Pretty much all plants have lactobacilli living on or in them, but they get killed off by bleaching and pesticides used in industrial agriculture. These bugs have been used to make yoghurt, sourdough, sauerkraut, kimchi, relishes and various other traditional foods for hundreds (thousands?) of years, and apparently are highly beneficial, but they are the enemy of the food industry as they make things too unpredictable, and — being alive — cannot be left in storage for months. Hence we have pasteurisation and "preservatives" to kill them off.
That and the fact that 95% of commercial ginger beer is gross inspired me to have a crack at it myself, and having finally had some success, I thought I'd share my experiences...
Making a Culture
To make a culture I bought some organic sultanas and soaked 1/4 a cup of them in around 300ml of water in a loosely covered jar for a week. Then I strained the sultanas and added approximately 1 tablespoon of white sugar and 1 tablespoon of chopped ginger root to the water --- Give the chooks the sultanas. After a few days it started to bubble, indicating success!
Leaving the jar uncovered exposes it to mould etc, covering it tightly doesn't let the gas escape.
- Although I despise white sugar, brown seems to give noxious results when used to make a culture... so white it has to be. (although I haven't tried raw sugar which might be fine)
- Boiled water seems to work much better than straight from the tap - my theories are a) boiling removes suspended oxygen from the water, which gives the anaerobic lactobacilli a head start over noxious aerobes (ie mould) and/or b) my tap water contains some sort of noxious bugs that mess with the culture and which are killed off by boiling the water (obviously it needs to be cooled off before use to avoid pasteurising the culture itself into oblivion)
- Not sure why the sultanas worked where other plants failed (I tried a mandarin and organic white tea leaves), it may have been other factors.
- The fruit must be organic; the bleaches and pesticides used on non-organic produce tend to wipe out the cultures.
- Use pure water, chlorination and/or fluoridation of water supplies seems to also kill of the cultures. Neither of these boil off apparently. Brehaut thinks this is a key problem with his attempts at culture. Greg thanks his lucky stars for tap water pumped straight out of the Hurunui river.
- Brehaut Likes to mash the ginger under the knife before chopping to get more surface area accessible to the culture.
- It's worth paying attention to the amount of sugar you feed the culture daily; If there is too much in the jar it may start to preserve the solution rather than feed the bug. Too little and it just goes dormant.
- I'm not sure about this, I make elderflower cordial (which obviously has a high sugar content) and it tends to go fizzy pretty quickly. Admittedly it's wild yeast and not lactobacilli that are causing it.
To make the ginger beer I boiled up some ginger root and lemon and a cup of raw sugar, then cooled it off, 3/4 filled two lemonade bottles and topped up with culture. Then leave it in the sun for a week and voila, delicious ginger beer!
I topped up the culture with boiled water, added sugar and now it's bubbling away waiting for the next batch...
How much of your culture do you add to the bottles, and do you top up the bug in any fashion?
- Again I don't really know but here's a rough recipe for 1.5L: 1 thumb-size piece of ginger, 1 lemon, 200gm sugar
Does anyone have any ideas as to how we could establish what's actually growing in the culture? Maybe not to the point of identifying the species; personally I'm interested to know if there's any yeast in there or is it just bacilli.