If you’re a fan of pop and like it with a splash of healthy goodness, ginger beer should be on your radar. Yes, we all know ginger is packed with health benefits, but soda isn’t usually. However, if you brew your own ginger beer, your concoction will come chock full of ginger’s boosters—and we’re not just talking bubbles.
Because ginger hangs out among the elite superfoods, the fermented version also sits at the same lunch table—if done right. Though technical studies have not been specifically geared toward ginger beer, it is widely accepted that the libation—when prepared with the integrity of the main ingredient in mind—packs the numerous health benefits attributed to the eponymous root.
Small-batch and homebrew ginger beer recipes ensure the positive effects of consuming the herbaceous root are not offset by a slew of common additives like “high fructose corn syrup,” “sodium benzoate,” “caramel color” or “ester gum” that find their way into many nationally distributed brews that lean toward a sweeter, fruity flavor and require chemicals to make a shelf-stable product.
Liliana Ruiz-Healy, whose background is in culinary nutrition, integrative health coaching and plant-based and raw cooking, notes the root helps to warm the stomach and spleen, improves digestion and appetite, and relieves nausea and gas. Ginger has been used at high doses as a blood thinner, boosting circulation and lowering high blood pressure; and a poultice to help with burns, she says.
Liz Ford, a certified health coach and the creator and owner of root + arrow, a 100 percent organic, vegan and gluten-free meal delivery service currently serving the greater New Orleans Area adds that ginger also promotes detoxification, enhances immunity (ginger is a great defense during flu, cold and even allergy season) and is loaded with amino acids (hello, strong hair and glowing skin!)
Like Mary Poppins said, a spoon full of soda helps the medicine go down … did we get that right? Well … you get the picture.
And although ginger beer is best known for its starring role in the Moscow Mule—a cocktail of vodka, ginger beer and lime juice traditionally served in a copper mug—today’s fans know that this punchy libation’s warm flavor profile lends to a mélange of concoctions with or without alcohol.
Here are two ways to achieve your own zesty healthy beverage.
With ginger beer, the controlled spoilage creates fermentation very similar to that of kombucha.. By the way, it’s also alcohol-free.
The first step is to propagate a “starter” culture. “When making ginger beer, you combine ginger, sugar, water, wild yeast and bacteria to make what is called a ‘ginger bug,’” says Dylan Lintern, C.O.O. of NOLA Brewing Company.
The concept is fairly straightforward. The ginger bug is a culture created by combining fresh ginger root with sugar. The main bacteria for the ginger bug comes from the skin of the ginger—called lactobacillus—and, on occasion, some wild airborne yeast joins the party, explains Lintern. “You are creating a flavor for what you actually want to drink and food for the starter culture to feed off.”
For the ginger bug, or starter culture, you need:
1 tbsp. unpeeled ginger root (grated or thinly sliced)
1 tbsp. white sugar
1 ½ cups water
Pour into a jar and cover with a breathable cloth. Let this mixture hang out in a warm space for about four days. (You want it to look alive, but be aware, any longer and you will eventually make alcohol).
Continue to feed the ginger bug daily with an additional 1 tbsp. of grated ginger and 1 tbsp. sugar.
Then, you make the drink (2 liter soda bottle).
8 inches unpeeled ginger root (cut into small pieces or sliced with a peeler)
3 ½ cups water (boiled)
7 cups water (room temperature)
1 cup sugar
2 lemons (juiced)
½ cup ginger bug (strained)
Optional: Brown sugar, clove, cinnamon (to taste)
Boil water on stove top and add peeled ginger root plus any other flavors that you want in your final product.
Reduce liquid by about half and strain. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Chill to at least room temperature or until you are ready to brew.
Combine chilled ginger mixture with remaining room temperature water and lemon juice.
“And that is all. Now it is just a waiting game. Once in a bottle, the mixture sits anywhere from 4-10 days while the sugars are being eaten,” says Lintern.
“It’s all about personal preference,” he says. “Home brewing is like home cooking. The answer is always ‘as much as you like.’ Especially when it comes to the amount of ginger.”
Photo by Willrad von Doomenstein, CC-BY
Washingtonian ginger-brewer Sam Halhuli opened Mule Tavern in South Tacoma, Washington in order to spread his love for another style of ginger beer: force carbonated.
His method is incredibly simple. He creates a base with fresh ginger, lemon juice, sugar and water. He hasn’t tried it small-scale, but to get an idea, Halhuli juices 30 pounds of ginger to make 20 gallons of juice.
To make ginger juice, you either put the ginger in a juicer or, for smaller batches, grate the ginger and then pull the liquid through a cheesecloth.
Halhuli then takes the base of ginger juice, lemon juice, sugar and water and keeps it as cold as possible. “I juice it and never let it get warm,” he says. This keeps the bold flavor of uncooked or “unspoiled” ginger as he calls it. And, of course, keeps all of its health benefits intact.
Halhuli force-carbonates his batches and stores them in a keg to be dispatched in the manner that soda used to be made (with the CO2 already there).
This method produces an effervescent, nutrient rich beverage, great for cocktails. At home, you can replicate this method by purchasing a soda maker from most home appliance distributors.
Andrea Blumenstein is a writer based out of New Orleans who loves cooking, fitness, books, all types of glitter and looks forward to opportunities to cuddle with her best friend’s cat.