The Beginners Fermentation Project: Ginger

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modern pantry ginger


Fermenting at home is easy, but the process is bound to leave beginners with questions unanswered. Fermented foods take advantage of the natural process of converting sugar to alcohol (as with wine) or creating lactic acid and using bacteria to ferment foods (as in yogurt). The process results in a bubbling batch of ingredients that eventually settle down, tasting tangy and sour in a good way.

Beginners will get the best results with a starter culture specific to the project. For vegetables, there are a handful of starter cultures available, the most popular being Caldwell’s, which you can find online. Adding a starter (which contains “active lactic bacteria”) to your vegetables assures you have the good bacteria working for you and takes away some of the guesswork.

Spiced Ginger Beet Relish

makes 3 cups | start to finish: 30 minutes active time + four days

This relish ferments quickly and can be eaten in about four days. The tangy beets retain their crispy texture and have a spicy Asian note thanks to the addition of ginger and warming spices. A half gallon canning jar with a metal ring and removable lid works perfectly, as they allow a bit of air to escape during fermentation. Serve the relish alongside roasted pork or as a replacement for salsa on tacos.


1 1/2 pounds beets, peeled, trimmed and grated
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons grated ginger root
1/2 packet Vegetable Starter Culture
1 cinnamon stick
7 whole cloves
5 whole green cardamom pods


In a large mixing bowl, add the grated beets and salt, tossing with your hands to combine. Using your palms, push the salt into the beet, really massaging it and breaking up the beets slightly. They will start to lose their liquid. Massage until about a cup of liquid forms.

Add the grated ginger and vegetable starter and toss to combine. Using a measuring cup, add a cupful of beets at a time to the jar. Sprinkle a few cloves and cardamom pods in between layers as you work. Once all of the beets are in the jar, press them down with a wooden spoon to expel any extra juice. You are aiming to cover all of the beets with about 1/2″ of liquid.  (If you need to add more liquid, make a salt solution by dissolving 1 tablespoon sea salt into one cup of water and adding to jar.)

Screw on the jar lid and metal ring, being sure not to tighten all the way down. Leave a bit of give in the torque, allowing some air to escape. (Fermentation creates air bubbles and if the lid is too tight, the jar may burst.)

Set the jar in a dark, warm cupboard.  After four days, taste for flavor. If you would like them to be stronger in taste, let them ferment for another day or so. Once the beets are to your liking, store in the fridge, which retards fermentation. Beets will keep for several weeks.

washed jars • store in fridge

Fizzy Ginger Soda

makes: 1 gallon | start to finish: 30 minutes active time + two weeks
Excerpted from Urban Pantry By Amy Pennington, SkipStone 2010

Ginger soda uses naturally occurring yeasts to ferment sugar into alcohol, which creates a light carbonation in the drink. The fermentation does create a small amount of alcohol in the final beverage. Like “small” or 3.2% beer, it doesn’t taste particularly boozy but it is not entirely alcohol free.

For the Starter

1 cup water
8 teaspoons sugar, divided into 4 portions
8 teaspoons ginger, freshly grated, divided into 4 portions

For the Soda

8 cups water
One (2- to 3-inch) piece of ginger, grated
1 1/2 cups sugar
Zest and juice of 3 lime

To make the starter, combine 1 cup water, 2 teaspoons sugar, and 2 teaspoons ginger in a small bowl and stir well. Cover the bowl with a piece of cheesecloth, folded into several layers. This will keep gnats and insects out but allow air in. Hold the cheesecloth in place with a tight rubber band and store the bowl in a warm spot in your kitchen. Every two days, add another 2 teaspoons sugar and 2 teaspoons ginger. Stir and cover with each addition, leaving the mixture to sit for a total of 8 days. After that, your start should be bubbly and fermenting. If not, continue adding sugar and ginger in equal proportions every 2 days, until bubbly and active.

Next make the soda. In a large saucepan, boil the water, ginger, and sugar. Once boiling, remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the grated lime peel. Set aside. Meanwhile, strain the liquid from your ginger start, passing through cheesecloth until the liquid is fairly clean and clear. Set aside the ginger start liquid.

Once the soda water has completely cooled, strain out the ginger and lime peel. Add the lime juice and the ginger start liquid. Add water to this mixture until it measures 1 gallon.

Bottle in a sealable jar or a recycled plastic soda bottle (any container that is sealable will suffice). If using large (or small) bail-top jars or jugs with a rubber gasket, clamp down the gasket fully to seal. (I use two half-gallon wide-mouth mason jars.) If reusing plastic bottles, screw on the lid but leave a bit of give in the torque, so air is able to move about some. Store in a warm, dark spot for 10 to 14 days before opening. This allows time for fermentation to occur. Cool your jars before opening. Cooling halts the fermentation process. Be careful when opening, as carbonation has built up and soda may escape from the bottle quickly.

washed jars • store in fridge


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