Ginger is native to tropical Southern Asia (India? China? No one really knows!). What we do know is that it was used as a tonic for common ailments by Arabic, Indian and Asian healers as far back as 5,000 years ago, and as a cooking spice long before that. Around 2000 years ago, Romans traveling on the Spice Route brought it back to Europe and from there it traveled on to the Caribbean and West Africa, adding a spicy kick to their culinary traditions.
Above ground ginger is a beautiful plant with straps of green leaves and flower spikes sprouting small yellow blossoms. Ornamental varieties have spectacular pink or red flowers, but it’s underground where we find the most enchanting part of the plant. Here is the rhizome, a thick hand-shaped stem that spreads outward from the main plant to send up new shoots and descend roots below. Its papery coating reveals the spicy juicy “root”. This relative of turmeric and cardamom no longer grows wild, but is cultivated in tropical areas around the globe because of the culinary and medicinal value of its rhizome.
Modern research shows that ginger is effective at reducing nausea and vomiting after surgery. There is also evidence that it can reduce menstrual pain and lessen arthritic pain. It may also alleviate the symptoms of morning sickness although we always suggest consulting a physician before taking any herb during pregnancy.
You know what else is wonderful about ginger? It has an exotic refreshing taste, perfect to sip in this all-natural homemade soda. This recipe is based on one that appeared in BUST Magazine.
Ginger beer soda
Yield: 2 gallons or about 8 flip top soda bottles or 22 six-pack size beer bottles
Time: 2 hours + 1-2 days to carbonate (active time 30 minutes)
2 ¾-3 cups honey
6 Tablespoons fresh ginger, roughly chopped
4 lemons, juiced
1 lime, juiced
6 Tablespoons pineapple juice
¼ teaspoon dry active yeast (or champagne yeast)
Visit your local homebrewing supply store for a selection of bottles, caps and cappers, which are inexpensive, support a local business and a great investment for future beverage projects. While you’re there grab a packet of champagne yeast for tiny bubbles in your brew.
Alternatively, you can rescue bottles from the recycling bin! Swing-top glass soda or beer bottles or 2-liter plastic soda bottles & caps all work well and beer bottles with pry-off caps just need a trip to the homebrew supply store for fresh caps and a capper.
Note that you will need at least 1 plastic soda bottle (small size is fine) with a cap.
Fill a large pot with 2 gallons of water and stir in the honey until it dissolves. Add the chopped ginger, bring to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes, skimming off any foam that appears. Turn off heat and cover.
If you are in a rush you can fill up the sink with cold water and set the pot in an ice bath to cool it down quick, but you can also just let it sit on the stove while you walk the dog or whatever and come back to it later.
While the brew is cooling, wash your bottles with hot soapy water and rinse them really well (no one wants soapy soda). Squeeze your lemons and lime, and measure your pineapple juice and yeast. You can use the dry yeast packets you get in the grocery store but if you can get your hands on some champagne yeast it does make the prettiest bubbles.
You want to be sure the brew is lukewarm (around 70-75F is ideal) before you add the yeast because yeast is what gives your brew bubbles and it doesn’t perform well at high temperatures. Sprinkle it into the pot, add the juices and give it a stir or two.
Line up your bottles on a rimmed baking sheet to corral any spills. Using a strainer, funnel and ladle, fill the bottles, leaving an inch of space at the top of each. Some sediment will go through the strainer. If you want clearer soda, line the strainer with cheesecloth. Cap the bottles and put them inside a box in a cool dark place to carbonate.
A couple times a day, press in on the sides of the plastic bottle. As the carbonation builds, it will become hard and have no give when you press it. When this happens (usually about 2 days) it’s time to put the soda in the fridge. This stops the carbonation and the soda is ready to enjoy!
Carbonation is a little tricky, which is why keeping the bottles in a box while the yeast does its work is a good idea. If the pressure builds too much you can end up with gushing bottles (also a good idea to open them over the sink, just in case). Sometimes the opposite is true. If you open your first soda and it seems flat, pull the rest out of the fridge for a bit so the yeast can make a few more bubbles. As long as you use a plastic bottle and check it regularly as described, there’s usually no problem!
The more ginger you add, the more heat and spice you will have in your soda, so experiment to see what suits you best. This recipe can easily be halved or doubled depending on your fridge space.