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6 October 2009

Live traditional food - making ginger beer

Hanno and I had the first drink from the latest batch of ginger beer last night. It was so good! I sent a bottle of it down to Kerry and Sunny too so I'm spreading the love around. Ginger beer is a fermented drink that is easily made at home and as it's fermented, it contains many nutritious enzymes. In days gone by fermented food and drinks were part of our normal diet but we've lost the taste for them because commerce and convenience require that food and drinks are produced fast. My ginger beer takes about two weeks fermenting before it's ready to drink - this is traditional food, it's slow.


Isn't this bowl magnificent! It's a recycled bowl from one of those turbo ovens. One of the ladies at work brought it in because her oven died, but I gladly received the bowl and have given it a second life as my fermenting bowl.

Fermenting is a chemical process that, in this drink, uses beneficial bacteria to create lactic acid and converts the sugar in the drink into carbon dioxide. We've all been taught that bacteria and food don't mix but this beneficial bacteria is the same as that in yoghurt, kimchee, sauerkraut, kefir and sour dough. It's good stuff!

To make ginger beer you need only a few ingredients - ginger, sugar and water. All your utensils must be thoroughly clean as any bad bacteria or yeasts will ruin it and you'll have to throw the whole lot out. You'll need a wide mouthed jar or canning jar; a loose weave cover - such as this milk jug cover in my photo (we'll be making another one of these next week) a piece of muslin or cheesecloth to use as a strainer; a large mixing bowl capable of holding 4½ litres/quarts; several large plastic bottles; a large jug and a funnel.

MAKING THE CULTURE
Add one dessert spoon of ginger powder OR a tablespoon full of diced fresh ginger to the jar
Add one dessert spoon of sugar
To that add 1½ cups of rain water, filtered water or tap water that has been allowed to stand for 24 hours, and mix together.


The culture on the seventh day - ready to be diluted.

During the day let this mixture sit on the kitchen bench with the cover off. Cover it at night. Every day for seven days add one dessert spoon of ginger powder OR a tablespoon full of diced fresh ginger to the jar, and one dessert spoon of sugar, and mix it in.


After a couple of days, depending on the temperature in your home (it's faster when it's warm) you'll notice little bubbles start to form. That is good, the fermentation has begun. Smell the mix, it should smell of ginger and towards the end of the process, it might smell slightly of alcohol. That's fine too, the amount of alcohol that might form is tiny and it will be diluted. It will develop a little alcohol if their are those wild yeasts in the air in your home. It's nothing to worry about, even if children will drink this.


On the seventh day, feed the culture, mix it, then strain through some muslin or cheesecloth into your large container. Then add 20 cups of water, 3 cups of white or raw sugar and the juice of two lemons. Mix well and then bottle using the funnel and jug. Don't fill the bottles completely because they need space for the gasses that will develop, so leave about two or three inches at the top.





After the ginger beer has been bottled it needs to ferment some more in the bottle. Let the bottles sit on your kitchen bench or in the pantry for a few days. If you notice some of the bottles puffing up, put them in the fridge straight away. When they're cool, they're ready to drink. In this last batch I made, one bottle matured faster than the others and I noticed it because the carbon dioxide in the bottle puffed out the bottom of the bottle and it fell over. The bottles should be fine the first two days but after that check them twice a day, you'll be able to see little bubbles forming when they're ready to go in the fridge. Don't use glass bottles because they can't expand and might explode.


Don't throw the dregs of the culture out. Like other live cultures it can be used again to start up your next batch. Just add it to your jar and start feeding it as usual.

It sound s bit scary but if you're careful and watch the bottles, you'll be fine. This is live food! It's dynamic, it changes all the time. But using plastic bottles and keeping an eye on the process will give you some fine healthy fizzy drinks that even the kids will like.

ADDITIONAL READING - An interesting article about fermented drinks from the Weston Price Foundation, and right at the end, the recipe for ginger beer.

60 comments:

  1. Rhonda, I make your original recipe from ALS - I add yeast to the initial mixture.
    Maree

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  2. Now that looks so refreshing and tempting. :-) I hope to try this very soon.....
    Tracy (Brisbane)

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  3. Oh my!! When you first talked about ginger beer, I thought it was an alcohol drink, now I see it is what we call Ginger Ale! How wonderful is this!?!?! We buy 4 liters of Ginger Ale a week!!

    Question -- the 20 cups of water, can that just be tap water? Or should it be filtered also?

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  4. Maree, the yeast gives it a kick along. Try a batch without it. The brew will depend on what wild yeasts and bacteria you have in your home.

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  5. Cindy, the 20 cups can be tap water.
    Here, ginger beer and ginger ale are two different drinks. Both are non-alcoholic and both delicious. Try this recipe, I'm sure your family will like it and it is much healthier than the commercial drink.

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  6. Home made ginger beer is very refreshing and I'm about to make another batch too.

    Love the crotcheted cover and would like to learn how to make one, so I'll be looking out for those instructions! :)

    Ree

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  7. When you say 'feed the culture' what do your mean? Please! :D

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  8. Hi Ree!

    Hi Sue! When you mix the water, sugar and ginger together and it starts fermenting, that is the culture. You feed it once a day for seven days with more sugar and ginger.

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  9. We used to drink ginger beer all the time. It is thirty years since I have made any and am keen to try again. My mother tried to make alcoholic ginger beer and take my advice when bottled in glass it is a dangerous exercise.

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  10. Good morning Rhonda, that was a very interesting post, I'll put ginger beer on my To Do List. Thanks.

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  11. Thanks for the post on ginger beer making - I will give this a go and let you know how I go with it. Also thanks in advnace for the pattern for the jug cover. I joined a caraft group yesterday and we were talking about them. Even though I can't crochet - YET - I have now met a wonderful group of ladies that will teach me.

    Thanks again, Wendy

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  12. This sounds great however I am a little scared of the bottles exploding or something going wrong with the fermentation process. Have you had any disasters?

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  13. Mmmmm....the perfect drink for summer. My husband will love this. :)

    I'll have to beg a few soft drink bottles off friends and family though - we don't drink any!

    Cath

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  14. Do you sterilize your bottles before adding the ginger beer or is cleaning them enough?
    Thanks!

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  15. Gastronomy Girl, I have had no disasters although I have had one bottle flow out when I opened it. I have heard of glass bottles of ginger beer exploding. I am using recycled 1½ litre water bottles at the moment.

    Tara, soap and water with a clean tea towel is enough. They don't need sterilising.

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  16. This is so intriguing to me...one day I'll learn to ferment. Kombucha is on my list of things I want to try.

    And can I just say...how funny is it that a glass bowl can make us SO happy?! Simple pleasures...xo

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  17. Hello Rhonda. As a kid I made ginger beer in glass bottles. As far as I remember it was non-alcoholic but now I'd like to make an alcoholic ginger beer. I prefer that to (hops) beer. Is there a recipe?

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  18. Thank you sooo much for posting this! I can hardly wait to give it a go!

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  19. I'm confused! I used your orgianl recipe which had yeast and sultanas, and you added a teaspoon of ginger and sugar a day, and this recipes says a dessert sppon. Which is right?

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  20. Hi Rhonda,
    We used to make ginger beer when we were kids using a commercial yeast to start it off.
    It sounds like fun doing it using the wild yeasts.
    Apparently Mum's first batch was put into glass bottles and exploded but was being stored under the house so no injuries.
    And we used to have bottles overflow if you opened them too quick - lots of fun for kids!
    Charlotte

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  21. Stafford Ray, I haven't made an alcoholic version of ginger beer so I have no recipe. Sorry.

    Claire, both versions are right. The recipe I wrote about today is an improved recipe in that it is natural fermenation and doesn't rely on the boost from the yeast. You can use the sultanas in this recipe too - there are wild yeasts on the skin. It really depends on the air in your home and what kind of yeasts and bacteria it contains.

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  22. Thanks Rhonda, as soon as my strainer is done making your homemade cheese I will start using it for some ginger beer. Ginger beer was all I drank (aside from bucket loads of water) while I was pregnant. It really hits the spot and you're right we have really lost that taste for bitter flavours that is so important for healthy digestion. Have a great day! Meagan.

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  23. Hello Rhonda, I was so pleased to find this and the family are excited for me to try the recipe, two question thoughs, how long can you store it in the bottles for and can they be stored in the pantry till ready to drink?
    Many thanks
    Wendy

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  24. I'm not a fan of ginger beer so I'm looking forward to making your lemonade. I'd make passionfruit cordial, too, if only I wouldn't eat them as I pick them. I've been following your blog for a long time now and have only decided to set up one of my own. You are my inspiration for much of what I am doing at the moment, and I am sure my family will love their fabric shopping bags and knitted dishcloths for Christmas. I got the dishcloth idea from you, thank you!

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  25. This almost makes me want to have another go at making it. Last time I did though the bottles nearly exploded when I opened them, sending slight sick-smelling liquid all over my living room! Might have another go... I do happen to have a lot of empty plastic bottles lying around at the moment.

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  26. Hi Rhonda Jean, I made your ginger beer a few weeks ago and we are slowly drinking it. In your photo with the plastic bottle, one has the red funnel.....what are the bottles in the background? is that that color ginger beer is supposed to be? Mine looks more like the plastic bottle with the funnel. Mine has a very very mild taste and I am not sure the plant fermented properly. I am going to start another plant tonight and set it with my bread that is rising and see how it goes. Thank you for all that you share. Emily

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  27. how would this have been done, pre-plastic, i wonder? i prefer not to make any food in plastic if at all possible...but i don't really want to make ginger beer bombs either!!

    *

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  28. Hi Rhonda Jean:

    Do you put the caps on the bottles right after you pour it in? Also, do you drink it just like that or is it like your lemon cordial which has to be diluted?

    Thanks.

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  29. interesting! I might have to attempt this. How great! I have learned so much from reading your blog, thank you for all your wise words. :)

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  30. I used someone else's recipe and it called for a pinch of yeast in the mix. It turned out ok but smells and tastes very yeasty. I think I will try your recipe next time with no yeast added.

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  31. Wendy, the bottles are best stored in the fridge after a period of sitting on the bench to ferment and develop bubbles. If you store them in the pantry they will continue to ferment and that might mean the tops pop off.

    Well done barefootbride. Keep up the good work.

    Emma, did you store the bottle in the fridge? You should always open the bottles over the sink. This is a natural product and you don't know how much carbon dioxide will have built up inside. Give it another go - store the bottles on the bench after bottling for a few days, then into the fridge. Drink them over the following two - three weeks.

    Emily, the bottles in the background are of my homemade liquid soap. I don't want you drinking that! The red funnel is in the ginger beer. It sounds like your plant didn't ferment properly. Start it up again and feed it for a few days, checking every day. On about the third or fourth day you'll notice little bubbles start to appear in the mix, that indicates life and fermentation. Keep feeding for seven days, make the mix up and bottle. Leave the capped bottles on the bench to continue fermenting and after a few days, put them in the fridge to stop fermenting and to cool down. They're ready to drink at this stage. Good luck dear.

    artparent, in the old days ginger beer was made in stone crocks - I remember these little crocks being delivered by horse and cart in Sydney when I was growing up. Homemade ginger beer was either in a crock or in glass bottles. I understand your concerns about plastic but it's better than glass for this process. I am always on the look out for plastic bottles because we don't buy any drinks and I like to replace the bottles after about three batches of ginger beer.

    ladyhawthorne, I used to use yeast in the recipe too but this way is much better.

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  32. Very cool, like making a sourdough starter.

    If you can get your hands on one, you should try making it with a Ginger Beer Plant, which is somewhat similar to kefir grains.

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  33. Yum! I know what i'm starting this weekend. Thanks Rhonda :-)

    I have fond memories of frinking my dads home made gingerbeer.

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  34. RJ -- How do you know that only the good kind of bacteria colonize the ginger beer? Is it possible for nasty bacteria to contaminate it as it sits out?

    Also, my one fermentation experience -- an ignominious episode involving root beer -- taught me that you can avoid explosion risk by capping the bottles with balloons instead of caps.

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  35. Hi Rhonda,

    Sounds interesting! I'll have to try this.

    How much is a "dessert spoon"? Is that about the same as a teaspoon or a tablespoon? Thanks!

    Susan

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  36. Hi Rhonda, I started my first batch about two weeks ago using your original recipe using a pinch of yeast. Everything was going well, smelling divine but I think my yeast is dead...
    I have the ginger beer in plastic bottles, on my kitchen counter, with loosened caps but no fizz, none. Is it ruined? Help...

    Thanks Margaret

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  37. This sounds very simple and easy to do and I might give it go.

    However, I currently have a huge number of pears I want to do something with - I've been crushing them and extracting the juice but need a simple recipe to carbonate the juice. Everything I've found is complicated and aimed at making perry.

    Any ideas how to carbonate pear juice?

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  38. I'm wondering about the tap water.
    They add a lot of clorine to our tap water here - will that kill the bacteria?
    I guess I'll stick with reverse osmosis water.

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  39. Homemade ginger beer is made in the West Indies traditionally at Christmas time. Your post reminds me that the season draws near

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  40. Hi Rhonda, I know a few days have passed since you posted this. My ginger beer starter is three days old, and I have been feeding daily with two teaspoons of both ginger and sugar..I have noticed today that it is getting syrupy, is this normal and the sedement rises and falls. Is this normal..thanks in advance..

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  41. Rhonda, I'm laughing right now. I am sipping the ginger beer I made over the past two weeks. And it tastes delicious. however, after reading the comments (should have done this sooner) I think my plant didn't ferment properly. I have no bubbles, fizz. I left my bottles out for 3 days before going to the fridge. Is that long enough? should the caps be on tight (letting pressure out if needed ) during this time?
    Regardless...I like the stuff..done right or wrong:) Is that ok?

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  42. Oh my, the milk jug cover in this photo finally solve a mystery for me! I inherited many lace pieces that belonged to my great grandmother. They look very much like your milk jug cover! I could never figure out why she had so many lace doilies! Now it makes a LOT more sense!

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  43. Hi Rhonda,

    I have a question that I'm hoping you can help me with. I want to make your Ginger Beer. I have been fermenting the ginger/sugar/water mix for a week now. After a few days it got all foamy and bubbly on the top - then it quit. It hasn't been bubbly for several days now. It still smells of ginger, though. Should I go ahead and strain and dilute it, or is this batch shot and I should start over? Also, do you need to use the juice of fresh lemons or is the bottled kind OK?

    Thanks so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge with us! I look forward to reading your blog every day!

    Pam

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  44. Yum!

    I remember the sound of exploding glass bottles of ginger beer that had been stored under the house as a child! I think that recipe used yeast though, so I'm keen to give this one a go.

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  45. Oh, I'm so glad to see you've posted the whole recipe in one place. I've been keen to make this with the children.
    THANK YOU!!! ☺

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  46. I'm sad, mine didn't work out very well. I ended up with no fizz at all. I don't know where I went wrong.

    Fortunately it tasted very nice and I drank it anyway, but I would really like the fizz factor.

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  47. Thanks for the reply. I will leave the cover off next time and see if I have better luck.

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  48. Hello,

    When I put my ginger beer in the fridge it stopped being fizzy. So I put it back on the kitchen bench until we finished drinking it. However, it did get a bit beery and funky eventually. Should it become non-fizzy in the fridge? That was quite disappointing ...

    Sophie.

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  49. Thanks for this post Rhonda, havent had Ginger Beer since I was a child. Is there any way you can use an organic sugar substitue when bottling or does it stop the fermenting process?
    cheers
    Karen

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  50. Karen, I have only made it with sugar. I would imagine a sugar substitute would work - you just need something to feed the yeasts. Only one way to find out love, try it, and let us know.

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  51. I made ginger beer from a recipe essentially the same as yours. I bottled it and put it up to set for 2 weeks. It has been two weeks and it has no bubbles. I'm worried it went bad because one of the bottles went from cloudy to clear and another had something that looked like it was growing on the surface of the drink. It's gone now though. This is the first batch I've made and have no idea what a good batch is supposed to taste like. Quite frankly I'm afraid to try it now. So, my question is how do I know if it's gone bad or not (since I don't know what it's supposed to taste like)? I hope you can offer me some help. Thanks!

    Erin

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  52. Thank you for the recipe. It's great that you included fresh and powdered ginger. I just started up my very first ginger beer 'bug' this week and by day three it's already giving off bubbles and smells GREAT! I don't know if I can wait another two or three weeks until it's time to drink it.

    Is there a good way to store the left over culture if I don't want to make another batch right away but would still like to use it later on?

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  53. Ray, store it in the fridge for a few weeks. It should go dormant and you should be able to reactivate it by feeding it again. Good luck.

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  54. Thank you rhonda for letting me know. I look forward to trying it.

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  55. One more question. Is it possible to use honey instead of sugar at the bottling stage?

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  57. Yeah I am concerned about the sugar, was thinking of using Agave syrup, someone once gave me a fermented ginger drink that had no sweet taste at all, they had also put turmeric and some other spice in the drink the recipe was from their old country - Russia.
    I make Kombucha and I know the "mushroom" eats the sugar, so the sugar in the drink stays in the "mushroom"

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  58. I made a batch with my class but it looks like there is cotton wool floating in it... Is this mold?

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    Replies
    1. I can't tell without see it but if you started with unclean containers and utensils or if it's been contaminated along the way, it could be.

      Delete

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