Old Fashioned Sodas (Lacto-Fermented)

Glass of Root Beer, with Foam

Glass of Root Beer, with Foam

By Cat, Aug 2007 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

These recipes are from two books by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, Ph.D.:  Nourishing Traditions, and Eat Fat, Lose Fat.

Lacto-fermented beverages have been made since Biblical times.  They are fermented by lactic-acid forming bacteria, such as the probiotics present in our own gut, and in cultured dairy products like buttermilk, yogurt and kefir. Most lacto-fermented beverages have a very low alcohol content, as the fermentation focuses on the formation of lactic acid as opposed to alcohol.

Perhaps the best known of lacto-fermented beverages are real root beer (or sarsaparilla) and ginger ale. Small beer and Orangina are common beverages in Europe (the American version of Orangina is NOT the same thing). These beverages are great, healthful substitutes for syrupy-sweet sodas.  While most are not particularly sweet, they are very refreshing and invigorating, and are very healthful for our digestive systems.

These beverages, from Nourishing Traditions and Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD., use liquid whey as the starter. Once made, they can be kept in the refrigerator in a covered glass jar or bottles with caps for several weeks.

While some of these can be made without whey, it is best to use it because it keeps mold and other bad bugs away until the fermenting medium produces enough lactic acid on its own. Those beverages made from fruit or fruit juice MUST use whey.

Beverages started with whey or fermented liquid from other lacto-ferments

I no longer recommend using whey for fermented fruits/veggies. Instead, I do recommend fermented liquid from another lacto-fermentation product (or powdered starter culture mixed with a few Tbsp water). You can still use liquid whey (obtained from straining the whey out of homemade yogurt), but the end result will not be as good.

Sally Fallon indicates in Nourishing Traditions that whey is a good starter, as it has the right level of acidity and also contains the lacto-bacteria needed for the ferment. While it does contain facto-bacteria, they primarily ferment dairy products by converting the lactose (milk sugar) to lactic acid. On the other hand, fermented liquid from other ferments like sauerkraut are geared toward fermenting the sugars/starches in veggies. I don’t think that using kombucha or other ferments that contain significant amounts of yeast or other fungi will work.

For many of these beverages, a bit of the previous batch can be used instead of whey to start the next batch. For example, this works great for beet kvass.


Makes 2 quarts.

This tart orange-flavored beverage is bottled for sale in Italy and France.  (The American version is syrupy sweet and artificially colored, and is not lacto-fermented, although the Orange Crush I remember from the ’50s is more like orangina).  One of my friends says it tastes like a margarita without the tequila.

It does have a slight salty taste, but do not reduce the salt in the recipe, as it is required for the fermentation.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • ¼ cup liquid from another lacto-fermentation product (or ½ tsp culture starter mixed with a few Tbsp water)
  • juice of 12 oranges
  • 2 teaspoons Unrefined sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon real orange extract
  • filtered water
  • 1 half-gallon canning jar with wide mouth lid
  • strainer
  • glass quart-size measuring cup



  1. Juice the oranges and place juice into the half-gallon jar.  You can remove the seeds if you wish, but I recommend leaving the pulp with the juice, as it adds bioflavonoids.
  2. Add when, sea salt, and orange extract.
  3. Fill remainder of the jar with filtered water (up to 7 cups water, depending on how much juice the oranges produced)
  4. Cover tightly and leave at room temperature for two days.
  5. Transfer to refrigerator.  In several days the juice will develop and interesting banana-like flavor.
  6. At this point, you may filter our the pulp if you wish, using the strainer and large measuring cup (makes it easier to pour juice back into jar).  Add more filtered water to fill the jar.
  7. If your oranges made more than 1 ½ cup juice your orangina will be a bit concentrated.  Add more filtered water to taste.  This will also minimize the salty taste.
  8. Stir before using.

Old Fashioned Ginger Ale

Makes 2 quarts.

Ginger is very soothing to an upset digestive system.  It is also a good warmer for the body, from the inside out.  Ginger ale is very refreshing after a day of outside work in the sun.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • ¼ cup liquid from another lacto-fermentation product (or ½ tsp culture starter mixed with a few Tbsp water)
  • ¾ cup fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped or grated
  • ½ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • ¼ to ½ cup Rapadura or Sucanat (Dried sugar cane juice), raw honey, or maple sugar
  • 2 tsp Unrefined sea salt
  • filtered water
  • 1 half-gallon canning jar with wide mouth lid
  • small strainer



  1. peel and  chop (or grate) the ginger root, and place in the half-gallon jar.
  2. Add whey, lime juice, sweetener, and sea salt.
  3. Fill remainder of jar with filtered water (about 8 cups).
  4. Stir well and cover tightly.  Leave at room temperature for 2 – 3 days.
  5. Transfer to refrigerator.  Will keep several months well chilled.
  6. to serve:  pour through strainer into glass.  Best served without ice.

Fermented Apple Cider

Makes 1 gallon (about). No added sugar is required for this recipe

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 4 dozen organic apples (about).  I have a macintosh tree, and it makes excellent cider.
  • 1 heaping Tbsp Unrefined sea salt
  • ½ cup liquid from another lacto-fermentation product (or ½ tsp culture starter mixed with a few Tbsp water)
  • large bowl and cloth cover
  • two half-gallon wide mouth canning jars with lids.



  1. Wash apples using a safe surfactant.  Washing with surfactant is especially important if you don’t pick your own apples, because they may contain groundfall and be contaminated with manure or other source of harmful bacteria.  Rinse well.
  2. Cut into quarter, core, and pass through a juicer.
  3. A great deal of foam will rise to the top of the  juice; remove as much of this foam as possible with a spoon.
  4. Strain into a very clean large bowl and stir in salt and whey.
  5. Cover with a cloth and leave at room temperature for 3 days.
  6. Skim off any foam that may have risen to the top.
  7. Pour into two half-gallon glass jars, cover tightly and refrigerate.  Flavors will develop slowly over several weeks.  It will eventually develop a rich buttery taste and may be slightly effervescent.  Allow the sediment to fall to and remain at the bottom of the containers.  Do not shake, and pour carefully.

Old Fashioned Sassafras Root Beer

Makes 2 quarts

Sassafras has long been valued by native Americans as a tonic for the blood, and as a traditional spring tonic.  Early colonists adopted its use for many medical complaints including arthritis, gout, colds, fevers, blood pressure, urinary problems, kiidney stones and skin disorders (such as eczema), and intestinal problems.

However, this valuable food was removed from health food stores by the FDA when research showed that safrole (an ester derived from the root) caused cancer in rats, when given super-huge doses.  Safrole is also used in illegal manufacture of some illicit drugs, such as ecstacy.

But fear not, the herb from the root of the sassafras tree has been used safely as a tea and in root beer for centuries.  Because it is not available in stores, you may have to grow your own, unless you can find it growing wild in your area (such as the eastern seaboard).  Here’s one source I found on the web:  Penn Herb Co. (3)


Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 3 – 4 cups sassafras root shavings
  • ¼ cup liquid from another lacto-fermentation product (or ½ tsp culture starter mixed with a few Tbsp water)
  • 1 teaspoon Unrefined sea salt
  • ½ cup Rapadura or Sucanat(Dried sugar cane juice as sweetener) or raw maple sugar
  • ¼ cup unsulfured molasses
  • ½ cup fresh lime juice
  • ½ teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
  • ⅓ teaspoon ground allspice
  • filtered water
  • Stainless steel stock pot (enough to hold 2 – 3 quarts)
  • half-gallon glass canning jar with lid


  1. Place sassafras shavings in stock pot with about 4 cups of filtered water.  Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer about 2 hours.
  2. Strain into a measuring cup.  You need about 1 cup of sassafras concentrate.
  3. Let cool, then pour into jar.  Add whey, sea salt, sweetener, molasses, lime juice, and spices.  Fill jar with filtered water.
  4. Cover tightly and leave at room temperature for about 2 days.
  5. Transfer to refrigerator for several weeks before serving.


  1. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, PhD.
  2. Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD.
  3. Penn Herb Co. (pennherb.com/cgi-bin/herbstore.cgi/herb?;sassafras)

About Cat

See my 'About' page
This entry was posted in Apple, Pear, Candied fruit, Fermented, Flavoring, Herbs, Spices, Sweetener and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.