Lacto-Fermented Sodas

I’ve been making a lot of lacto-fermented sodas in preparation for my homemade soda class tonight. Right now, I have hibiscus-rose hip soda, blueberry soda, and lemon balm-honey soda all bubbling away, in addition to a raspberry-orange soda that’s already in the fridge. Don’t these jeweled jars look pretty?  

Lacto-fermented hibiscus, blueberry, and lemon balm sodas

In the fermentation process, a live culture (such as ginger bug, kefir grains, whey, kombucha, etc.) is added to fruit juice or water with fresh or dried fruit chunks. Lacto-bacilli (lacto bacteria) digest the sugars, making the drinks tangy by creating lactic acid. Yeasts found in the culture and on the food itself also digest the sugars, giving off carbonation. The drinks last for weeks in the fridge, although they will slowly continue to ferment and become more tangy and alcoholic (like vinegar).

Cooking blueberries for blueberry soda

Lacto-fermented beverages promote healthy digestion, support the immune system, and hydrate us really, really well. In place of a lot of sugar, these drinks are teeming with beneficial bacteria. The diluted sugars and electrolytes (think salts like sodium and potassium) in these beverages are absorbed faster and refresh us longer than plain water. A good thing in these 80 and 90 degree temperatures!

I used whey to make all of these sodas, which means that I’ve been straining a lot of yogurt the last few days. Homemade whey is easy to make by straining a cultured dairy product, like yogurt, to separate it into cheese curds and whey. The process takes just a few hours and is mostly passive.

Homemade whey

Whey is full of lacto-bacilli in addition to vitamins and minerals that can kickstart all kinds of fermentation, from sodas to sauerkraut. There’s a great article on straining yogurt on the Weston A. Price website, as well as recipe ideas for how to use the whey and the yogurt cheese.

I find whey the most straight-forward technique for fermenting fruit juice, but some people prefer to make a ginger bug or to get a kefir or kombucha culture from a friend.

Techniques for Lacto-Fermented Sodas:

How to Make Whey
Place 1 quart whole-milk yogurt with live cultures in a colander or strainer lined with cheesecloth and set above a bowl or pot. Let drip for about 8 hours (can be done on the counter or refrigerator). You will collect about 2 cups whey in the bowl. Pour into a glass jar with a lid and refrigerate. You will also have about 2 cups yogurt cheese, which you can use as you would cream cheese. Whey lasts up to 3 months in the refrigerator; yogurt cheese lasts about 3 weeks.

How to Make a Ginger Bug
In a 1-pint, wide-mouth glass jar, put 1 cup of water. Add 2 tsp. of white sugar and 2 tsp. freshly grated ginger, put on the lid, and shake it up. Set the jar in a warm spot. The next day, add the same amount of ginger and sugar and shake and return to the warm spot. Repeat each day until it starts to bubble and come alive, 3-4 days or up to 1 week depending on temperature.

How to Maintain Water Kefir
You can order water kefir grains from G.E.M. Cultures (and other internet sites). The basic water kefir formula is 1:1:1. Combine 1 cup water, 1 Tbs. dehydrated cane juice, 1 Tbs. kefir grains, and a piece of dried unsulphured fruit (like apricot or prune) in a glass mason jar covered with cheesecloth or a tea towel. Ferment for 24-48 hours. Strain liquid into a glass jar and refrigerate. Start a fresh batch, keeping the ratios the same. Every 2-3 batches, discard the dried fruit and rinse the kefir grains. When you have more kefir grains than you need, give away to friends!
Be sure to use filtered water and non-metal spoons and strainer to keep the kefir grains active. To make flavored water kefir, take the liquid and top off the jar with fruit juice. Allow to ferment another 24 hours.


Raspberry-Orange Soda
2 10-ounce packages frozen raspberries, or 20 ounces fresh raspberries
4 cups orange juice
1/4-1/2 cup dehydrated cane sugar
1/4 cup whey
2 tsp. sea salt
1 1/2 quarts filtered water

Place raspberries in food processor and blend until smooth. Mix in a large, non-metal bowl or pot with remaining ingredients. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 2-3 days. Skim any foam that may rise to top. Strain through a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Pour into jugs or jars. Cover tightly and store in refrigerator. Serve as is or dilute with sparkling mineral water. Makes 2 quarts. Adapted from Nourishing Traditions.

Hibiscus and Rose Hip Soda
1/4 cup dried hibiscus flowers
1 Tbs. dried rose hips
1/2 cup dehydrated cane sugar (originally calls for agave nectar)
1 cup whey (or ½ cup kefir grains)
1/2 organic lemon
Filtered water

Put the hibiscus, rose hips, cane sugar, and whey (or kefir grains) in a ½-gallon mason jar. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the jar and add the rind as well. Pour in enough filtered water to fill the jar. Screw the lid onto the jar and put it in a warm place for 2 days.
Strain into two glass bottles with screw tops (such as the bottles from the mineral water Gerolsteiner). Put an even amount into both bottles. If they are 1-quart bottles, they should be full; if they are 1-liter bottles, add enough water to fill to the top. Screw the lids on tightly, label and date the bottles, and return to the warm place for another 2–3 days, or until the soda becomes slightly bubbly.
Transfer to the fridge. Once they are cold you can enjoy them anytime! When you are ready to drink the soda, open the bottles carefully because they may have built up a lot of carbonation. Open them outside or over a sink. Turn the lid very slowly to see if the drink begins to release foam. If so, then allow it to release some of the carbon dioxide by not opening the bottle all the way and letting out some of the pressure, then opening it more and more, bit by bit. This way you won’t lose your drink to its carbonation. Makes 2 quarts or 2 liters. Adapted from Full Moon Feast.
(Note from the author: Hibiscus and rose hips are both full of vitamin C, which is damaged by heat. That is why she uses a cold infusion. This is a delicious and beautiful drink.)

Blueberry Soda
6 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 gallon filtered water
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups soda culture (ginger bug or whey)

Put 1/2 gallon of filtered water into a large pot. Bring the water to a boil. Stir in your sugar or other sweetener. (Remember that the microorganisms are going to consume this sugar during the process of fermentation and transform it. This is what creates the soda’s fizz. So white sugar is not as bad a choice for this soda recipe as it is for non-fermented foods.)

Add your blueberries to the pot (these can be fresh or frozen and other kinds of fruit can be substituted for the blueberries – peaches, blackberries, etc.) and bring the water back to a boil. Allow them to simmer in the water for about 10 minutes.

Taste what you’ve created. Does it taste fruity enough? If not maybe you want to add more berries or simmer a bit longer. (This is not an absolute process.)

Pour this hot liquid plus the berries into a gallon jar. (The hot liquid will help sterilize your jar. You may want to put a knife or other clean metal object into the jar to help draw some of the heat to keep the jar from breaking.) If you’re using 2 half-gallon jars, simply divide liquid between two jars.

Fill the jar(s) almost to the top (you’ll need to leave some space to add your culture) with cool filtered water, and allow the liquid to cool to room temperature or about 100 degrees F.

Now add your 2 cups of whey (or 1 cup to each half-gallon jar).

Stir well. Cover with cheesecloth and allow to sit out on your counter. Leave the brew to sit for 3-7 days, stirring well 2 or 3 times a day. The longer it sits the more it will ferment and the more of the sugars will be consumed. Taste your soda after 3 days and see if you like it. Bottle it when you are ready. Makes

Adapted from (see the technique with pictures and a video tutorial)