I recently wrote about making ginger soda, a simple process of fermenting ginger root until it bubbles (called a bug), mixing it with fruit syrups or juices and allowing it to ferment for a few days until a fizzy, sometimes downright frothy beverage is ready. These old- fashioned drinks have been a god send on these hot, sticky days of summer, but now I am ready for a change of flavours. Since a bug can be made from any edible root and since I prefer to use wild roots from my own backyard, I decided to make use of some of the vast quantity of chicory blooming not far from my kitchen window.
Common chicory (cychorium intybus) is native to Europe but now naturalized in North America and Asia. It is a woody plant with blue flowers and cultivated for its leaves, buds, flowers and roots. At this time of year the pale blue flowers are visible along roadsides and in fields in this area. All parts are bitter tasting, although the flowers and leaves are popular in salads. Sometimes the leaves are boiled first to remove some of the bitterness and then added to cooked dishes.
The root is the most commonly used part of the plant, usually roasted and ground to be used as a coffee substitute, caffeine free and less expensive than coffee. It is also used as a food additive in all sorts of things because of its inulin content.
A word of caution: if you are allergic to ragweed pollen or any related plants, you might have a similar allergic reaction to this one. On the plus side, it does contain antioxidants, inulin and it is considered to provide functional help for the liver.
To prepare the bug, I followed the same procedure as for my ginger bug. Beginning with about 1 cup of water, I added 2 Tbsp of chopped root and 2 Tbsp sugar. Cover it loosely to prevent any contamination. Each day I added 1 tsp each of root and sugar until it became bubbly. This took about five days.
At this time, you can put a lid on it and refrigerate for a few days until ready to use. Once you use some of the liquid, replace the liquid with water and continue to feed more root and sugar a tsp a day.
At this point, it has a pleasantly bitter taste which I thought very much like tonic water.
For the first drink, I used the juice of one lime, 6 oz of water and enough honey to sweeten plus a bit more, since some of the sugar gets used up in the fermentation process. I then added 2 oz of bug, closed the flip lid to seal well and left it for five days.
The second drink was made with elderflower cordial I had stored in the freezer – the same quantities of drink and bug and the same amount of time.
The lime drink was quite dry and had a distinct bubbliness, much like a kvass.
The elderflower was much sweeter and very frothy.
It takes some practice to get the right amount of sweetness and fizz according to your taste, but I have not produced an inferior drink in any so far and they have all been far superior to any commercial soft drink. You can experiment also with any fruit flavours you like. The chicory adds a slightly bitter note which I like, but the flavour is neutral enough it does not overpower whatever flavour you are using.
To be safe, open the bottles very slowly and somewhere you can afford to have a little splllage just in case