I am not a soda person. I used to be – before I liked to drink water – but now, I’m pretty turned off by what’s in most soda (or pop, as my dad would call it – he’s from Chicago). Take ginger ale for instance. It should be made with ginger, sweetener, and carbonated water… maybe something extra like lemon for additional flavor. However, most store brand ginger ales have things like Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Caramel Coloring, Sorbate, and Malic Acid added to their sweetener of choice (usually High Fructose Corn Syrup or Aspartame) and the “ginger” which is usually listed as “natural flavors.”
At some point a couple years ago, I realized I could make a ginger ale that I did like. I went searching for a recipe and found one on Food Mayhem that looked easy and required ingredients already in my kitchen – ginger, sugar, lemon, and carbonated water. I gave it a whirl, and loved it.
Now that I’m in the land of fresh ginger, I’m learning how not all ginger is alike. Last week, I was in Chinatown and I saw something I’d never seen before – ginger sorted by its type and age. Below is a picture with young and older Hawaiian ginger on the left and young and older Chinese ginger on the right. This vendor also had a third kind outside on the sidewalk.
I wanted to figure out what was different about them. I picked up two types I’d never bought before (left and center), and took them home for a taste test with the kind I usually buy (on the right).
Turns out they all had discernibly different qualities. The skinny, straight kind was almost sweet, and not very pungent, whereas the fat, knobby one was stronger than I could handle on its own. The last kind, the one I usually cook with, was a bit older and drier than fresh ginger of its kind, but bearable. I decided to make my ginger ale with the ‘bearable’ and ‘spicy, but sweet’ kinds (the two on the right side of the picture above).
To make this ginger ale, you grate the ginger over either a box grater or a microplane grater. I ended up using the box grater for the older ginger and the microplane for the younger ginger. Once grated, you can see the difference between the two in texture and color. I went with a larger amount than the recipe calls for because I needed extra “ginger base” for my kombucha tea that was ready to be bottled.
After the ginger is grated, put it in a bowl and mix it up with a cup (I use less) of some kind of sweetener. I went with an organic coconut sugar, but you can use whatever you’d like. I also put a pinch of salt over the mixture to help draw out the moisture. Set the bowl aside for an hour. When it’s time, I recommend putting the whole mixture into a mesh produce bag, and squeezing the pulp until you can get nothing else out of it. This particular time, I ended up with about ¼ cup of liquid.
From here, you’ll want to add an equal amount of lemon juice, and an additional sweetener. My original recipe suggests light brown sugar, but I experimented with my new favorite honey this time around. Stir until all ingredients have dissolved, then taste test to see if you need more of something, probably sweetener if anything.
At this point, you can grab a glass and a bottle or can of the carbonated water of your choice, and enjoy. I used La Croix because I don’t like opening a big bottle if it’s just me. Pour in a small amount of the ginger base and then add water – adjust to taste. Serve with crystallized ginger, if you feel like being fancy.
Once you have this ginger concoction made, you’ll find all sorts of things you can put it in – I mentioned how I was flavoring some kombucha tea with this batch, but you can also make a hot tea with it if you’re under the weather, or some homemade cocktails if you’re on cloud 9. Either way, this simple and easy ginger recipe is way better than anything you’ll buy in the store.
While not all gingers are alike, you can bet they’ve all got some spice to them.