Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dandelion Root Beer, Day 1

I've become a little obsessed with the idea of lacto-fermented soda. It's soda that's good for you!!! Not only can you make it out of fresh fruit or herbs (preserving some of their nutritional benefits) and include as little (or as much) sweetener of your choice as you want, but you get a dose of probiotics with each serving!

We've made homemade soda before using yeast, so this isn't a totally new venture. In fact, we have spruce beer and sasparilla soda flavoring sitting in the fridge from our last batch. I think we're going to try sasparilla first.

Most of the lacto-fermented soda recipes out there call for ginger root for the starter. This is because ginger, along with many other roots, has a high inulin content. Inulin is a form of starch which is a preferred food source for various forms of Lactobacillus. These are the bacteria that make yogurt and pickles and grow in our intestines, displacing harmful bacteria.

(In a glowing example of the sort of synchronicity which creates naturally occurring unit studies, we recently read The Magic School Bus In A Pickle, which discusses the role of microbes in pickle formation, so this fits right in!)

As far as I can tell, the reason ginger is recommended for this is because it's widely recognized as an edible substance and you can buy it at the store. But it's certainly not the only inulin-containing root, and when "buy it at the store" means a 10 mile round trip that you weren't really planning to do today, you look for more readily available alternatives. And a very readily available alternative is dandelion root, which contain up to 40% inulin. From what I'm reading, this percentage is much lower in the spring than in autumn, as the plant uses the energy stored in the root as inulin to grow new shoots. So we'll see if it works as intended. If not, no big loss - we've weeded the lawn a bit.

Note: In addition to the more variable inulin content, another reason for recommending ginger root may be that dandelions are likely to have been exposed to pesticides and other environmental contaminants (we were careful not to pick ours in the dog yard, for example!), especially in more urban areas. If using dandelions or other wild-growing sources instead of store-bought ginger, make sure that you're reasonable certain your dandelions aren't contaminated. Also, people with ragweed (and, according to LemurDa, salicylate) allergies should be careful with dandelions, as they're common co-allergens. I'm not sure how big a deal that will be for the finished product, as the roots will be removed prior to making the actual soda, but I don't think LemurDa will risk trying this one.

I sent the kids out to dig up some dandelions, not realizing that this isn't exactly a simple task, especially given that LemurGirl has been picking the flowers for her bouquets, making them a little difficult to identify. LemurGirl brought in a few dandelion flowers, and LemurBoy ended up digging out a few root sections about an inch or so long and decided he was done, so I went out, located one, and dug up a good root about 8 inches long.

I washed the roots well, then LB chopped them up into little pieces. I put them in a jar that had previously been used to store sugar, and still had a bit caked onto the sides (recipes say to add some sugar along with the root). Cover the jar (some places say cheesecloth - maybe to let in airborne culture? I just closed the lid, because my understanding is that an anaerobic environment is what we're going for, and that leaving it covered with cheesecloth would be more about letting in wild occurring yeast). Let sit somewhere that maintains a temperature around 75F. Every day, add a little more chopped root and a little more sugar until you start to see bubbles appear (supposedly around 6 days). If mold occurs, skim it off the top, but if it keeps coming back you have to try again with cleaner supplies.

(Note: We're on well water. If you're doing this yourself and using city water, you'll want to either use filtered water or let the water sit out for a few days so that the chlorine in the water has a chance to evaporate.)


To Be Continued... (when something interesting happens, so possibly not for several days)

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