Contrary to what its name suggests, ginger beer or ginja beer is not an alcoholic beverage, and not even a beer in the strict sense of the word.
What is ginger beer?
Ginger beer is a fizzy soft drink. It is perfumed and subtly enhanced by the “spicy” flavor of ginger, delicately sweet and very refreshing.
There are many recipes but the basic ingredients are fresh ginger, sugar, lemon, water and 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 produces a low alcohol level, typically not exceeding 1 percent.
Ginger beer should not be confused with ginger ale, that is not fermented and lighter in ginger.
Equatorial Guinea is a country in West/Central Africa open to the Gulf of Guinea. It shares borders 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.
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 Eastern 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 strong aphrodisiac plant. It is actually a source of pleasure: similarly to chili pepper, 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. Recently, ginger beer has made a comeback thanks to cocktails. Ginger being a very good flavor enhancer, it is the basis of many cocktails such as the Moscow mule (ginger beer, vodka and lemon juice) or the 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 flavor that is very distinct from 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 went from a Spanish colony to an English colony. 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 the 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.
Don’t get scared by the fermentation, it is a very simple process. 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 active dry yeast
- Ginger syrup (recipe 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 the mixture is boiling 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 in 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 place 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.