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A Brief History of Fermentation

“Fermentation may seem daunting at first, but it’s really not much to fuss about. It’s more of a ‘set it and forget it’ kind of thing.”

Most people know the story behind Coca-Cola or other soft drinks that were sold in pharmacies as health beverages, but we usually think this was because they had cocaine or some other substance in them, as medicine. This is true, however the idea of bubbly liquid as a medicinal treatment goes back way farther than the early 20th century – as early as the first beers, wines and meads.

In ancient cultures, and even some current modern ones, fermented foods and beverages make up a large portion of our vegetable diet. These fermented foods are effectively preserved, provide us with natural probiotics and even more importantly, they make nutrients available in the foods we eat. Consider the case of wheat: when unfermented, most of the nutrients are locked away and unavailable upon digestion (or lack thereof). Eating unfermented wheat gives us nothing more than starch and fiber. However, if we allow the natural yeasts and bacterias in our environment to ferment that wheat, the vitamins and minerals are unlocked, becoming bio available to us. The same is true for many naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, unpasteurized beer and wine. Ever heard stories of ancient people surviving on bread alone? Or how in some ancient civilizations such as Egypt, workers were paid in beer?

Most modern fermentations take a shortcut and utilize industrial yeast, not unlocking the beneficial nutrients of traditional fermentation. Industrial yeast is a single yeast strain that has been isolated, filtering off the other hundreds, if not thousands, of supporting yeasts and bacterias that aid in the full fermentation process. Think of wild yeast like full spectrum yeast and industrial yeast as a single isolated strain. Just like cannabis, the entourage effect is observed in yeast.

The switch from natural yeast to industrial yeast in the early 20th century was driven by the need for consistency and speed in mass production. The unforeseen result was bread lacking in nutrition, causing the pellagra epidemic. Pellagra affected the lower classes much more seriously than the upper classes and was later discovered to be a deficiency of niacin (B3) due to a diet based on industrial breads. As it turns out, this vitamin is present in wild yeast fermented breads also known as traditional sourdough bread – not to be confused with industrial sourdough bread which gets its sour flavor from additives rather than natural fermentation. You’d think that upon finding this out we’d go back to naturally fermenting our bread, so as to make the niacin bio available, but instead, we legislated that all flour must be enriched with the vitamin before selling. For this reason, law now requires all wheat and corn to be enriched with those missing vitamins and iron – folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and thiamine.

Fermentation may seem daunting at first, but it’s really not much to fuss about. It’s more of a ‘set it and forget it’ kind of thing (shout out RonCo). As long as you follow the process and your instinct, you shouldn’t have any problem.

Fermented Ginger Soda

This is an extremely easy process and once mastered, can be customized endlessly with fruits, herbs, and other ingredients. If you want it medicated, infuse like you would any soda. The fermentation will create carbonation, so be sure to pay attention to the bottles, they will explode if you leave them forever.


  1. 3-4 inches grated ginger root

  2. 1 gallon of water (4 liters)

  3. 2 Lemons

  4. 2 cups sugar (400g)

TIMEFRAME: 2 to 3 weeks


  1. Prepare your starter: Add 2 teaspoons of grated ginger (skin and all) and 2 teaspoons of sugar to 1 cup of water. Stir well and leave in a warm spot, covered with a paper towel or coffee filter to allow free circulation of air while keeping out unwanted dust and flies. Each day add sugar and ginger and stir, until the bug starts bubbling, depending on your house temperature, it could take anywhere from 2 days to a week. Keep feeding until you decide to use it.

  2. Once the starter becomes active. Boil 2 quarts of water. Add about 2-3 inches of ginger root and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Boil this mixture for about 15 minutes and then cool.

  3. Once cooled, strain the ginger out and add the lemon juice and the strained ginger bug. Add enough water to fill the gallon.

  4. Bottle it up. You can buy plastic bottles for home brewing that will withstand the carbonation, but I like to reuse swing top beer bottles like Grolsch bottles. They just have to be closed with the hand.

  5. Ferment: Leave bottles to ferment in a warm spot for about 2 weeks. Feel free to test a bottle after the first week, just remember the bottles are pressurized.

  6. Refrigerate. Homemade ginger beer will last just fine for a couple weeks in the fridge. Technically you can store it much longer, but be aware that the yeast will continue to ferment, leaving you with a different end product – much higher in alcohol and lower in sweetness. Also, remember that pressure will continue to build, so be careful with older bottles.

Joseph Cassini is a writer and designer for The Cannabis Cactus Magazine. He enjoys cooking, history, and smoking cannabis outside of the city.


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