When you think of sodas you probably think Coca Cola, Pepsi, Mountain Dew and the like. Overly sweetened, liquid candy manufactured with artificial colours and flavours and then mass-marketed to kids and big kids alike.
But what if I told you sodas weren't always prepared that way? What if I told you soft drinks were once a way to not only quench your thirst (especially in places where water alone was not drinkable), but also deliver vitamins, minerals, and pro-biotics to help nourish the body? That's right - soda fountains were once found in pharmacies for a reason and fermented beverages themselves have been prepared and consumed since the beginning of civilization. Somewhere along the way money, convenience, and ignorance transformed nourishing and traditional culinary practices into tasteless, homogenized, and artificially-cheapened empty calories.
I, like many other fermenting and preservation enthusiasts, think it's time we bring back those traditional practices to the forefront of our kitchen counters.
Fermented and Carbonated Beverages
Most of us are quite familiar with some sort of fermented beverage. Beer and wine are probably the most common, and lesser-known in these parts is kombucha (fermented tea), kefir (fermented grains in milk or water), and kvass (fermented beets in water). Fermentation begins when yeasts feed on carbohydrates - aka sugars. As the yeasts consume the sugars, beneficial bacteria (mainly lactic acid bacteria) are permitted to grow and help preserve the foodstuff by colonizing before any 'negative' micro-organisms have a chance to. At the same time, the yeasts release carbon dioxide as a by-product from consuming the sugars and this gas is what gives fizzy drinks their bubbles if they are contained in a sealed vessel.
Another by-product of fermentation is alcohol. In the case of these fermented sodas, I took steps to ensure the alcohol percentage stayed extremely low as I wanted to create a soft drink, not make booze. By encouraging a quick ferment and allowing the juice to breathe, very little alcohol was formed although the yeasty smell of fermentation may lead you to believe otherwise. My scientific approach to testing the soda for alcohol was by performing the well-accepted practice of drinking two glasses. My results: no buzz - and I'm a lightweight. Now, if you or someone you know abstains from any and all alcohol, it's best to avoid this type of soda.
I'm not going to write a set recipe for preparing soda but I will write a basic outline. I'm still tweaking my quantities and techniques and I would rather work out most of the kinks before instructing someone else on how to prepare a batch themself. There are a few sources available online if you would like a recipe to follow.
I feel like a pioneer of sorts in that many of the challenges I faced and questions I had were not answered in anything I read or by anyone I spoke with. For my first attempt at homemade fermented sodas, I'm happy with my results seeming as my end goal was for something tasty and fizzy. Three out of the four batches I prepared met that goal and I'll be raising the bar for future beverages.
To make a ginger bug, the basic recipe is to mix 2 T of finely chopped organic ginger (skin and all), 2 T of sugar (cane or brown) into 2 c of unchlorinated water. Stir, cover with cheesecloth and allow to sit for 3-6 days in a warm place while it froths and ferments. Each day add 2 t of both ginger and sugar to the water to feed the bug. Once it's foamy, it's ready to use.
Fermenting the Juice
Because making a lacto-fermented soda is suppose to be a somewhat 'healthy' beverage, I used frozen fruit from last years harvest and juiced it to obtain as many nutrients as possible. This is where I faced my biggest questions. First - how much water should I add to the concentrated juice? Second - How much sugar should I add to the concentrated juice and water? Third - Should I strain the juice to remove the pulp? Fourth - Should I heat the juice to dissolve the sugar?
I took the simplest approach to answer all of my questions. I used a 1:1 ratio of juice to water. I added minimal sugar (1/4 c per L). I did not strain initially but did when I bottled it. No heating (except from a plant grow light as my house is cool) because I wanted to preserve as many nutrients as possible.
Into each jar I poured in the juice, water, and sugar then added 1/4 c of strained ginger bug. I covered each jar with cheesecloth and set the jars aside to ferment. Several times each day I would stir the juice as this ensures mold does not have a chance to grow on the surface.
In hindsight, I would have added more sugar initially (then adjusted the taste with an acidic ingredient before bottling if necessary) as the yeast does consume most of it. I would've also put my jars in a warm spot immediately to speed up fermentation. Living and learning as I go.
Bottling the Fermented Soda
Once the juice begins to froth and bubble, fermentation has begun. After 1-5 days, the bubbling will begin to lessen and fermentation will seem to stop. It is at this point that you will want to bottle your soda. By pouring the soda into a bottle, you agitate the yeasts and they will give one more hurrah and consume the sugars that remain. If after pouring the soda you enclose it in a sealable vessel, such as a bail-top or screwcap bottle, the carbon dioxide that is released by the yeasts will be contained and it will carbonate your beverage. To stop fermentation, and therefore stop any further carbonation (which could result in exploding bottles), refrigerate your soda as soon as the optimum level is reached.
How do you know when optimal carbonation is reached? Some great advice from experienced bottlers is to use plastic bottles for fermenting beverages. Once carbonated, the plastic bottles will harden and slightly expand when full of gas. If you have pretty glass bottles that you want to use (like I did), pour at least one soda into a plastic bottle as a tester to know when to put all of the bottles into the fridge. Another method to minimize the risk of exploding glass is to store your glass bottles (while carbonating and chilling) in a cardboard box or paper bag - something to control the mess and damage if something should over-carbonate.
My Tasting Notes:
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.