How to Make Starter for Homemade Soda (plus video!)

by Sarah Fermented Beverages, VideosComments: 31

Starter for Homemade Soda

Investigation of the culinary practices of Ancestral Societies from around the world reveals that nearly all of them utilized various types of fermented foods and drinks to assist digestion, maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria and keep immunity strong.

Of course, these cultures did not understand the science behind the benefits of fermented foods; they only observed anecdotally that by eating these foods regularly, vibrant health was more easily maintained and chronic disease avoided.

We now know that traditionally prepared fermented foods contain an abundance of beneficial bacteria, enzymes, and nutritional co-factors not present in the unfermented version of the same foods. Regular consumption of traditionally fermented foods makes it far more likely that you and your family will sail through flu season with nothing more than a mild sniffle or a brief fever if even that!

Tasty, traditional ethnic beverages are a fun way to begin the process of incorporating fermented foods into your home. Kombucha was the first traditionally fermented beverage I started with nearly 12 years ago and it is still a regular feature in our refrigerator. In fact, I am using a descendant of the same culture I purchased in 2002, demonstrating that once you have a quality starter culture for a particular fermented food, it can literally last a lifetime and be passed along to your children!

Homemade sodas such as root beer, ginger beer or ginger ale require a different type of starter culture which you can easily create yourself with not a dime out of pocket.

This is accomplished by cultivating naturally occurring and highly beneficial lactobacilli and wild yeasts. Lactobacilli is present on the surface of all living organic matter and particularly abundant on the roots and leaves of plants.  These beneficial microbes are captured in an appropriate fermenting medium and “fed” over a period of a few days until the “bug” takes and is ready to use as the innoculant for whatever soda recipe you wish to make.

All you need is organic ginger powder (or fresh ginger), white organic sugar and filtered water.

Cautions for Making Homemade Soda Starter

Do not use nonorganic ginger powder as this will likely have been irradiated, destroying all beneficial microbes. Also, do not use tap water as the chlorine and other chemicals will inhibit the growth of the beneficial microorganisms.

One more caution:  be sure to use organic white sugar as nonorganic white sugar is almost certainly at least partially produced from GMO beets unless the package specifically states that it is 100% cane sugar.

Don’t worry that you are using white sugar, as this is feeding/growing the beneficial microbes, it’s not feeding you.

Learning to harness the environment around us for the betterment of our health is a skill that Traditional Peoples wisely practiced but this valuable knowledge has been lost in our modern and by and large germaphobic society.

The truth is not all “germs” are bad and learning to harness the good ones to fend off the pathogenic “bad” ones that can easily take over in our gut is a wise practice through regular consumption of fermented foods and beverages.

In this video below, I show you exactly how to cultivate a “ginger bug” so that you have one ready to go when you decide to embark upon the adventure of homemade soda making.  I have articles on homemade root beer and ginger ale once your ginger bug is established and ready to be used.

Starter Culture for Homemade Soda

Adapted from Nourishing Traditions Cookbook

Makes about 1 pint


10-14 tsp organic ground ginger (or the equivalent in fresh, grated organic ginger)

10-14 tsp organic white sugar (use organic, as nonorganic white sugar is most likely genetically modified or GMO)

1 1/2 cups filtered water


Fill a quart mason jar with 1 1/2 cups filtered water.  Add 2 tsp ginger powder (or grated, fresh organic ginger) and 2 tsp organic white sugar and mix well. Cover and leave on the counter at room temperature for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, remove the lid and add an additional 2 tsp ginger powder and 2 tsp white sugar and mix again. Cover and let sit on the counter for 24 more hours.

Repeat for a minimum of 3 days and for a maximum of 7 days until small bubbles begin to form on the top indicating the probiotic culture has reached a critical mass and taken hold.  Once the bubbles appear, the liquid excluding the sediment on the bottom of the jar can be used as a starter for homemade sodas.  Refrigerate and feed the culture 2 tsp ginger powder and 2 tsp sugar once a week if not used within a few days.

If no bubbles appear by the seventh day, toss and start again.

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Comments (31)

  • Katie Kirk

    Sarah, I just adore you and your health stance! My kids & I just made our starter bug yesterday and fed it again today…..every time I see it sitting on the counter, the ginger (or light colored aspect of it) has settled to the bottom and I so badly want to shake it up, so I do! Is that bad? Should I just leave-it-be?

    June 7th, 2016 7:10 pm Reply
    • Sarah

      It’s fine to shake it up if you like.

      June 7th, 2016 9:37 pm Reply
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  • Mirza

    I have a question and i cant seem to find the answer anywhere.
    Once the ginger bug is made, and the liquid used…what do you do with the leftover ginger in the mason jar? I read to keep feeding it but what if ive fed it so much that it fills the whole jar? D: Can i use that ginger for like food recipes like a soup? or a dessert? Help?

    February 25th, 2014 1:40 am Reply
  • Sue

    What can you do with your leftover Sobey’s. Hi have a gallon of them and I have shared with everyone I know. Can you dehydrate them? Or dry them. And make a powder to make a probiotic out of it.

    February 9th, 2014 4:34 pm Reply
  • bob

    Thanks, Sarah-

    I am looking forward to trying fermenting foods. I appreciate your guidance as an introduction.


    February 7th, 2014 8:05 pm Reply
  • Jonathan

    can the starter be stored somehow or does it have to be used right away?

    February 2nd, 2014 1:45 pm Reply
  • Lori

    If you are using fresh ginger, when you put the starter in the soda, would you strain it? I have used fresh apple juice & don’t seem to get much fizz after I add the starter. It sets for 3 days before I refrigerate.

    December 9th, 2013 5:09 pm Reply
  • pamela

    I already made the starter and I will be making ginger ale. After I ferment the ginger ale, how much should I save for a future batch? And the feeding of the starter once a week still applies?

    December 5th, 2013 5:10 pm Reply
  • ellen

    Does anyone know the equivalent of fresh organic ginger instead of 10-14 tsps dried?

    ALSO, I would LOVE some input about ‘sediment’…I’m confused by it…sometimes I get it and sometimes I don’t and I’m not sure if I should use it or transfer my goods to another jar sans sediment…I would appreciate any leads/links.

    I’ve looked this up but haven’t found anything ‘conclusive’…would be interested in hearing personal experiences.

    Thanks, everyone (especially Sarah)…love this community. <3

    December 2nd, 2013 2:23 pm Reply
  • Jen

    I switched over from white refined sugar to organic raw cane sugar, but its not white (more of a tan color). Can I use that? Your notes say to use white sugar but I just threw it all out.

    November 26th, 2013 4:27 pm Reply
  • Whitney

    Are you going to do a follow up with how to do the soda? Thanks!

    November 26th, 2013 12:44 pm Reply
    • Whitney

      Whoops, just saw your links to the ginger ale. :)

      November 26th, 2013 12:47 pm Reply
  • Rhina

    When I was a young girl, my grandmother used to make the most delicious “fermented” drink (I didn’t know back them about beneficial bacteria) which the kids consumed like crazy on hot summer afternoons. It was made with pineapple, fresh, from the farm. There were three rules: The pitcher need to be a glass pitcher; the water must be spring water, fresh pineapple (in those times allof our produce was organic, so make sure you get organic pineapple, free of pesticides). Simpy:1) Wash your pineapple with clean water. Make sure your last rinse is with spring water since you will use Only the skin of the pineapple. 2) Peel the pineapple, reserving all the pineapple peel/skin. 3) Place the pineapple peel/skin Only in the glass pitcher. 3) Fill the glass with spring water. 4) Use a piece of cloth to cover the pitcher, wrapping an elastic band around it to keep it in place. 5) Set the pticher in a dark corner at room temperature for 3 days. You should get a fermented drink, with some “foaming” on top. How warm the room where you store the drink is important; it should not be in a cool room. 6) Strain the water through a mesh strainer to colect any sediments, add sugar and stir. Serve in a tall glass filled with ice. Delicious! We used to call this drink: Guarapo de Piña So now you know, each time you serve pineapple to your friends and family, Do Not throw away the skin, make a Guarapo instead. Enjoy!

    November 26th, 2013 12:25 am Reply
  • Jennie

    Hi Sarah, does the culture go back into the fridge right after feeding (when not being used)? Thanks, Jennie

    November 25th, 2013 7:41 pm Reply
  • Jessica

    I have organic dried ginger root, not powder, could I use that to start the ginger bug? Also would well water be fine to use? Thanks for all you do! You are such an inspiration, and a household name :)

    November 25th, 2013 4:39 pm Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      I have not tried dried ginger root .. only the organic ginger powder and freshly grated ginger. Try it and see and let us know!

      November 25th, 2013 6:07 pm Reply
  • Karla Marsh

    I’ve been looking for something like this, thank you!
    BTW, you have a typo here: “Once the bubbles appear, the liquid excluding the sentiment on the bottom of the jar can be used as a starter for homemade sodas.”
    Of course, it should be “sediment,” not “sentiment.” 😉

    November 25th, 2013 2:45 pm Reply
    • Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist

      Thank you :) Will fix that now.

      November 25th, 2013 4:15 pm Reply
  • Bethany

    I love the smell and taste of ginger, the only thing that concerns me is that its very strong. How does this taste, knowing full well that its subjective. I don’t want to go to all the trouble just to find out its too powerful.

    November 24th, 2013 10:31 pm Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      You won’t be drinking this starter … it is the probiotic inoculant for a homemade soda.

      November 25th, 2013 4:19 pm Reply
      • Bethany

        oops, I’m embarrassed now, starter not the actual drink, got it.

        November 27th, 2013 9:50 pm Reply
  • Lindsay

    What about the alcohol content in fermented drinks? We make homemade kefir but is giving it – full glass to my 2 year old fine on a daily basis?

    November 24th, 2013 5:53 pm Reply
  • kimberly

    When I hear “soda”, I think “sweet”. Is there ANY sugar left in the final product? Some of the kombuchas on the market can be quite high in it. Do you know how many grams are left in the final product, per 8 oz. for example? Thank you!

    November 24th, 2013 4:20 pm Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      I’m sure there is some sugar left … this recipe is NOT soda however. It is the starter that will be used for a homemade soda recipe. Remember that sugar is not bad .. it is only bad when consumed in nutritionless, refined fashion or when consumed to excess. Moderate consumption of whole sugars is fine .. remember that we have sugar sensing tastebuds. We are meant to sense and enjoy sweetness as practiced by traditional cultures.

      November 25th, 2013 4:21 pm Reply
  • Teresa

    So happy to see you doing videos again. Most of the traditional recipes I do today, I learned by watching your videos and now I am teaching others. After 2’years, I have gotten a wonderful sourdough bread perfected and I want to make a video showing how I make it. Thank you! Keep up the recipes and wonderful videos. I know I am not the only one who enjoys them:)

    November 24th, 2013 2:56 pm Reply
  • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

    Yes, it sounds like it is fermented. You can drink it as is. That’s fine.

    November 24th, 2013 2:17 pm Reply
  • Meg

    I have been making a ginger/turmeric/lemonade with coconut sugar. Sometimes I make such a big batch, I don’t get it all drunk in one day and I leave it out on the counter. I’ve noticed that by day 3 it is fizzy on top, especially when I’ve added fresh pomegrante seeds. It sounds like it’s growing these good microbes you mention. Is there any reason I can’t just drink it like that or is it important to use it as a starter for something else? Thanks!

    November 24th, 2013 12:27 pm Reply
    • Nicole

      Hello Meg, please if you can, could you share your recipe with me? i like to use turmeric in my brew i know its very healthy and helps with inflammation which i have in my gut.
      Thank you.

      November 25th, 2013 11:52 am Reply
      • Ellen

        Yes, I would love your recipe also…thanks, Meg…deeply appreciated.


        December 2nd, 2013 2:17 pm Reply
    • Ellen

      oops! I replied to Nicole instead of Meg, duh! :)

      Yes, I would love your recipe also…thanks, Meg…deeply appreciated.


      December 2nd, 2013 2:19 pm Reply

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