Homemade Sodas

The hot spell the last few weeks had us all thirsty. Really thirsty. There was only one thing to do: Make homemade sodas!

Homemade Sodas

Ginger ale, hibiscus soda, and strawberry soda (with "live, active cultures") - a few of the sodas I've been making this week

As I’ve written about before, making old-fashioned homemade soda is a fermentation process where a soda culture, usually a ginger bug or whey, is added to fruit juice or sweetened tea and allowed to ferment on the countertop for a few days until fizzy and tangy. In the fermentation process, the bacteria present in the soda culture consume the sugars, transforming flat fruit juice or tea into something live and teeming with probiotics – which is a good thing!

Here’s the thing about homemade sodas and fermented foods that is really exciting: They are almost effortless to make with the seasons. Hot weather? Soda cultures LOVE hot weather, so the summertime, when we need extra hydration, is a perfect time to make these beverages.

In the previous blog post, I wrote about making sodas with whey, but this summer, I’ve been enjoying making them with a ginger bug. You can substitute an equal amount of ginger bug or whey in any soda recipe. Here's all it takes:

Sugar and Ginger

Sugar and ginger plus water = a ginger bug!

To make a ginger bug, you combine 1 Tbs. sugar with 1 Tbs. ginger (PEEL-ON!), and 2 cups room temperature water in a mason jar. Stir well, put the lid on, and let the wild bacteria and yeast do their work. The next day, give it a good shake and see the bubbles start to fizz. You can add a little more grated sugar and ginger to the mixture. Or not. In hot weather, it will become active without a lot of extra feeding. The next day, give it another good shake. See the bubbles foam! Unscrew it and look at the bubbles. Put it to your ear and try to HEAR the bubbles. If it’s not fizzing audibly, put the lid back on and give it another day or two.

How much you need to feed it with 1 Tbs. extra ginger and 1 Tbs. extra sugar every 1-2 days depends on how hot it is and how “mature” your culture it is. A young culture will take a little longer to get going than one you’ve been using for a few weeks. Always keep a little bit of the old ginger in the mason jar and reuse the same jar without rinsing it after you use the soda culture to make a soda. Re-start your ginger bug with 1 Tbs. sugar and 1 Tbs. ginger and 2 cups water at the same time you make your soda.
Now that you have an active ginger bug, you can make a soda. The soda is simply more sugar, more water, and a flavoring like fruit or tea, combined with the ginger bug. The soda will fizz and become active, just like the ginger bug. It’s a very cool process! You can see the fizziness on the top of the hibiscus soda I’m making right now. The fact that the hibiscus petals also rose to the top is a sign of the carbonation occurring in the jar:

Ginger Bug Sodas

Hibiscus soda next to a ginger bug

Here are the soda recipes that I've been making this week:

Ginger Ale
1 “hand-sized” piece of ginger, sliced thinly
¾ cup sugar
2 lemons (zest and juice)
Filtered water
½ cup ginger bug

Bring 6 cups water, sugar, and sliced ginger to a boil in a medium pot. Simmer for about 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool to body temperature in either the pot or a ½-gallon mason jar. Add the zest and juice of 2 lemons. Add the ginger bug.

Stir well and allow to sit on the counter for 2-3 days in hot weather, or until slightly bubbly and becoming tart. Stir occasionally. Strain the ginger ale into two screw-top liter bottles or quart-size mason jars with lids. Allow to carbonate for another 2-3 days on the countertop, or refrigerate right away and enjoy.

Hibiscus and Rose Hip Soda
1/4 cup dried hibiscus flowers
1 Tbs. dried rose hips
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup ginger bug
1/2 organic lemon with peel
Filtered water

Put the hibiscus, rose hips, cane sugar, and ginger bug 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 2-3 days.

When tangy to your liking and starting to fizz, strain into liter bottles with screw tops or quart-size mason jars. Allow to carbonate for another 2-3 days on the countertop, or refrigerate right away and enjoy.

Strawberry Soda
1 cup strawberries, stems removed and sliced in half
½ cup organic granulated sugar
1 cup ginger bug
Filtered water
Extras, if you have them: A few sprigs of fresh mint, ½ lemon, a spoonful of hibiscus (for more sparkling red color), etc.

Place strawberries in the bottom of a ½-gallon mason jar with the sugar. After a few minutes, when the sugar starts to draw out the strawberry juices, mash or pound a little with a spoon. Add ginger bug and filtered water to fill the jar. If you like, add a little fresh mint, a lemon peel and juice, a spoonful of hibiscus, or other complementary flavors you like! Screw the lid on. Check and stir regularly for 2-3 days, until fizzy and tangy to your liking. Strain into clean bottles, screw lids on, and leave out to carbonate or refrigerate right away. Enjoy!