make your own ginger-ade soda

Posted on November 13th, 2012

Do you fit one or several of these scenarios? Gone sugar free, but crave a “sweet” soft drink/soda, especially on hot days? Want a healthy drink to give the kids? Got gut issues and need to up the probiotics in your diet? Need more electrolytes? I think I have the answer: homemade ginger-ade.

Ginger-ade experiments: I used mason jars to do the first fermentation, then did the rest in bottles

I kind of got obsessed about this stuff, researching the different ways to make it, and, over the course of a week, I tried out four variations, and made two starter cultures. And did a lot of obsessed checking and shaking and fiddling in the kitchen (you’ll have to scroll to the end of the post to see my verdict – which was the best combo).

To back peddle: ginger-ade is a fermented food. I’ve written about the benefits of fermenting, and shared recipes, here and here. Fermentation – in the case of sodas – is a process that sees sugar broken down, via bacteria, to create lactic acid and carbonation. Lactic acid is a probiotic which helps digestion, supports the immune system and hydrates.

Sugar?? Did I just say sugar??!! Yes.

Sugar is almost always used for making fermented sodas, but the fructose is “eaten” up in the process. Now, I’m a was a little dubious about whether all of it is used up. I couldn’t find an answer as to the exact amount of sugar left behind, but I did read that when a similar process is used to make water kefir (also made with sugar), after a 48-fermentation period 80 per cent of the sugar will be consumed by the bacteria. I’m imagining it will be much the same for this process. So, when extrapolated out, this means 25 g of sugar is left in 2L of the ginger-ade below. In one cup of the stuff, it’s 3.1g sugar. Which is about 3/4 teaspoon. If consumed with soda water (I find it works best half-ginger-ade-half-soda), then

one large glass will contain less than 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.

Which is not too bad at all.

That said, however, since so many of you are committed to cutting out all fructose, I tried out versions using fructose-free rice malt syrup and a combo of sugar and rice malt syrup. It seemed to work, although I was warned that when you use pure glucose (rice malt syrup or dextrose) the recipe requires longer fermentation periods.

But let’s make the stuff. Now. There are two steps. With several options entailed in each.

Step 1: Make a starter culture

There are three starter cultures you can use: baker’s yeast, whey and a “ginger bug”.

To make whey

This is simple – you follow my directions for making cream cheese. The leftover whey is what you use for ginger-ade.

Making whey while the sun shines: I used a Chux cloth, a coffee plunger and a skewer

A few things to remember:

* Whey from fully fermented milk no longer contains lactose

* It can heal gut dysbiosis, is high potassium and vitamin B2.

* Whey keeps for up to six months

To make a “ginger bug”

1 tbs. sugar

1 tbs fresh ginger, chopped with the peel left on

2 cups room temperature water

Combine the above in a mason jar (a jar with a tight lid) and let the wild bacteria and yeast do their work overnight. The next day, shake  the jar, remove the lid. If it’s audibly fizzing, you’re onto a good thing. If not much action (this will be the case if it’s winter or a cold day), add an extra tablespoon each of sugar and ginger. I made mine on a mild day, added 1/2 tbls of each on the second day and left it out on the bench a total of 2 1/2 days. But it might take up to 4 days to get a fizz happening, from what I read.

Ingredients for a ginger bug

Note: Always keep a little bit of the old ginger in the mason jar and reuse the same jar without rinsing it to make the next bug. The “older” the bug, the less fermenting time required.

Step 2: making the soda

As I say, there are different ways to make this – using different starter cultures and different types of sugars.  Choose your own combo.

Ginger bug Ginger-ade
1 cup thinly sliced fresh ginger, unpeeled
1/2 cup sugar + 1/4 cup rice malt syrup OR 3/4 cup rice malt syrup
2 lemons (zest and juice)
6 cups water
½ cup ginger bug OR 1/2 cup whey

Bring  water, sugar (either the blend or straight rice malt syrup), and sliced ginger to a boil in a medium pot. Simmer for 10 minutes. Cool to body temperature then add the zest and juice of 2 lemons (tip: if you have a Vitamix: trim the zest and blitz, trim the pith and discard, along with any pips, then add the whole lemon to the Vitamix and blitz again; pour the liquid over the top to combine). Transfer to a mason jar. Add the ginger bug OR whey.

Ginger-ade experimenting: using whey (left) and ginger bug (the jar on the right)

Stir well and allow to sit on the counter for 2-3 days in hot weather, or until slightly bubbly. Stir occasionally. Strain the ginger-ade into bottles. Allow to carbonate for another 2-3 days at room temperature, chill, then consume. If you’re not going to consume straight away, place in the fridge straight away – it will keep fermenting even in the cold and last a week in the fridge before it goes vinegary. The longer it’s left to ferment, the tangier it will get.

You can also make ginger-ade using ginger powder and lime instead of fresh ginger and lemon.

Or you can make it using baker’s yeast. David Gillespie has a recipe on his site for a dextrose-based yeast-fermented ginger ale!

And the verdict? The best combination?

The whey versions were best – more well-rounded in flavour and less fiddly. And I liked the pure rice malt syrup version. It was definitely less sweet (which does suggest not all fructose is used up in the fermentation process), just as fizzy and “activated”. I did leave it out a day longer, as suggested above, which might explain why it was more tart as well.


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  • I’m addicted to this home-made bevvie. As a recovering sugar addict with digestive issues AND a huge fan of ginger ale, this drink is my elixir. I use a live starter culture. It’s a time-consuming process and you have to be very organised to keep this drink on the go. But it’s so well-worth the effort.

    You can add the water kefir grains to other base foods, like grapes. There’s a very knowledgeable guy in Adelaide called Dom who has an insanely detailed website for everything you need to know about kefir, including recipes –

    I personally find the site a little overwhelming but his basic ginger beer recipe is the best. There’s also a recipe which only uses young coconut juice and the kefir grains. Have yet to try this one. It’s described as a fizzy, sour, champagne-type drink. Without sugar and nasties. Sounds perfect for Christmas.


    Jasmine Reply:

    Thank you Carmel for the link to the Kefir site. My kefir never turns out the way it did at a workshop I went to 2 years ago and I can’t get detailed enough info from anywhere to work out what is going wrong. Going to bury myself in the site for a few hours… Then when I’ve got that sorted, on to gingerade. Haven’t even tried making ginger beer since 93 when i visited my Dad in Cairns and somehow found a recipe adapted to the tropics. My over door is broken so being unable to bake, I guess all I can do is ferment!

    Hey Sarah – do you have to leave much room in the bottles to allow for gas when you transfer or is it not that fizzy/gassy? Bit scared of exploding bottles of home brew!


    Jasmine Reply:

    Sorry Sarah, just found your comment below about leaving the room for gas.


  • regina

    Wow thanks Sarah. I have been purchasing for awhile a fermented ginger drink from the health food shop which I really love. Only problem it is quite expensive. I really love that I love the drink and it is so good for me. Hmmm thats alota love goin on! I have learnt so much from your blog and continue to. Cheers to Ginger-Aid.


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    What’s the brand you buy out of interest?


  • I have been making milk kefir and have wanted to try water kefir ginger beer, but was concerned about the sugar. You have put my mind at rest.


  • js

    Does this explode like ginger beer does? I have always heard that is the drawback with making gingerbeer


    Carmel Reply:

    I’ve never had an explosion. Quite the opposite .. I find it a challenge to get the drink fizzy enough.


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    i was scared too and left LOTS of room in the bottle.


  • Yum! Can’t wait to give this a try.
    Sydney-folk – Georgia at Stirring Change runs fab workshops on fermented drinks (along with kombucha, kefir, cultured butter, cultured mayo, relishes, pickled veggies & much more)
    Check out for more info. She’s a fermenting guru!


  • Ivy

    Hi Sarah, have you considered kombucha? It’s easier and taste just as good if not better! I run classes on it here in Melbourne for the Paleo-folks. Let me know if you wish to learn. 🙂


    Jules Reply:

    Hi Ivy,
    Where do you run the classes? I really want to make some kombucha but dont know where to begin!
    Thanks 🙂


    Ivy Reply:

    Hi Jules. Follow my Faacebook page Paleo in Melbourne. I post events there. My classes are run from Red Robyn Cafe in Camberwell. Next one in late Jan. 🙂


  • When something is cultured properly almost all the sugar should be eaten up by the bacteria as food and the resulting drink should be tangy not sweet. Body Ecology make a ginger flavoured probiotic drink called Innergy which I stock and it’s great if you’re time poor but so much better to make your own as you’re only getting a 1/4 of the potency of the good bugs. Young coconut kefir is so easy to make using a culture starter or water kefir grains- lots of you tube videos- t’s a great alkaliser and detoxifier as the kefiring eliminates the sugar content in the coconut water but magnifies all the benefits. It has a fizzy champagne like taste when done right.


  • Avigayil

    Hi. I used milk-kefir grains, once, to make a simple ginger ferment. Apparently it’s not supposed to work with milk-kefir grains but I beg to differ. Ended up with a light, zingey
    ginger drink which was nice…and refreshing too. Will try it again one day.


  • I’m going to give the ginger bug method a try. Looks pretty simple. I made The Healthy Home Economist version with lime a few months back – I used fresh ginger instead of powdered. It turned out pretty well. I can see a fridge full of mason jars in my future!


  • I have a question about whey which noone might know the answer to…

    Is there much cow protein left in whey? My son has an infant dairy intolerance, so I want him to be eating fermented foods to build up his intestines etc., but he can’t have dairy. Please not, it’s not LACTOSE he’s allergic too, it’s the proteins in the milk products.

    For this I will try the ginger bug method, but I am interested in the whey for fermenting in general!


    Jen Fisher Reply:

    There will still be cows milk protein in whey 🙁
    ….my son also has the same intolerance (since birth)- even still at 9 years old. Not at anaphylactic allergy, which I am thankful for, but the diarrhoea, eczema & asthma is enough of a reason to steer clear.


    Jane Reply:

    You don’t need to ferment with whey. You can purchase non dairy culture starters. Also you don’t even need a culture starter to ferment food/drink – but I like to add it as an added boost of probiotics.


  • Kate

    This sounds brilliant … but I must admit I was a bit put off by the fairly lengthy process required! That said, I’m very impressed with those of you who go to the effort.

    Anyway, I just wanted to share with you a product I discovered recently – Bundaberg Diet Ginger Beer. It contains 1.2g of sugar per 100ml (and 34kj), so in a 340ml bottle there’s a total of 4.1g sugar (and 116kj).

    Not bad for a soft drink! And it’s really yummy, and very refreshing on a hot day. You can buy it from 7-Eleven and Woolworths.


    Dee Reply:

    The fact that the “diet” version is sweetened with aspartame and sucralose would be enough to put many people off consuming it.


  • Kate

    I looove this drink! So strange that you did this post, I’ve been making it all the time for the past few months. I use raw honey to culture it though, and it bubble really well after about 2-3days in the QLD weather.

    Sooo delicious. And the ginger doesn’t upset my Vata constitution too badly if I drink it straight from the fridge on a hot day.

    So good of you to share!


  • Anne-Marie

    I have 2 questions re whey. Do you mean it keeps for 6 months in the fridge??? Also if I freeze it i am assuming it will only be suitable for cooking with not culturing?


  • Bern

    It’s been pretty warm here in Perth and I made my ‘bug’ and it was fizzing in less than 24 hours. Just poured it into my ginger-ade mix in the bottles and tasted some of the left over bug… I really liked the taste. Do you think you can get the benefits of this fermented drink just by drinking the bug or is there added benefits from fermenting it further with the mixture??


  • Lee

    Thanks for the recipe, in the ginger bug one there is no yeast listed in the ingredients but it is in the steps, how much yeast do you use please?

    Also, anyone know of good practitioners/connections in ACT for thyroid, adrenals, and low carb eating please?


  • My finished gingerade has a white layer on the top. Is this okay to drink?


  • Jane

    Re: how much sugar is left after fermentation. In my understanding – none. The sugar is actually converted to lactic acid.


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  • Mariam

    Oh my Sarah, you are amazing! I have my first batch fermenting now and it’ll be two days tonight. I just had a taste and it’s delicious! I just popped by jar outside so it’ll ferment a little quicker as I’m planning on bringing it to a picnic tomorrow. Thank you!


  • Glenda

    This is delicious. I would like to do a second batch. And then some! To do this would i just use 1/2 cup of the previous brew, or start again with the whey?


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  • Tanya

    I was looking for recipes to use leftover whey and this came up – i’m currently doing the 8 week program, guess this would be best after the 8 weeks?


  • Claire Lace

    Hi! I am making this at the moment and my bug is just about done!
    How long can you keep the leftover ginger bug for? Do you tip the water out and just leave the ginger in the jar..? Would it go mouldy?
    x Claire


  • Maria-Elisa

    Mine didn’t bubble at all, I left it out for almist 4 day and have just strained it. Could I expect any fizz? I’m using a glass jar with a rubber seal, and whey version with sugar and rice syrup.


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  • So how about doing the whey version (no ‘bug’ I believe? I have trouble starting these in my colder house) with Tumeric in place of ginger, OR a half/half turmeric and ginger?
    ANy thoughts Sarah?


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  • Arty Hue

    Can whey protein powder be used instead of making whey or sourcing it some other way?