I just returned from a really fun family reunion at Lake Tahoe. It was fabulous in every way. In addition to hiking, biking, hanging out at the beach and taking a speedboat ride, one of the ways we had fun together was preparing food.
To accompany our meals I had brought along some of my homemade root beer to share and was so happy to see that people seemed to really enjoy it! Here is the recipe for anyone interested in making some themselves. I found this recipe in the book Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice.
The first step is to make a ginger bug. This will act as a “culture” for the root beer. Take a pint sized jar ( I find the ones with two-part lids work best) and add 1 cup of water. Add 2 tespoons of white sugar and 2 teaspoons of grated (or chopped) fresh ginger. Put on the lid and shake then set the jar in a warm place. The next day add the same amount of ginger and sugar and shake and return to the warm spot (I just keep mine on the kitchen counter where I will see it). Repeat this process everyday until it starts to bubble. This takes anywhere from 3 days to one week.
Now you are ready to make the root beer. Place 2 tablespoons dried sassafras (the bark of the root) and 1 tablespoon dried licorice root (these are available at natural food stores or online) in a large pot and add 1 quart filterd water. Bring to a simmer and cover for 20 minutes. Then turn off the heat and leave covered for about half an hour.
Pour 1/3 cup birch syrup ( I use agave nectar just because I haven’t yet acquired birch syrup) and 1/3 cup sugar (you can use a whole sugar like Rapadura or Sucanat here) into a 2 quart mason jar and strain the still-hot herbal mixture over the syrup/sugar combo. Stir or wisk to dissolve.
Next add another quart of filtered water and stir to combine. Touch the liquid with your finger. It should feel warm to the touch but not hot. Add the ginger bug (you can also add a few kefir grains or 1 cup whey), screw on the lid, and leave in a warm place for 2-4 days.
Strain into class bottles with screw tops. Screw the lids on tightly, label and date the bottle, and return to the warm place for 2 more days. Then transfer to the fridge. Once they are cold you can drink them anytime. When you are ready to drink them, open the bottles carefully as they may have built up quite a bit of carbonation.
Why is this good for you? This process is called lacto-fermentation and has been used by diverse cultures ranging from Russian, to South American, Ethiopian, Korean, Zambian, Mexican and more. The process preserves a large array of enzymes and beneficial bacteria while producing only a small amount of alcohol.
The formation of lactic acid in this process is valued for its ability to support healthy digestion, lactation, and an improved sense of well-being and stamina. These beverages are also seen to be superior to plain water in quenching thirst after physical activity.
Modern day root beer and ginger ale are familiar sodas that were at one time traditionally fermented, but are now produced in such a way that they lack enzymes and are high in sugar, caffeine, chemicals, and artificial ingredients.
What’s next? I planted a Lemon Verbena bush in my garden this year and am looking forward to making a lacto-fermanted Lemon Verbena Ale!