Want to make probiotic-rich drinks without the hassle of ordering special starter cultures? Well then, this ginger bug recipe is for you. With just three simple ingredients – fresh ginger, sugar, and water – you can create the base for:
- Fizzy Ginger Ale
- Elderberry Soda
- Root beer (recipe coming soon)
- Homemade soda made with sweetened herbal tea (recipe below)
- Homemade soda made with fruit juice (recipe below)
So, what is a ginger bug?
The brown, papery skin of fresh ginger root naturally attracts wild yeast and beneficial bacteria. When you mix the root with water and a food source for the yeast and bacteria, you get a bubbly, probiotic-rich starter culture – aka a collection of beneficial microorganisms that orchestrate the fermentation process.
Since it’s a living culture, we named ours like a pet – pictured above is Yeasty Beasty. 🙂
Anyway, as the good guys eat the food (sugar) they emit carbon dioxide, which is what creates the bubbles. To make a version of homemade soda, some people like to mix their ginger bug with a sweetened liquid and then ferment them in flip top bottles for a few days to increase carbonation. You’ll find some recipe suggestions for doing that at the bottom of this article.
3 Tips For Fermenting Success
Use Organic Ginger – Some conventional types of ginger are irradiated during the import process or to prevent sprouting. Irradiation kills the beneficial yeasts and bacteria needed to kickstart the fermentation process.
Use Non-Chlorinated Water – Chlorine kills the good guys, too.
Don’t Use Honey – It has its own microbial ecology that will compete with the beneficial yeast and bacteria on the ginger. Instead, I use organic white sugar (which I keep on hand to make homemade sugar scrub) or an unrefined sugar like rapadura. Although it will be sweet, much of the sugar will be used up during the fermentation process and will not be in the final product.
Ginger Bug Recipe
- weck tulip jar or mason jar with lid
- measuring teaspoon
- measuring tablespoon
- sharp knife
- measuring cup
- 1¾ cup filtered water
- 2 tsp unpeeled, organic fresh ginger
- 2 tsp sugar (Organic white sugar or unrefined sugar will both work)
- More sugar and ginger to feed the bug (2 tsp of each daily)
- Place room temperature water, sugar and diced ginger in a clean jar. (I use a 16 ounce weck tulip jar or mason jar.)
- Firmly attach a lid to the jar, give it a good shake, and set it in a warm spot (72-80°F) for 24 hours.
- The next day, feed the ginger bug by adding 2 tsp chopped ginger, 2 tsp sugar, and shaking it again. Repeat this step for 3-5 more days. The ginger bug is ready to use when you see little bubbles forming.
Using Your Ginger Bug
- When your ginger bug is ready, strain out the liquid you need to use as a starter for your ginger ale, root beer, etc.
Resting or Reusing Your Ginger Bug
- Now that you've harvested your first batch of starter from your ginger bug, you have two options:
- Keep feeding it daily so that you can start a new batch soon – OR – let your ginger bug "sleep" by placing it in the fridge. It will only need to be fed once a week and can be reactivated whenever you'd like.
- To keep feeding it so that you can reuse it as soon as possible: If you removed ½ cup starter (or whatever amount), replace it the same amount of non-chlorinated water. Continue feeding the ginger bug 2 tsp of chopped ginger and 2 tsp of sugar. It's ready to use when it starts bubbling again.
- To let your ginger bug "sleep": Place your ginger bug in the fridge. Once a week set it on the counter and add 1 tablespoon chopped ginger and 1 tablespoon sugar. Allow it to reach room temperature for a few hours (or longer) and then tuck it back in the fridge. When you're ready to use it, replace the volume that you last removed (for example, ½ cup) with water and start feeding it 2 tsp ginger root and 2 tsp sugar daily.
Ginger Bug Soda Recipes
Ginger Ale – Click here for the recipe.
Root Beer – Recipe coming soon.
Herbal Sweetened Tea – Brew 8 cups of water with any flavor herbal tea you like and 3/4 cup sugar. Once it’s cooled to room temperature, pour in 1/2 cup ginger bug and mix thoroughly. Pour into flip-top bottles (leaving one inch of head space) and ferment for 3-6 days. * See note below.
Fruit Juice Soda – Mix 8 cups juice with 1/2 cup ginger bug starter. Pour into flip-top bottles (leaving one inch of head space) and ferment for 3-6 days. * See note below.
* Note: Be sure to “burp” the bottles by opening them every 1-2 days so the carbonation doesn’t build up too much. Some people have reported that their bottles exploded because they let them ferment for way too long without burping them. I’ve been making fermented drinks for years and have never had that happen, but I have forgotten about them for a few days and ended up with an extra fizzy bottle that poured out like champagne. I open my bottles on our deck now just in case. 🙂
More Probiotic-Rich Recipes
Coconut Yogurt – You probably have everything you need to make this creamy, thick yogurt right now. Unlike some methods, you don’t need a thermometer or a lot of hands-on time. It’s super easy, delicious, dairy-free, and way more affordable than store-bought.
Beet Kvass Recipe – I don’t love beets in general, but this tangy kvass is an exception. You don’t need a starter, and it can be flavored with ginger, citrus peels, bits of fresh pineapple, or whatever sounds good to you.
Water Kefir – This is another type of fizzy soda that doesn’t have a gingery flavor.
Frequently Asked Questions
One possibility is that the area you are fermenting in is simply not warm enough. My ginger bug wasn’t really doing much after five days when I started him recently, so I covered him with a towel (to protect him from direct light) and put him on our warm back deck. He was thriving in a couple of days.
Another possibility is that the ginger root was irradiated or rinsed in something that killed the beneficial yeast and bacteria. That should not be the case with organic ginger, but it may happen from time to time. If placing it in a warmer spot (as mentioned above) doesn’t work, I’d assume it is the ginger and start with a fresh piece.
Some ferments do better in an aerobic (oxygen-rich) environment – kombucha is one example – while others do better in an anaerobic (low-oxygen) environment. In my experience, ginger bugs do better in the latter.
Read My Comment Policy
Where do you get your organic ginger? IS there a place online to buy it that is trustworthy?
Our local Kroger carries only organic ginger. You can try your local grocery store.
Hi I have just started this recipe . After day two I noticed some bubbles on the sides of the bottle and more puzzling what looks like frothy (slight white) bubbles on top . I am very unsure . I don’t know if this is unusual maturity (at day 2) and if the slight frothy bubbles at the top is an indication of spoilage . It just smells slightly gingerish . Kindly guide . Thank you.
Since I am staying a way from sugar, would you have a “honey” ginger ale recipe?
I’d love to make kombucha with honey if you have a recipe
Thanks for all you share. You are an inspiring Mom, with a mission.
Hello! Any suggestions for how to make this for someone who can’t have sugar cane, even organic? Is it possible?
Hi there. I’m not sure where you live but I’m a food scientist and I can confirm that in Canada at least, half of the retail white sugar is made from sugar cane and half is made from sugar beets. I’m sure the US is similar. It’s all labelled as white sugar so you will need to call the manufacturer to see what the source is. The refining process is different so even if a company uses both raw materials, it would be in different factories and thus the finished product may have a different sku or be sold in a different region, allowing you to track some down. A sugarcane allergy sounds dreadful! I hope this helps.
Thanks so much for the suggestion! I hadn’t thought of that. I was actually able to find organic beet sugar fairly easily online from a site I order from often.
Hi, I was wondering if this will work with coconut palm sugar? And thanks for the recipe!
Possibly, but I haven’t tried it with coconut sugar so I can’t speak to the exact amount to use. Coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar, which means it contains less food for the good guys.
Do you ever take old ginger out of the ginger bug?
Our ginger bug is bubbling after the second day (we haven’t decided on a name yet..) and we are excited! My question is: when you remove liquid to make a recipe, are you also removing some of the ginger pieces or just the liquid? And my follow-up questions are: how long do the ginger pieces remain in the starter bug? Do you ever strain out the ginger pieces and then keep feeding the starter bug? And because I have been reading for a long time and not commenting: THANK YOU for all the recipes I have gotten from your site. You have a wonderful writing style and make a lot of research fun to read and easy to digest. Your website is one of my all-time favorite places to hang out.
Hi Anna, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m glad your ginger bug is doing well. 🙂
To answer your question, the pieces can stay in indefinitely but I do occasionally scoop some out so that the live culture can stay in a small(ish) jar rather than continuing to grow in volume.
Thank you so much for this recipe!! My family loves the homemade ginger ale!!
I’m so glad to hear that, Jill. Thanks for taking the time to let me know! ❤️
Annette Rana Webb
Can raw honey be used in place of sugar in the ginger bug starter?
Annette Rana Webb
just saw your “don’t use honey”
Can you use frozen ginger?
I always keep a supply of ginger in the freezer. I get out a nub, dice up the amount I need, & let it sit at room temperature for a bit. It has never failed me yet. Hope that helps.
I have a second Q.
Our ginger bug is so potent (our 1st time fermenting anything and taking 7 days to give decent bubbles) that our elderberry elixir has a somewhat strongest yeasty bite. Any stronger I don’t know if it would be enjoyable.
Is there a way to correct this besides starting over?????
I am saying “a strong bug” (our 1st batch of elderberry elixir, 2 – 28oz bottles) that 1 of the bottles exploded within 36hr.
So here is Timeline – Mother’s Day
Made a mixed honey , elderberry and berry tea brew. Cooled to room temp
Added the bug around 4pm burped it before going to bed, burped the bottles throughout the day (5-6x) and by the next evening at about 11pm we had the explosion that sounded like a shot gun. OH MY! The second bottle I took outside to release the pressure, lost half from the champagne effect, capped and washed the bottle with the remaining 1/2 and put that bad boy in the refrig. WHEW!
It has continued to ferment in the frig with NO threat of explosion (thank the LORD!) LOL but has a strong yeasty flavor.
I don’t have any experience with using honey as the food for the good guys since raw honey has its own microbial ecosystem that can may compete with the yeast. There are specific ferments that use honey, I just haven’t worked with them. I wonder if maybe the honey altered the process somehow?
Hi! Thank you for this recipe! I am wondering what the alcohol content is like after fermenting for this amount of time? Safe for children to consume? Safe for someone who avoids alcohol? Thank you!
Hi Heather! I was wondering how long it takes for the ginger bug to revive after refrigeration. Also, what do I do when there is a large accumulation of ginger at the bottom of the jar? I have almost 3 inches! Transfer it all to a bigger jar? Why does some ginger float & some sink? I’ve been loving my “bug pop”. Thank you so much for your wonderful posts!
Can I use can cane sugar for the starter ????
Are you still going to post a root beer recipe?
Eventually! I have a huge list of recipes to share when I have time 🙂
When are you going to post your Root Beer recipe? I just started a ginger bug to make root beer, instead of using yeast.
The ginger bug worked great to make yummy ginger ale! Thank you for posting!