The Wild Life of Fermented Ginger

Story, Recipe, and Photography by Janine Harris Degitz

On a recent trip to the farmers market the vegetables were teaming with color and the fall air was crisp and cool, both reminders that the cold season was on its way. Fermented foods are one of my passions and preserving an abundant harvest through the ancient technique of fermentation adds flavor, beneficial nutrients, and creativity to our diet.

Fermented foods can also play a role in keeping us healthy during the cooler months. One of my go-to fermented tonics is a simple combination of fresh ginger root combined with sugar and water. When left to ferment on the counter for just a few days, a refreshing, slightly sour, gingery, and bubbly liquid forms. Through the transformation of lactic acid bacteria present on the surface of the ginger, additional beneficial bacteria and microbes are formed that strengthen the immune system.

Fermented foods are in direct relationship to self-care that supports our body’s well-being by adding live beneficial microbes to our intestinal systems. Knowing I can make my own healthy tonic in my home gives me a sense of contributing to my wellness, adds creativity and play to nourishing my body, and supports my connection to the world around me.

You can read more about healthful living, bee-keeping, and more at Janine's website www.restorativeliving.org. But first, here's her personal recipe for a Ginger Starter--Jake Fernberg

Ginger Starter

Recipe adapted from The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz

A ginger starter can be used as a tonic to drink as is or mixed with sparkling water, tea, or a smoothie. It can also be used as a simple starter to make other fizzy fermented beverages sometimes called ginger beer or natural sodas.  It’s made from organic ginger (with the skin left on), sugar or honey, and water. You can substitute turmeric root for a different flavor and nutrient benefit.

Recipe yields 1 quart of starter.

ginger starter.jpg

Ingredients:

3- 4 tablespoons (about 2 inches of root) grated or chopped finely organic ginger root(washed with skin on)

2 tablespoons organic cane sugar or raw honey

1 quart of filtered water

Steps:

1. Grate or finely chop organic root and place in a quart jar.

 2. Add your choice of sugar or raw honey.

 3. Fill the jar with filtered water and mix to dissolve sugar or honey.

To Ferment:

1. Cover the glass jar with a cheesecloth and rubber band. You can substitute cheesecloth for a lightly sealed lid.  If using a lid, release gas from the fermentation process each day.

2. Stir the contents each day (this step is very important).

3. If the mixture has been fermenting longer than 2 days without signs of the fermentation process (bubbling or tangy / sour flavor) add equal parts more ginger and sugar to the starter.

4. When the ginger starter is sufficiently bubbly and you like the flavor, move the starter to the refrigerator to slow the fermentation process and to drink as a tonic. You can also use this starter in making naturally fermented sodas. During warmer months, this process is usually complete in 1-3 days, and during cooler temperatures it can take 5-7 days.

Tips:

1. To extend the life of your ginger starter, save a small amount of liquid, add additional ginger, sugar, and water to your first ferment and ferment again. Typically you can reuse the original ginger ferment in this manner 2 or 3 times before needing to start over completely.

2. Use the spent fermented ginger in cooking, making smoothies, or steeped as a tea.