Recipes for spontaneous (wild) ginger ale sometimes refer to the starter as the "ginger bug". What is the ginger bug? Is it just an ordinary lactobacillus; is it a type of yeast? Is it something that is all around us, or something that is found specifically on the ginger? What role does the ginger play: is it simply a flavouring agent, does it act as a preservative, or is it something special (for instance, a carrier of important microörganisms that aren't found anywhere else)?

(When I say "ginger ale", I mean a fermented soft-drink that uses a small amount of sugar as the fermentable base. I'm not talking about beer that is flavoured with ginger.)

  • I would guess that the "ginger bug" is whatever wild yeast is in the local air. I don't think bacteria (lactobacillus) ferment very strong. Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 3:21
  • We Know that Lacto-Fermentation is a product of a specific strain of bacteria called lactobacillus. MY QUESTION is why is does this ginger bug facilitate a "Lacto Fermentation"? is it a wild yeast collection? or is it a bacteria or enzyme that encourages specific bacteria present in or on the ginger itself?
    – user10765
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 3:37
  • You might try adding this as a new question, rather than an answer to an existing question.
    – djs
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 3:45
  • This is a better as a comment under the OP question, or its own question. But you've 'answered' the question with more questions. And not all lacto ferments are from lactobacillis.
    – brewchez
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 13:49

5 Answers 5


There's a good article about the ginger beer plant (which I think is your ginger bug) on this website. http://www.themadfermentationist.com/2008/07/ginger-beer-plant-101.html.

  • 5
    In case the link ever goes dead, I'll summarize it: Ginger Beer Plant is kind of like Kombucha mother, it's a symbiotic colony of Saccharomyces florentinus and Lactobacillus hilgardii.
    – Nick
    Commented Oct 24, 2012 at 2:41
  • 3
    Ginger bug is not the ginger beer plant
    – matteo
    Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 17:30
  • A Ginger Beer Plant and a Ginger Bug is not the same thing.
    – LudvigH
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 7:50

A ginger bug is simply a lactic acid culture started from raw ginger root (with skin still on) and sugar mixed together in dechlorinated water. When you "add the ginger bug" to your drink recipe, you're adding the liquid from this culture after straining out the chopped ginger bits. After the ginger bug has been allowed to mature to a slightly fizzy state (usually after three days), the strained liquid will be sufficiently saturated with Lactobacillus to start fermenting sugars in whatever you add it to.

Traditional ginger bugs don't use any 'ginger beer plant', but I assume GPB could be used as well. Ginger Beer Plant is already its own culture/colony. A ginger bug is a means to grow a similar culture without having to procure it from an already established colony. Two different things, but either may be used in recipes calling for a lactid acid starter.

Ginger bugs are more popular in the common kitchen than GBP because plain old ginger root is much easier to come by in a local grocery store.

A ginger bug does not provide enough ginger flavour for ginger ale. After you've grown a ginger bug, you must separately brew a batch of sweet ginger tea, enough tea to provide as much ginger ale as you wish to ferment, sweetened with enough sugar to further feed the fermentation.

To this ginger tea the strained ginger bug liquid is added. Generally, one cup of ginger bug per gallon of sweet tea is enough to do the trick. If you're left with extra ginger bug, you can leave the chopped ginger in it and refrigerate it in a sealed container.

Refrigerated, the culture will 'go to sleep' until you take it out, start feeding it sugar again, and leave it in a warm, dark place covered with a cloth to let it reawaken and turn fizzy again - adding some more water if you need the volume. Once it's fizzy again, you can use it to ferment a brand new batch of ginger tea into ginger ale.

  • 1
    Are the microorganisms in the ginger bug mostly lactobacilli or is there a significant amount of yeasts? Are they the same species and in similar proportions as in a sourdough starter or is it completely different? I know they have similar behavior (you can make bread with ginger bug as a starter)
    – matteo
    Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 17:36
  • Another answer claims the ginger bug is mostly yeast, and that is the common "fact" on the internet. Do you have any source for the claim? (btw that ginger bug is LAB is in line with my personal observations... dont have any way to test it though...)
    – LudvigH
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 8:09

Ginger Bugs can provide very sharp amounts of ginger flavor depending on the quality and quantity of ginger used in the ginger bug. It is a fun, easy, inexpensive and surprisingly versatile ferment that I encourage noobs to master first. Then also do the GingerBeerPlant (GBP) grains when you can find a source of GBP. GBP grains are very similar to water kefir (WK) grains and if you can't find GBP, then get WK and put the ginger in at the 2nd ferment instead of the first as you do with GBP. Both GBP and WK are small round SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) that either sink to the bottom or float around in the liquid. The GBP often forms a thin mass on the surface of the water too. There are plenty of directions online, just google the scoby of your choice and then experiment with making your own delicious flavored drinks all summer long. However, a huge warning should be attached to every scoby using sugar or honey to take special care of your teeth and bones because these organisms create ACID which can cause tooth decay at an alarming rate in some individuals, even (especially) children. I strongly suggest having a tooth enamel protection strategy that includes CESP (Chicken Egg Shell Powder) and there are plenty of tooth remineralization scholarly articles online. commercial toothpaste sucks. http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=tooth+remineralization&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8


Ginger bug is mostly wild yeast on the ginger, fermenting the sugars into alcohol and producing CO2 as a byproduct. It makes a ginger wine. Ginger beer plant is a scoby of yeast and lactic acid bacteria. Personaly I prefer kombucha with fresh ginger added to the second fermentation for flavor. Kombucha is a much stronger and easier scoby to mess around with.

  • Most sources on the internet distinguishes between ginger beer plants (which are SCOBY) and ginger bugs (which may be yeast or LAB - I have not found a good source for this yet). Do not confuse them.
    – LudvigH
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 8:10

I realize that this question is quite old but it is an important one for people interested in this kind of fermentation that want to understand it more. As such, I decided to add a few observations in the hopes that it may help someone.

Both ginger bugs and traditional lacto fermentation take the natural occuring biology found on plants and provide them a hospitible environment to grow. This includes yeast and lactobacillis bacteria. In the case of traditional lacto fermentation unwanted biology is discouraged with salt and later acid, as the bad bacteria don't grow well with these. I'm not etirely sure how a ginger bug does this unless the sugar content is high enough to discourage certain bacteria. Someone else on here may be able to answer this part better then me.

Lacto fermentation is often accompanied by a yeast bloom on the surface indicating that both bacteria and yeast are present, and I would guess that your ginger bug and resulting ginger beer contains both as well. I have not tried a fermented ginger beer yet. Are they tangier than before the fermentation? If so, that would be the lactobacillus (yeast produces alcohol and lactobacillus produces acid). I have even seen people use ginger bugs and similar fermentation starters as the basis of low sodium lacto fermentations like sauerkraut and kimchi.

I imagine that the exact ratios of yeast to bacteria will differ depending on the source and technique of the fermentation, and it may be that ginger provides an environment that makes certain unique lactobacillus or yeast strains more prevelant. This, however, is just speculation on my part.

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