Contrary to what its name suggests, ginger beer or ginja beer is not an alcoholic beverage, nor even a beer in the strict sense of the word.
What is ginger beer?
Ginger beer is a soft drink, very slightly sparkling. It is perfumed and subtly enhanced by the “spicy” side of ginger, delicately sweet and very refreshing.
There are many recipes but the basic ingredients are fresh ginger, sugar, lemon, water and baker’s yeast. It is the result of the natural alcoholic fermentation that occurs between the yeast and the sweet ginger preparation. The fermentation is light and induces an alcohol level not exceeding 2 to 3°.
Ginger beer should not be confused with ginger ale, which is not fermented and lighter in ginger content.
Ginger beer is traditionally a household drink, but today it is easily found in stores in England, the United States, Australia, Jamaica, India and parts of Africa, including Equatorial Guinea.
Equatorial Guinea is a country in Central Africa open to the Gulf of Guinea. It is bordered with Cameroon to the north and with Gabon to the south and east. Its capital Malabo is located on the island of Bioko off Cameroon.
Equatorial Guinean cuisine, due to its colonial past, is a mixture of African and European cuisine, especially Spanish.
It was the Portuguese settlers who brought ginger to Africa while the Spanish established it in the West Indies, which allowed them to trade with Europe in the 16th century.
Ginger, zingiber officinale, is a perennial plant native to India and China where it has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years. It was brought to Europe by Arab merchants who called it zenj. It was one of the first oriental spices to be imported to the old continent.
The Chinese and the Indians cultivated it to use the rhizome in cooking but also for its many medicinal virtues: antioxidant, digestive and anti-inflammatory. It also helps to reduce nausea.
In the Middle Ages, it was considered a strongly aphrodisiac plant. It is actually a source of pleasure: a little on the same principle as chili, ginger sends molecules that prevent the brain from aggression and in response, it diffuses endorphins that cause a feeling of well-being.
In the West, it is mainly used for making ginger beer or ginger ale and gingerbread. Lately, ginger beer has made a comeback thanks to cocktails. Ginger being is a very good flavor enhancer, and it is the basis of many cocktails such as Moscow mule (ginger beer, vodka and lemon juice) or dark’n stormy (ginger beer, rum and lime).
Africa, particularly Nigeria and Sierra Leone, provides about 12% of world ginger production. It is widely used in cooking, to make ginger beer and also ginger juice, a very popular drink called gnanmankou, gnanmankoudji, ginger or djindja.
African ginger has a very distinct flavor compared to the different varieties produced around the world. It is full-bodied and has a camphor flavor. In India, it is lemony while in Australia, it is sweet and lemony, perfect for confectionery.
What is the origin of ginger beer?
In 1655, Jamaica passed from the Spanish colonial fold to that of the English. England had access to sugar from the Caribbean and ginger from the eastern colonies. The latter then became popular in England and it may be that they began to flavor their beer with ginger before making the ginger beer by fermentation.
At that time, many fermented drinks were produced at home. Ginger beer was originally brewed in Yorkshire in the mid-18th century. It often contained a higher alcohol content than current production, which was modified by a British law of 1855 which imposed a “stamp duty”, a tax applied for drinks exceeding 2° of alcohol.
It has become popular with children. At the beginning of the twentieth century, at the height of its popularity, it was sold by hawkers in almost every city in Britain and was marketed in the United States, Canada and South Africa among others.
Do not be scared by the fermentation, it’s very simple: you just have to wait.
Cheers! Salud! Saúde!
- 1 cup caster sugar
- ½ cup water
- 5 oz. fresh ginger , peeled and finely grated
- ¼ teaspoon dehydrated baker's yeast
- Ginger syrup (preparation below)
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 7 cups water
Pour the ginger, sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until reaching boiling point and the sugar is dissolved
Turn off the heat and let the mixture steep for one hour.
Filter the mixture (discard the pieces of ginger pulp) and let cool.
Place a funnel at the top of a large plastic bottle.
Sprinkle the yeast, and add the ginger syrup, lemon juice and water.
Place the cap on the bottle and shake it until the yeast is dissolved.
Place the bottle in a shaded area at room temperature or in a pantry, away from direct sunlight for 48 hours.
At this stage, the ginja beer is ready to drink and must be refrigerated to prevent further fermentation.
CAUTION: during fermentation, be sure to open the bottle every day to release the excess gas, otherwise the bottle may explode.
Serve with ice.