Lightly sweet, mostly dry, and bursting with bubbles, a naturally fermented lemonadeis perfect on a hot summer day. While its flavor is reminiscent of the classic drink, this version has an added benefit: it's loaded with live cultures and is a great source of probiotics.
What is fermented lemonade?
It's similar to the Finnish drink sima, which is made by fermenting lemon juice, honey, and yeast.
This pleasant, fizzy drink is easy to make and a great alternative to syrupy sweet sodas because it comes with a good dose of friendly bacteria that help bolster the immune system and support gut health.
Why This Recipe Works
Unlike many fermented drinks, which have a vinegar-like sourness, the flavor of this lemonade is lightly tart with a pleasant, subtle sweetness.
It's easy to make. You mix, bottle, and ferment. That's it.
There's no high-fructose corn syrup like most store-bought lemonade. Instead, it's naturally sweetened with a little honey.
It's an excellent alternative to mainstream sodas since it's a naturally probiotic beverage that may help support a healthy gut microbiome.
The fermentation process reduces the amount of sugar in this drink as the good bacteria metabolize the sugar and then produce B vitamins and beneficial acids.
The key to making any homemade fermented soda, including this probiotic lemonade, is a combination of flavorings, sweeteners, and starter culture.
A sweetener, such as honey, helps to flavor the drink while also feeding the beneficial bacteria responsible for fermentation. A starter culture helps kickstart fermentation, ensuring a healthy and reliable brew.
- Fresh lemons give the drink its flavor and a pleasant acidity. Meyer lemons work particularly well, thanks to their sweet, floral notes. You can also use limes and other citrus fruit, too.
- Honey lends a little sweetness to the drink. It also provides food for the beneficial bacteria in your starter that will transform the lemonade into a probiotic, fizzy drink.
- Water provides the bulk of the liquid in the drink. When making fermented drinks, it's best to use filtered water. Chlorinated water may negatively impact the bacteria necessary for effective fermentation.
- A starter culture kickstarts fermentation. You can use just about any starter, including water kefir, ginger bug, wild yeast, kombucha, or fresh, liquid whey from homemade yogurt.
Effective fermentation depends on the right equipment. When making homemade fermented lemonade, picking up a set of flip-top bottles is a good idea. Additionally, many people prefer repurposing used plastic soda bottles for their fermented drinks.
In addition to following the recipe step-by-step, following these tips can help ensure that your lemonade ferments safely and turns out exactly how you want it.
- Temperature affects fermentation. Your lemonade will ferment faster in a hot kitchen and slower in a cool one. Slightly warm room temperature (about 72 to 75 F) is optimal.
- Brew away from direct sunlight and in an area with an even ambient temperature that is free from drafts.
- Timing is important, so keep notes on your calendar to remind you to transfer your bottles to the fridge so that they won't ferment for too long.
- Strain the ginger bug through a fine mesh strainer before mixing it with the other ingredients. If you're using an alternative starter, such as yogurt whey or kombucha, you won't need to strain it.
- Adding a raisin to your bottles of lemonade is a good indicator that the lemonade is ready. The raisin will absorb the carbon dioxide released by the bacteria, plump up, and float when the brew is ready.
As drinks ferment, the bacteria in the starter will release carbon dioxide. Sealed containers, such as bottles, will capture that carbon dioxide, resulting in a fizzy drink.
Those gases build up during fermentation and can create pressure on the bottle. While it's rare, bottles of homebrewed sodas can explode - especially when fermented for a long period of time or in hot kitchens.
To avoid this, it's best to ferment your drinks for only a few days after bottling. Take care when opening them by using a towel to cover the bottle and open them over the sink.
You can also set your bottled drinks in a cooler to ferment. As an alternative to flip-top bottles, many home brewers prefer plastic soda bottles.
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Variations + Substitutions
Try lime instead of lemon for a pleasant alternative. Lime offers a beautiful tart punch of flavor and a delicate floral note. It also works equally well as lemon in this recipe.
If you're looking for an alternative sweetener, brown sugar, organic cane sugar, and maple syrup will work. You just need to use a caloric sweetener so that the beneficial bacteria in the starter have fuel for fermentation.
Add some spices or herbs to the brew. The best way to do this is to make an herbal infusion. Bring the water (and whichever spices or herbs you like) to a boil, and then let it cool to 90 F. Then strain the infusion and use it as the water portion of your lemonade. Rosemary and mint are delicious additions.
Other summery drinks you'll love
How long does it keep?
Store the bottles in the fridge and enjoy the lemonade within about a month.
Can I use stevia, erythritol, or another non-caloric sweetener?
No. The honey in this recipe not only makes the lemonade taste sweet. It also helps feed the bacteria and wild yeast that ferment the lemonade.
For an alternative fermented drink that doesn't require sugar, consider beet kvass.
What type of starter culture should I use?
I find that this recipe works best with ginger bug or wild yeast, both of which should be strained before using.
It is also acceptable to use another fermented drink as your starter, such as kombucha, water kefir, or even fruit kvass or tepache. They work because they are all a source of beneficial bacteria and yeast. You can use an equal amount (½ cup).
Fresh whey from yogurt or kefir is also acceptable as a starter culture for fermented sodas like this lemon soda. You may need to use a full cup of whey, to get the same effect as ginger bug, and it must be very fresh.
Whey from cheesemaking is largely ineffective, and whey protein powders will not work as they are highly processed and not a good source of the natural bacteria needed to kickstart effective fermentation.
What about primary and secondary fermentation?
Many brewers follow a 2-step process for making fermented drinks such as kombucha and water kefir. For kombucha and water kefir, the 2-step process is necessary to preserve the kombucha SCOBY and water kefir grains, which cannot be placed in sealed bottles.
Since you're using a starter culture rather than a SCOBY, 2-step fermentation isn't strictly necessary, although it can increase the clarity of the final product.
If you wish to use the 2-step process to make fermented lemonade, pour all the ingredients into a half-gallon jar equipped with an airlock. You can also place additional ingredients such as herbs, spices, or fruit into the jar at this time.
After a few days, you'll strain the lemonade and then transfer it to individual bottles. Then, you allow them to ferment a second time.
Unlike primary fermentation, in which you allow carbon dioxide to escape, you'll seal the bottles to capture the carbon dioxide. As a result, your lemonade should be fizzy and effervescent. Finally, you'll transfer the bottles to the fridge for a few days, which allows the carbonation to set.
My lemonade never became fizzy. What went wrong?
A dead starter and a poor seal are the two most likely culprits. Weak starters may not have enough live cultures to ferment your lemonade. Additionally, a poor seal or an unsealed jar will allow carbon dioxide to escape, resulting in a lemonade without fizz,
Some bottles were fizzy, but others weren't. What went wrong?
If you have some bottles of fizzy lemonade but other bottles are flat, then you need to mix the ingredients more thoroughly next time. All the ingredients need to be evenly distributed among the bottles for consistent results.
It's too sweet (or not sweet enough).
If your probiotic lemonade is too sweet, consider cutting down the honey to about 2 to 3 tablespoons. This is just enough to support fermentation. You can also ferment the lemonade longer, but it may increase the alcohol content.
If it's not sweet enough, you can increase the honey to 1 ¼ cups or ferment it for a shorter period of time. A shorter fermentation period may result in less fizz.
Why is there sediment at the bottom of my bottles?
Sediment on the bottom of the bottle is old yeast, and you can ignore it. There's nothing wrong with it, but it's not particularly pleasant to drink, either. You may also find that you prefer a 2-step fermentation process, which results in less sediment in your bottles and greater clarity in your brews.
Why is there film or foam on the top of my bottles?
Sometimes you'll see a creamy white film developing on the top of your bottles. If you have used whey as your starter, this film is likely from excess milk solids.
If you used kombucha or water kefir as a starter, it is likely a small pellicle or SCOBY forming, and it is a good sign that you've let your lemonade ferment too long.