Pandan-Ginger Soda Starter

When I found several pandan leaves in my CSA farmshare subscription, I wondered if I could use them in making ginger bug, adding a bit of pandan’s sweet vanilla and grassy aroma. 

Ginger bug is a popular fermentation starter for homemade ginger soda and other fizzy probiotic drinks. It’s great to have around so you can make healthy sodas anytime.

Here are important things to remember.

Ingredients. This pandan bug still uses ginger because of the many wild yeasts present on ginger’s skin to help ensure our pandan bug is successful. So do NOT peel the ginger and just wash it thoroughly before using. 

We will also rely on the yeasts present on the pandan leaves. I suggest using organic ingredients for this recipe if possible. I also like to use a lot of pandan leaves, given ginger can be very assertive. 

Oxygen. Throughout the fermentation period of the bug, it is important to incorporate oxygen as much as possible. To do this, either cover the jar with a loose lid or use a clean breathable material like cheesecloth or coffee filter or paper napkin like I did. 

You can also stir it a few times a day using a non-reactive material, such as a stainless steel spoon, chopstick, or a wooden spoon. There is no recommended frequency, so just place the jar on the kitchen counter where you can see it and stir it every time you see it. Or stir it once in the morning and before going to bed. 

Feeding. Remember to feed the bug daily. Daily feeding takes as little as 3 to 5 minutes, and it is necessary so that the yeasts don’t starve. 

If you’re wondering if you can skip the daily feeding by just putting several days’ worth of sugar all at once, the answer is no. This overfeeds the yeast and makes it sluggish–kind of like people too when we are overfed!

Sugar. If you’re concerned about the amount of sugar present in the bug, remember that the yeasts actually eat the sugar. You’re free to use any kind of sugar such as muscovado or coconut sugar. For this recipe I used refined sugar so that the bug is light colored. Do not use honey as it is antimicrobial. 

After several days, your pandan-ginger bug is ready! You will see lots of bubbles on the surface and it will have a yeasty, beer-like smell. Taste it and you will detect some sourness. 

Feel free to double this recipe if you want to make a big batch of soda for the family (or yourself!). 

Pandan-Ginger Bug

  • 15 pcs pandan leaves
  • 1 large ginger, peel on
  • 6 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup filtered or dechlorinated water

1. Wash the ginger and pandan leaves well. Remove any dirt between the pandan leaves and let air dry. Make sure everything you will use is sanitary, including your hands! 

2. In a jar, mix water and 2 Tbsp of sugar until sugar is dissolved.

3. Chop the 1-inch of the ginger finely, with the skin on. Set aside the remainder for the next few days. 

4. Make individual knots of 10 pandan leaves. Place the rest in the refrigerator for the next few days. 

5. Add the minced ginger and pandan knots to the sugar water. Mix.

6. Leave enough headroom and seal the jar loosely with its lid or place a piece of breathable cloth, coffee filter, or tissue paper on the mouth and secure it with a string or rubber band. (Update: If ants are a problem in your kitchen, we recommend using a large jar like we do in this post and using a lid to seal the jar. A large jar lets your ferment breathe.)

7. Leave the jar at room temperature on your kitchen counter for around 5 days or so until it gets active and bubbly. Every day remove a few tablespoons of the liquid and add an equal number of fresh filtered water. I usually do 2 Tbsp. Then add 1 knot of pandan, 1 tsp ginger, and 1 tsp of sugar. Mix well and cover again. Keep out of direct sunlight to avoid sterilizing your ferment and killing the microorganisms. 

8. Repeat until there are bubbles actively rising to the surface, and the mixture has a mild yeasty smell and slightly sour taste. Your bug is now ready for soda making.

9. You can now use this bug to create your soda! The typical ratio of bug to sweetened liquid (e.g., fruit juice, tea)  is 1:16. Again, the yeasts will consume the sugar so don’t skimp unnecessarily but do not make it overly sweet as to sate the yeasts and make them sluggish. 

You can keep the leftover bug in the fridge, where you only need to feed it a teaspoon each of sugar and minced ginger and a knot of pandan once a week. Try it with our Fizzy Pandan Soda, Kamote Tops Soda, and Buko Pandan Soda.

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