The Mighty Ginger Root: Health Benefits and 6 Thirst-Quenching Recipes
The dried root of Ginger (Zingiber officinale) has been used “as a condiment and aromatic stimulant from ancient times”2. And from the 15th century, ginger was exported from Zanzibar – a possible origin of the Latin, Zingiber – for use by healers, monks and herbalists in syrup, tincture, and other carminative simples.
The tradition of flavoring drinks with ginger may have originated long before the 1700’s but we do know that in England, from around the middle of the 18th century, ginger was fermented with sugar, water, and a starter culture to make an alcoholic beverage that quenched thirst and quelled stomachs at the same time. That drink was called ginger beer and it has survived – with and without alcohol – right up to the present time.
Almost a century later (1890 to be precise), an enterprising Canadian chemist, John McLaughlin, began bottling his own soda water. Never one to coast, McLaughlin’s experiments with natural flavorings and recipes led him to his greatest accomplishment, Canada Dry® Pale Ginger Ale, invented in 1904. Originally made with real ginger, Canada Dry Ginger Ale was designed as a non-alcoholic, refreshing drink and it also became a perfect bedside anti-emetic as well as a mixer for alcoholic drinks.
Anti-emetic? Ginger root is used as a natural remedy for nausea and vomiting, which is why many people of my generation actually remember being given a serving of ‘flat’ ginger ale if we were sick with the ‘flu. Ginger ale was decanted to a glass and set aside to rest until all of the bubbles disappeared, leaving a sweet, ginger-flavoured liquid that was effective in calming upset tummies. Today, this isn’t possible because Canada Dry® Ginger Ale does not list ginger in the ingredients.
Fast-forward to 2023 and the recent “discovery” and excitement around fermented foods, which fostered a modern take on historic ginger ‘beer’ or ginger ‘ale’ drinks. It’s called Ginger Bug (recipe follows) and is made by combining grated fresh ginger with a small amount of sugar and water. Sound familiar? The now popular Ginger Bug drink is actually Ginger Beer however, while it is fermented, it contains no significant amount of alcohol.
We’ve been taking good, great gulps of ginger for medicine, as a thirst-quencher, and to mix with alcoholic spirits for a very long time. What follows is a clutch of non-alcoholic beverages that pair ginger with popular flavour affiliates such as lemon, carrot, chocolate, cream, apples, cider vinegar, honey, pears, rhubarb, peaches, and mint.
(Makes about 2 cups)
Bugs (bacteria) make this drink a probiotic. It uses friendly bacteria, similar to bacteria that are already inside your body, especially your gut, to produce a slightly sour-tasting, naturally carbonated drink. Probiotics boost the immune system, prevent and help heal urinary tract infections, improve digestion, and help treat inflammatory bowel conditions.
Like other fermented foods (tea, coffee, yogurt, sourdough bread, sauerkraut), this drink provides food in the form of sugar for the wild microorganisms floating around and on us at all times. In return, those tiny organisms multiply and replenish the microorganisms that live in our insides, helping to keep us well.
2 large pieces (each 2-inches long) fresh ginger root, divided
½ cup sugar, divided
2 cups cold, non-chlorinated water
- Wash your hands and start with clean utensils and a quart glass jar. There is no need to sterilize since the culture comes from bacteria on you, in the air, and in your kitchen.
- Peel (if the ginger is not organic) and grate 1 piece of ginger into the quart jar. Add 3 tablespoons of sugar and the water. Stir with a wooden spoon. Cover the jar with a piece of cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter secured with a rubber band. Set aside on your countertop (do not refrigerate).
- Every day for the next 5 days, stir the mixture and add 1 tablespoon grated ginger and 1 tablespoon sugar. The mixture will start to ferment — bubbles form at the top and the mixture smells slightly sweet and yeasty — usually within 5 days, but it could take as long as 7 to 8 days of adding grated ginger and sugar to start the fermentation. Mould should not appear, but if it does, scrape it off and if it reoccurs, start the process again.
- When you see signs of fermentation (described in step 3 above), refrigerate.
To use the lightly carbonated ginger drink, strain the liquid using a fine mesh strainer. Save the grated ginger in a sealed container and use in recipes calling for fresh ginger or compost it. Store the strained ginger liquid in a clean jar with a lid for up to 3 weeks, adding 1 teaspoon each of grated ginger and sugar once per week.
To Use Ginger Bug for Fizzy Drinks: In a jug, combine ¼ cup strained Ginger Bug and 4 cups mint or lemon herbal tea or fresh apple, peach, pear, or orange juice.
Makes about 2 cups
Tepache is a Mexican-style, fresh water or agua fresca beverage that is similar to Ginger Bug, but fermented by the sun, which speeds up the fermentation process. Like Sun Tea or Moon Water, this cool and refreshing drink is set outside in the garden to take warmth and energy from the sun (or the moon). I love that this recipe uses the peel from a whole pineapple, making it a Reduce Food Waste recipe.
4 cups water
Juice of ½ lemon
½ cup brown sugar or piloncillo*
1 fresh pineapple
1 piece ginger root (2-inches), chopped
1 stick cinnamon (2-inches)
Fruited Ginger Syrup to taste (recipe follows) or maple syrup
- Combine water, lemon juice, and sugar in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from the heat.
- Wash the pineapple, cut the top off and discard it. Cut away the outside peel and cut it into chunks. Add peel to the water mixture in the pan.
- Remove the hard core from the pineapple, coarsely chop, and add it to the pan. Tightly cover the pineapple flesh and refrigerate for another use or use it to garnish tepache drinks.
- Stir in ginger and cinnamon. Cover the pan with a kitchen towel and set it outside, on a table or chair, in the sun.
- Check for fermentation after 24 to 36 hours. Some frothy white foam on the surface of the water means that the mixture is fermenting. You can strain off the tepache, chill and drink once you see fermentation or let it continue to ferment for another 24 hours if you want more carbonation. The longer the liquid ferments, the stronger the taste and the amount of alcohol produced.
- Before serving, taste the chilled drink and add more water and/or some syrup as desired. Add chopped fresh pineapple, orange slices, or cherries as a garnish.
Fruited Ginger Syrup
Makes 1 cup
Used to sweeten and enhance cocktails, iced juices, teas, refreshers, and smoothies, this syrup is versatile because it complements so many flavours. For a lighter fruit flavour, use perfectly ripe pears or peaches in place of the apples.
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups coarsely chopped apples, skin on
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped or grated
2 tablespoons grated orange or lemon zest
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Stir in sugar and stir until dissolved. Add apples, ginger, zest, and vinegar. Reduce heat and keep the mixture simmering for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- Strain syrup through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much flavour as possible. Compost solids and pour liquid into a clean glass jar with lid. Label and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
Makes 3 cups
It’s Agua Fresca or “cool water” with a definite spike of ginger and it’s the ideal drink any season, any time of day because it hydrates and nourishes the very cells of our bodies. This is a healthy morning, mid-afternoon, or early evening ritual to add to your daily H2O intake. Any fresh soft, fleshy fruit such as berries or stone fruit—cherries, plums, peaches, apricots—will work.
2 cups water
1 cup coarsely chopped pineapple
1 cup coarsely chopped honey dew melon or stone fruit (see above)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, chopped
Fruited Ginger Syrup or honey to taste
- Peel away the zest and white pith from the lemon. Remove seeds and coarsely chop the flesh into the jug of a blender. Add the water, pineapple, melon, and ginger and blend on ‘high for about 2 minutes or until smooth.
- Taste and add a tablespoon of syrup or honey as desired.
Iced Ginger ‘Ade’
Even with the ginger and chile pepper, in a weirdly wonderful way, this chiller with heat works to slake thirst in the dense heat of summer. You could make it a Shandy by adding non- or alcoholic Ginger Beer. Try carrot juice or lemon-ginger tea in place of the Ginger Bug.
1 cup Ginger Bug or Tepache (recipes above) or water
4 ice cubes
2 cups cubed cantaloupe melon, pineapple, or mango
3 tablespoons Fruited Ginger Syrup or maple syrup or honey
juice of ½ lemon or lime
1 1/2-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
½ small jalapeño pepper, trimmed and sliced
- Combine Ginger Bug, ice, cantaloupe, syrup, lemon juice, ginger, and pepper in a blender jug. Blend on ‘high’ for 2 minutes or until smooth.
Gingered Chocolate Smoothie
Makes 2 drinks
This one is a keeper. Easy to make anytime, it’s especially useful at breakfast because it brings nut protein to your hungry tummy. And the fibre in the fruit has enough staying power to fuel your morning. Make it the night before for a quick getaway (shake, sip, and sigh with pleasure).
1 ½ cups almond milk
1 banana, fresh or frozen, peeled and cut into chunks
6 dates, chopped
3 tablespoons peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons hemp hearts
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or candied ginger
- Combine almond milk, banana, dates, peanut butter, cocoa powder, hemp hearts, chia seeds, and ginger in a blender jug. Blend on ‘high’ for 2 minutes or until smooth.
1 A History of Herbal Plants, Richard Le Strange; page 262.
2 as above
Le Strange, Richard. A History of Herbal Plants. New York: Arco Publishing Company Inc., 1977.