What's Wrong with my ginger bug?
Is your Ginger Bug starter culture giving you trouble? Then you've come to the right place! This troubleshooting guide was created to help you figure out what's wrong with your Ginger Bug and how to fix your culture so that you can get back to making fizzy homebrewed sodas.
Ginger Bugs are living cultures that are actually pretty easy to maintain and use. Ginger Bugs usually encounter problems when they are fed the wrong food, kept in the wrong environment, or improperly cared for in some way.
This guide will walk you through all of the potential causes of Ginger Bug problems and how to solve them.
Need more help? Then take our comprehensive "What's Wrong With My Ginger Bug" quiz at the top of this article for more specific advice.
How To Feed Your Ginger Bug
Before we dive into a specific list of Ginger Bug problems and solutions, let's talk about how and what to feed your Ginger Bug. The number one cause of most Ginger Bug problems is using the wrong ingredients and ratios to when feeding your bug.
If you are making a Ginger Bug culture from scratch, it should be fed 1/4 cup of filtered chlorine-free water, 1 TBSP of raw sugar, and 1 TBSP of organic, unwashed, unpeeled grated ginger everyday for 7-10 days until it is bubbly and active. The culture should be kept at room temperature in a warm, dark place. (Note: if you are using our dehydrated Ginger Bug Kit, you'll only have to do this for about 4 days).
Once your culture is active, you can omit the grated ginger and switch to feeding your Ginger Bug just 1/4 cup of water and 1 TBSP of raw sugar.
The quality of the ingredients that you feed your Ginger Bug are VERY important as well. Here's what you should be feeding your bug:
- Chlorine-free Filtered Water: Chlorine and other chemicals that are found in tap water can inhibit and/or kill your Ginger Bug cultures. For this reason, It's best to use filtered water or purified water to feed your Ginger Bug culture. Do not use distilled water.
- Raw Sugar: Raw sugars (like turbinado, sucanat, and others) are the best sugars to feed your Ginger Bug. They contain a small amount of molasses which help to create a nice, slow, steady fermentation of your culture. If you absolutely cannot feed your Ginger Bug raw sugar, then organic cane sugar may be used as a substitute. Never use brown sugar, honey, coconut sugar, stevia, monk fruit, or other alternative sugars to feed your Ginger Bug. You may experiment with alternative sugars when making your soda, but you should stick with raw or cane sugar for your Ginger Bug culture feedings.
- Organic, unwashed, unpeeled, raw Ginger Root: When you are just getting your Ginger Bug culture started, raw organic ginger root is an absolute must. The "bugs" that we are cultivating to create our starter culture live on the skin of the ginger root. For this reason, you always want to use unwashed, unpeeled, organic raw ginger root for your Ginger Bug feedings. Washing your ginger root in tap water or peeling your ginger root will remove the bacteria that you need to make your culture. Conventional ginger root is most likely sprayed with pesticides which will kill those bacteria as well.
If you haven't been feeding your Ginger Bug the ingredients listed above, then that is likely the cause of your Ginger Bug problems. The best solution is to start over and use the above-mentioned high quality ingredients for your culture.
Ginger Bug Problem #1: No Bubbles
By far the most common complaint homebrewers have about their Ginger Bug is that their culture doesn't have any visible bubbles. Bubbles on a Ginger Bug are the result of carbon dioxide being created as a part of the fermentation process.
A lack of bubbles could indicate that your Ginger Bug has weak or no fermentation activity.
Causes & Solutions For No Bubbles
Problem: Using The Wrong Ingredients to Feed Your Ginger Bug
If you've been using low-quality ingredients to feed your Ginger Bug (such as tap water or conventional ginger root), then that is likely the cause of your Ginger Bug troubles. Low quality ingredients can inhibit or kill the bacteria and yeast that we need to create our starter culture.
Solution: Refer to our feeding guide at the start of the article to learn how to create a new Ginger Bug using the right ingredients.
Problem: Cool Temperatures
If you are storing your Ginger Bug culture in a location with moderately cool temperatures (70°F or below), then your Ginger Bug may be in a sleepy state. Strong, active, bubbly fermentation happens best at warmer temperatures. Cooler temperatures can dramatically slow down the fermentation process and result in a Ginger Bug that isn't as active and has fewer bubbles.
Solution: Try moving your Ginger Bug culture to a warmer location in your home for a few days to see if your bug becomes more active.
Problem: Missed Feedings or Overfeeding
When you feed your Ginger Bug and how much sugar + water you give at each feeding can dramatically effect the performance of your culture. Established Ginger Bugs should be fed daily at room temperature with 1 TBSP raw sugar and 1/4 cup filtered water. Missing a single feeding isn't a big deal; however, missing many feedings in a row or overfeeding your Ginger Bug to make up for a missed feeding can cause problems.
Solution: The best solution is to resume a normal daily feeding schedule ASAP. If your Ginger Bug is still not bubbling after a few days of resumed feedings, then refer to our "Ginger Bug Revival" tutorial at the end of this article for tips on how to restart your Ginger Bug culture.
Ginger Bug Problem #2: Yeast or Mold Contamination
Another common Ginger Bug problem is contamination by yeast or mold spores. An active Ginger Bug culture creates an acidic (low pH) environment that discourages the growth of unwanted bacteria and yeasts. The "good" bacteria and yeasts in our culture will also outcompete any "bad" contaminants for resources as well.
When our Ginger Bug's fermentation is weak, the pH increases and creates an environment that is conducive to unwanted microbes. Other causes of yeast & mold contamination include dirty utensils coming into contact with our culture and airborne contaminants.
Causes & Solutions For Yeast & Mold Contamination
Problem: Yeast and/or Mold Contamination
Unfortunately, once your Ginger Bug becomes contaminated with yeast or mold, it is best to discard the culture and start over from scratch. Kahn yeast (the most common form of yeast which contaminates Ginger Bugs) cannot be removed once it takes hold and colorful mold spores can be dangerous.
However, there are some ways to prevent yeast & mold contamination in your new culture:
Keep Your Bug Covered: To prevent airborne contamination of your Ginger Bug, keep your culture covered with a breathable cloth (such as a muslin cloth with a rubberband to hold it in place). This will allow some oxygen exchange while simultaneously helping to reduce the incidence of airborne mold spores.
Use Clean Utensils: When feeding and using your Ginger Bug, make sure to use clean utensils to prevent cross-contamination.
Feed Your Bug Regularly: A strong acidic fermentation is the best defense against yeast & mold. To maintain a strong culture, feed your Ginger Bug every 24 hours with high-quality ingredients.
Ginger Bug Problem #3: Not making fizzy soda
Your Ginger Bug appears to be active and healthy, yet you can't seem to get a fizzy carbonated soda--what gives?
There are several reasons why your sodas may not be getting as carbonated as you'd like. Luckily, many of the reasons have very little to do with the health of your Ginger Bug.
Causes & Solutions For Weak Carbonation
Problem: Bad Seal on Swing-Top Bottle
This has happened to me more times than I can count. My soda looks good before bottling (lots of bubbles & fizz), but fails to maintain fizz after it has been bottled. The culprit? A poor seal on your swing-top soda bottles. If your swing-top bottle's seal isn't strong enough, then carbon-dioxide will escape and very little pressure will build up in your bottle.
Solution: Replace the rubber seal on your swing-top bottles. To test the seals on your bottles, make a large Ginger Bug soda brew and distribute it amongst several bottles. Let the bottles ferment at room temperature for 24 hours. After 24 hours, "burp" each soda bottle to see how much carbonation has built up inside of each bottle. The bottles should have about the same level of carbonation. If a bottle has little to no carbonation, then replace the seal on that bottle
Problem: Too Little Sugar
The fermentation process requires sugar in order to create carbon dioxide. If your brew doesn't contain a lot of sugar (like a ginger beer soda for example), then your brew may not be as fizzy as a soda that contains more sugar.
Solution: Allow your brew to ferment in the bottles at a warm room temperature for more time to allow more carbonation to build up. Alternatively, you can add more sugar to your brew to ensure that your Ginger Bug culture has enough sugar consume during fermentation.
Problem: Cool Temperatures
Ginger Bug soda fermentation happens best at temperatures between 75°F-85°F. At cooler temperatures, fermentation slows down significantly. As a result, less carbonation will build up in your soda bottles.
Solution: Place your soda bottles in a warm location to ferment for 12-24 hours. If you don't have access to a warm location for your soda bottles, then allow your soda to ferment in the bottles for 48-72 hours.
How to Revive a Ginger Bug
A few years ago, I learned a simple technique for "restarting" a problematic Ginger Bug. This technique only works if your Ginger Bug isn't fully dead or contaminated. However, it works great for Ginger Bug cultures that are weak and not bubbling. It's also a great way to test if your old Ginger Bug culture is alive or dead.
The basic concept is that you're going to take a small amount of your old Ginger Bug culture and use it to "kick start" a new Ginger Bug culture.
Here's what you should do:
- Step 1: Combine 1/4 cup of your old Ginger Bug culture with 1/4 cup filtered water, 1 TBSP grated organic ginger root, and 1 TBSP raw sugar. Stir vigorously until the sugar is almost fully dissolved.
- Step 2: After 24 hours, continue feeding your new Ginger Bug 1/4 cup of filtered water, 1 TBSP grated organic ginger, and 1 TBSP raw sugar every day for at least 4 days.
- Step 3: After 4 days, your new Ginger Bug culture should be bubbly and active. If not, then your original Ginger Bug culture may have been totally dead. In this case, you should start a new culture from scratch.
- Step 4: Once your new Ginger Bug is bubbly and active, you can stop feeding it 1 TBSP of sugar. Your regular daily feedings will consist of 1 TBSP raw sugar and 1/4 cup filtered water.
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