Making a Ginger Bug

You could also call this post, “Raising a teenager,” because that’s about how it’s been with me and the mysterious ginger bug. They’re temperamental, fussy, a joy to be around when they’re happy, and anxiety-causing when they’re in a mood. Still, pour some of that magic decoction into sweet syrup or juice, and you have a soda to your own liking. With some risk of explosions.

Hey, did I mention they’re like teenagers?

On the other hand, ginger bugs are really easy. Except when they aren’t. Grate a tablespoon of ginger, with the skin on, and add it to a tablespoon of sugar in a quart jar. Fill it three quarters full with water, then stir to mix everything up. Cover it with a coffee filter or other breathable lid, with a rubber band or the outer ring of the lid on to prevent unwanted visitors.

Freshly mixed ginger bug

Click to embiggen. As I feed this ginger bug over the next few days, the liquid will get darker and – with any luck – come alive!

Tonight, stir it again. Vigorously. For thirty seconds or more. You want oxygen in there to feed the yeast-bacteria mix you’re trying to grow. Cover it back up.

In the morning, add in another tablespoon of grated ginger and a tablespoon of sugar. Any sugar will do. Cheap white sugar is fine. Stir like crazy. Cover it up. At night, stir it again.

The next morning, feed it with one tablespoon of grated ginger and one tablespoon of sugar. Stir like crazy. That night, aerate it well.

Very soon, you should have a bubbly mixture going. Keep up with maintenance, but after a week or so you’ll be ready to use the bug to make sodas and so forth. More on that later, but first, I want to talk a bit about…

Troubleshooting Your Ginger Bug

There seem to two major issues that people have with ginger bugs, which I’ll address in the order I tend to see them on forums:

  1. My Ginger Bug Never Started. It happens. Sometimes the cause is unknowable. Generally, people seem to have better luck growing bugs from organic ginger. I’ve heard that non-organic may be irradiated, thus killing all the microflora on it, but whatever the reason, even I’ve encountered poor- or non-starting ginger bugs using the cheap stuff. If fermentation never started, you’ve been stirring and feeding, and a week on you have no activity at all, then pat yourself on the back for a really good try, feed your would-be bug to your compost pile, and start again with a different thumb of ginger, preferably organic.
  2. My Ginger Bug Stopped Fizzing. Ask me again why I hate ginger bugs. Aside from the unreliable start, you’ll get a gloriously fizzy ginger bug that’s utterly flat one morning when you go to stir it. When this happens to me (and it does), I give it a break from feeding for a day. Keep stirring it twice a day to keep oxygen in the mix, but let the microbes eat through some of the sugar and see if it doesn’t bounce back. I suspect that most ginger bug stoppage is simply having too much sugar in suspension, which is as bad for it as having too little.
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Stacie is a freelance writer living in Atlanta. She’s been fermenting for most of a decade, and is an enthusiastic maker of beer, wine, kraut, tempeh, and natto, as well as an avid keeper of bees. And dogs and cats.