After getting into cheese I guess it was inevitable that I would start exploring other cultured/fermented foods. I have to admit that a lot of fermented things like kombucha, kefir and assorted veggies left out on the counter to bubble kind of terrify me. But then I remind myself that after adding a bit of culture and rennet to a pot full of milk I have no problem leaving it out over night and eagerly digging into the mushy curds that I find the next day. So I’m trying to get over the “icky” factor. Hopefully I won’t kill myself. Or Chris. Or any of the numerous unsuspecting
victims test subjects guests that I feed my creations to.
Aside from the cheese, my first experiment with fermentation is going to be gingerale using a “Ginger Bug”. What is a ginger bug, you ask? Its a rather icky looking blob that is created when you let fresh ginger root steep in sugar water for a few days. Because its left open, it attracts wild yeasts which get to work eating the sugar and multiplying. After a few days you end up with a jar full of yeast and beneficial bacteria (i.e. probiotics). This living mass of microorganisms is called a “mother culture” or, in this case, a “ginger bug”. To my understanding, all fermented things (from cheese to beer to fermented soda to pickles) have some sort of a mother culture. If you make beer or bread using dried yeast, your yeast has been harvested from a mother culture. The mother culture can be kept alive for a long time- perhaps indefinitely if you are careful to take care of it and feed it regularly. It can also be chilled into hibernation or dried and then revived. If you have ever made sourdough bread – also called “Amish Friendship Bread” – using a bag or jar of “starter” then you have used a mother culture.
Once you have a mother culture, you can use it the same way you would use a packet of dried yeast and/or culture. The benefit to using a live mother culture rather than dried yeast or culture is that 1) you don’t have to keep buying little packets of dried yeast- you just feed your mother a bit of sugar and she keeps on producing, 2) you can get more complex and interesting flavors as your mother culture grows and develops, 3) your mother culture is alive and so it puts all sorts of beneficial living microorganisms into your food. Plus you get to feel like a mad scientist in the kitchen.
I am using this recipe to create my ginger bug. I mixed everything together today so hopefully in a few days we will have some results!
Questions I Have
- I have heard that fermented sodas contain a small amount of alcohol but its under 1% so its considered “non-alcoholic”. Why don’t they contain more? Beer is made in the same way by combining yeast and sugar (malted barley) and produces lots of alcohol, even with a short brewing time. So what keeps my gingerale from becoming a true ginger “Ale”?
- What role does the ginger play in a ginger bug (other than giving it its name)? The sugar is what the wild yeast eats, so why the ginger?
- If this experiment turns out nicely, would it be at all practical to grow my own ginger root? I know you can plant a bit of fresh ginger root and it will grow, but how long does it take for it to actually create a harvest-able root? Can it be grown outside in my part of the world, or just in a pot inside?
- How insane would people consider me if I started serving soda at parties that came entirely from my garden?