Naturally Fermented Sodas!

Living in Amsterdam sometimes means that summer can be a rare visitor. But it’s the perfect place to learn how to get into a summer time feeling despite rainy spring weather. One way to do so is by having an ice cold glass of homemade soda!
It’s actually pretty easy and fun. And it is yet another manifestation for one of biggest things I’ve learned about food so far, which is: Fermentation is magic!

Ginger bug with some of the foam produced by the wild yeasts.Ginger bug with some of the foam produced by the wild yeasts.

The old-fashioned way is by starting from a naturally fermented ginger bug1. Ginger bug is a starter culture – most importantly containing yeast which is naturally present in/on the skin of ginger roots. You hence have to start from organic ginger roots, because most other ginger was probably irradiated to kill all microbes – including the wild yeasts we’re after.
There are many recipes for how to start your own ginger bug culture, such as this one. In principle you just hope that the wild yeasts from the ginger root start to grow happily. Typically this is done by grating (or fine chopping) a bit of ginger, mix it with water and sugar. Then another bit of ginger, water, and sugar is added every day for 3-10 days until you see bubbles or foam on top. The ginger bug is kept in a container that is NOT airtight. Once you have a working ginger bug you can just take out some of it (few table spoons) and add it to a liter of sweetened liquid. Close the bottle and let the yeast carbonate your drink, than cool it in the fridge. Tastes better, but most of all it will slow down further CO2 production by the yeasts.
Speaking of which: There is only one real thing that can go wrong, and that’s building up too much pressure. The yeast will consume the sugar and will produce CO2 which makes you drink carbonated… (which is what you want). But you can easily get exploding bottles or at least soda fountains when opening a bottle if you just let the yeasts do their job for too long. So I found it easiest to let the soda sit in plastic bottles. Less pretty, but they will make a mess but they won’t be dangerous when exploding. And you can just feel how much pressure has already been built up by simply squeezing the bottle a little.

But now let’s come to the best thing about homemade sodas. You can make if from whatever you like (as long as it contains some sugar)! Add some of your starter culture to fruit-teas with some lemon juice and sugar. Or cook some water with lemon zest and ginger, let it cool to room temperature and mix it with sugar, a lot of lemon juice, then add the starter culture. Or combine with fruit juices. Or play around with herbal teas. Or combine any of those things in pretty much any way you feel like… What about watermelon, lemon, mint?
Man, am I glad that the weather outside sucks so I get plenty of time to make summer actually happen in my kitchen.
Trying out different recipes for homemade soda... Trying out different recipes for homemade soda…

By the way: As for any topic related to fermentation I can clearly recommend Sandor Katz’ “The Art of Fermentation” as a in-depth read…

  1. Alternatively you could of course also add a yeast culture right away. But that feels a little less magic and might also give you less complex flavors. On the other hand it is of course much easier to control and plan. Just don’t take the normal baker’s yeast you would use for baking. Better pick one of the many yeast cultures that you can get to make wine (or cider), such as the pretty adaptable champagne yeasts. []

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