it.
For a 1 gallon batch, grate 1 inch of ginger (peel and all) into a mason jar. Add 2 teaspoons of sugar and a cup of water and stir. Cover it with cheesecloth or a jar cover to keep the dust out and leave it on the counter in a warm place. Every day, feed the bug by adding this same amount of new sugar and new ginger. After a few days, it will begin to bubble. Congratulations! A ginger bug is born. The bowl of ginger has been colonized by beneficial bacteria and yeasts, and is ready to get to work for you. Keep feeding it until you are able to make your ginger beer, to keep it active and lively.
The next step is to brew a batch of ginger tea with some new ginger. You can brew it as strong as you like, using anywhere from a thumb to an entire hand of ginger. (I love the measurements we use for ginger!) lf you like a bit of ginger pulp in your ginger beer, peel the ginger before grating, and skip the straining step that follows. Boil 2 quarts of water then turn off the heat. Grate the ginger into the water and then add 1 1/2 cups of sugar and stir to dissolve. This will be food for the ginger beer.
After the tea has cooled, add enough cold water to make 1 gallon--should be about 2 more quarts. Strain the ginger out of the ginger tea if you don't want the pulp, and add the juice of 2 lemons, as well as the liquid from the ginger bug. Place the ginger bug solids into a plastic strainer, and pour the cooled, sweetened ginger tea through the strainer containing the ginger bug, into a pitcher or bowl that is easy to pour from. The probiotic juice, as well as the brief contact with the lively bug, will inoculate the ginger tea with the beneficial bacteria and yeasts it will need to begin fermenting.
When all of the tea has passed through the bug, place a small funnel at the mouth of a clamp top bottle, and fill each bottle up to within an inch of the top. Clamp the bottles shut, and leave them in a warm dark place for 10-14 days. As the yeasts and bacteria in the ginger bug tea begin to digest the sugar, the by-product they generate is CO2. Lucky us! The CO2 is trapped in solution, in the sealed bottle. This means carbonation! The longer it ferments, the more bubbly it becomes, so watch out and check the progress of your bottles every day after the first 5 days. If you like, you may re-use a plastic soda bottle for at least one serving of ginger beer. As the carbonation increases, the plastic bottle will become firmer and harder to the touch; this is a good way to keep tabs on the developing carbonation. Alternatively, just crack open one of the bottles periodically to gauge the developing pressure.
When it has reached a carbonation level that you desire, put the bottles in the fridge and keep them there until you are ready to enjoy them. It's important to keep them cold; this is a wild ferment and allowing them to stay at room temp will cause them to continue fermenting, building up pressure and potentially breaking the bottle. Keep 'em cold and the yeasts and bacteria cannot continue to produce CO2.
Did I mention that this is the best ginger beer that I have ever had? It is! You can adjust the flavor by varying the amount of ginger, or by adding a squeeze of lime or lemon to the bottle, or by using fruit juice in place of the sugar in the tea.
The ginger bug is also a great way to kick off other fermented beverages, and a great starting place for further experimentation and exploration. Enjoy!
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