Homemade Rhubarb Soda

I’ve never been pro-soda but now that I’m on my homegrown kick I’m discovering new old ways to make things.  I posted last month on how to harness wild yeast to make your own soda using ingredients you can find at any grocers:  http://sustainableeats.wordpress.com/2009/04/18/homemade-soda/.  So far we’ve made lemon soda and rootbeer (with the caveat that we used dried sarsparilla and wintergreen leaves found at Bob’s Homebrew in the U District for the root beer.)

This spring the first fruit up is rhubarb which is a favorite of mine so I have lots of rhubarb plants.  I decided to turn it into soda.

To make this you will need a mess of rhubarb (maybe 5 or 6 nice sized stalks), a ginger bug, and some sugar.  You can use just about any kind of sugar crystals but not honey since it may kill the wild yeast.

To make your ginger bug peel and mince about 2 teaspoons of ginger root.  Put it in a small jar or glass with one cup of water and about 2 teaspoons of sugar.  Cover the jar with a paper towel and rubber band – your bug needs air to grow.  Feed it more ginger and sugar daily.  When it starts bubbling in 3 – 6 days you can use it for soda.  If it gets moldy throw it away and start over.  Gently swirling the ginger in the jar several times a day will speed up the process and help keep it from molding.  You can maintain the ginger bug indefinitely by feeding it more ginger and sugar at least every two days and pouring off the liquid  into a new jar when the old jar gets too full of old ginger and spent sugar.

This is natural yeast which consumes the sugar, creating carbonation in the way that commercial yeast does when consuming sugar.  Except this yeast bug is not genetically modified, it’s live probiotics you’ve captured and will help improve your gut flora.

To make your flavoring rinse and slice the rhubarb into 1/2 inch pieces.  Cover them partially with water and simmer them until the fruits softens and begins to get mushy.  Strain the juice and liquid using a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth-lined colander.  Let that juice cool to room temperature.

se-rubarb-mash

se-rubarb-juice

In the meantime make simple syrup using 1 1/2 cups of sugar crystals and 1/2 gallon of filtered water.  Dissolve the sugar in the water over medium heat then let that cool to room temperature.

Combine your rhubarb juice, your simple syrup, and about 1/2 to 1 cup of your ginger bug depending on how much carbonation and ginger flavor you want.  I think the ginger rounds out the rhubarb nicely. 

Taste the “soda” for strength.  If you feel the flavor is too strong you can add one cup of water at a time.  It will be very sweet at this point but after several days the ginger bug will consume the sugar so if you want it less sweet you can simply let it carbonate longer.

Put your “soda” in a jar on the counter away from light and seal it tightly.  After several days you should see bubbles forming.  The longer it sets out at room temperature, the more sugar the yeasties will consume.  Taste it daily.  When you like it put it in smaller bottles and put it in the fridge to stop if from carbonating further. 

se-rubarb-soda

This was a refreshing drink – not too sweet and a fun pink color which the kids loved.  The great thing about rhubarb is it’s high in vitamin C so if you simmer it at a low temperature you maintain much of that nutritional profile.  This would be great served with some lemon verbena leaves frozen in ice cubes, or added to the fruit when you stewed it.  Lemon verbena is one of those plants with magical sweetening qualities like angelica.  If you add it to fruits or pies it will reduce the amount of sugar you need.

I also froze some of this into popsicle forms.  The kids (even my super picky toddler) loved them.  I plan to make up a big batch of the rhubarb juice and freeze it so we can enjoy this long after rhubarb season has ended.  It beats that nasty chemical-laden pink lemonade concentrate any day!  I wonder if we set up a roadside stand selling rhubarb fizz – do you think people would stop?

20 Responses to Homemade Rhubarb Soda

  1. This sounds great! I’m always looking for new ways to use rhubarb.

  2. Wow – I love this column. Keep up the posts. You are an inspiration to all of us aspiring urban abundancinistas!

    • Thanks Sean! I have more rhubarb recipes to post but last week flew by. We’ll be making a pie shortly and making more rhubarb juice to freeze for the summer since lemons are not in season any longer. Next up though, sweet woodruff soda…

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  5. Hell Yeah! I’d stop!!!

    Thanks for this blog!

    What are your thoughts on using actual probiotics to seed the ginger ferment starter rather than leaving it up to chance / moldy creatures…?

    Also, any sugar crystals? Really? Even Bleached?

    I guess Sucanat and such would add too much flavor?

    I’m a big fan of Agave or Xylitol to trick out the bad bacteria…

    Or just old fashioned dehydrated cane juice…

    YUM!

  6. Lawrence, I don’t think adding probiotics could hurt, or whey for that matter although I’ve never done it. I do know someone who uses them to do their fermented veggies so they get by with less salt so in theory it should work. I’d love to hear though because I do know a few folks whose bug has gone moldy although that’s never happened to me.

    The bug needs sugar to grow and sucanat would overpower it but if you were making something like apricot or cherry that might be yummy. I don’t think xylitol would feed it but agave might. I think there was some discussion in that original link about which types of sugar work. I know honey does not because of the antibacterial properties of the honey destroying the good beasties in the bug.

    Cane juce would work great, I just use organic sugar (from cane).

    I’d love to hear any reports back on how it goes for you!

    • I have successfully used honey in wild-fermented sodas. The ferment took the same time to appear active as when I used refined cane sugar. The honey was raw and from a local apiary, so still had active antibacterial enzymes but they didn’t seem to interfere. The taste was very different though, more sour and intense.
      People have been making wild-yeasted mead for several thousand years, so I shouldn’t think that there is a high rate of the honey killing the yeast.

      • Nathan thank you for posting that! I would much rather use raw honey and I’m sure others would too. I stopped making ginger bug because I was tired of buying sugar!

  7. I won’t have much rhubarb this year as I just put in new plants last year. The rhubarb fizz sounds great, could you use grapes or black berries in place of the rhubarb? I have a good crop of those and am always looking for ways to use them other than fresh or frozen.

  8. Mary absolutely! We made blackberry/lemon verbena, quince, rootbeer and cherry last year with the ginger bug. They were all yummy. It’s not something we have all the time because of the sugar required to keep the bug going but it’s easy to start a new bug or keep one going for quite awhile should you want to. Somehow I never made it around to making ginger beer from it which is to bad. Maybe this summer.

  9. this sounds glorious. I grew up on sweet tea which turned into a soda habit and though now I just drink green tea I miss a good soda! And love the idea of the probiotics.

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  12. Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe! I made some soda for the first time last week and had a rather interesting result. I left one bottle with the cap put on by hand, then used a bottle capper to actually seal the other 4. The one not sealed was a wonderful soda, yeastie tasting and mildly carbonated. Just opened a capped one and it bubbled up and out of the bottle like champagne, smelled and tasted like alcohol, though still delicious.

    Now I am wondering how I ended up with alcohol rather than soda… maybe the alcohol evaporates when not sealed tightly. Also wondering if the caps are sealed, would the stuff be able to be stored to drink over the winter when there is no rhubarb to be had… or would there just be too much fermentation happening that the bottles would explode after awhile? May just have to do a test batch and see what happens. Am having a lot of fun with this!

    • Annette Cottrell

      Hi Barbara,

      Anytime you want to keep the alcohol from escaping you tightly cap fermented drinks. If you don’t want it to become alcoholic loosely cover it. You always need to check on tightly capped things, which is why even beer has an expiration date. It’s not so much that it will go bad bottled but that the bottles might explode!

      What you might do instead is juice and freeze the rhubarb and then you can make it all winter long. That might be safer. I’m so glad you are having fun!

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  14. What does it mean when it goes cloudy after a few days. Mine lost its pink color and went cloudy????

  15. I am excited to try this rhubarb soda. I have started the process of the fermentation of the ginger, sugar and water. How much ginger and sugar do you feed it when you do to keep it going? thank you so much.

    • Annette Cottrell

      Hi Eleanor, I think I kept adding 2 teaspoons ginger and 2 teaspoons sugar to keep it going. After awhile I got tired of buying sugar though but maybe I’ll start a new bug for the summer. It was sure fun!

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