A few weeks ago I was perusing through my local Asian food store when I came across a few different brands of Thai soda. Not surprisingly, when I looked at the ingredients, they were mostly chemicals. But it inspired me to try making a REAL version at home.
First, as opposed to conventional sodas, real soda uses real ingredients, not artificial flavorings, colorings, corn syrup or “natural flavors” (a deceptive labeling term that really means lab-created flavors).
In the case of my Thai soda recipe, it’s flavored by three quintessential Thai herbs – lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves. I call these three herbs the “triple gem” of Thai cuisine as they’re often used together to create the wonderful aromas and flavors of so many Thai dishes.
And second, the carbonation is naturally created by the process of lacto-fermentation. So yes, this is a fermented Thai soda! Unlike conventional sodas that manually add carbonation, the process of lacto-fermentation also creates beneficial nutrients such as probiotics and enzymes. To read a little more about the health benefits of lacto-fermented sodas, check out my first ever post soda post for a lacto-fermented blueberry soda.
Before I get to the recipe let me go over some details that will help you make a delicious fermented Thai soda.
1. Choose your starter culture
A starter culture is necessary with fermented sodas to kickstart the fermentation. There are many options for starter cultures but I HIGHLY recommend using a ginger bug. It creates a very bright and fresh flavor. The only negative is that you have to make it yourself and it does take about 5-7 days to ferment. My friends Tamara and Kelly over at the blog Oh Lardy! have a great post for how to make a ginger bug.
If you don’t want to wait that long you can also use whey, champagne yeast or the liquid from a batch of naturally fermented vegetables like pickles or sauerkraut.
Here’s how to make whey. And champagne yeast comes ready to go in little packets. Here’s a good source. Personally, I find whey a bit flat tasting and champagne yeast a bit yeasty. And if you use something like pickle juice , well, your soda will taste a little like pickle juice. I don’t know about you but I actually love pickle juice! But not in my soda.
2. Don’t use coconut water
Anytime I make a new fermented soda recipe, I like to try a few variations. I made one batch of Thai soda using coconut water instead of regular water. I was certain the coconut water would would be fantastic.
Aaaaaand I was wrong.
It was sickeningly sweet. Perhaps not adding additional sugar would’ve worked better, I don’t know. But I don’t recommend it.
3. Where to find the triple gem of Thai herbs
You’ll find lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves in any Asian supermarket. In case you’ve never seen them before:
4. How to prepare the triple gem of Thai herbs
Preparing the galangal and kaffir lime leaves is pretty straightforward. For the galangal, prepare it as you would ginger. Simply peel it and slice it against the grain into small circles. For the kaffir lime leaves, just rip them in half.
To prepare lemongrass, cut the stalk in half and discard the upper leafy half (or save it for soup broths!). You’ll be left with about a 5-6 inch piece. Trim the lower knob off the bottom half (about a 1 inch piece) and then lightly bruise the stalk with a dull kitchen instrument. This helps release the fragrant oils. Then slice the stalk into 1 inch pieces. Here’s a simple visual for clarification:
The top piece is the whole stalk, the middle piece is the bottom half of the stalk and the bottom piece is how you want to slice it.
5. Check the soda every day
In the recipe below, after you transfer the soda to the soda bottles, make sure to check them EVERY DAY. The purpose of using soda bottles is that they rapidly increase the carbonation and thus the pressure inside the soda bottles. Usually, one day is all it takes for them to be fully carbonated. Open the bottles to release the buildup of carbon dioxide. Do this over the sink as sometimes as sometimes they’ll bubble over. If you forget to check, the build up of pressure can explode the bottles. NOT. GOOD.
To prevent that from happening, make sure you do this…
6. Use plastic bottles or good quality glass bottles
Personally, I prefer to avoid plastic and I now use these really good quality soda bottles, which are built to handle the increased pressure:
That being said I know some people who use plastic just to be on the safe side. Another benefit of using plastic bottles is that you can easily gauge the pressure by squeezing the bottles. This will help you know when to open the bottles to let the pressure out.
7. Learn to make other types of fermented sodas!
I’ve included some links to my other fermented soda posts below the Thai soda recipe. But if you want a hard copy of a book, I highly recommend True Brews, by Emma Christensen:
It includes not just some great fermented soda recipes but many other types of lacto-fermented beverages such as kombucha, cider and mead.
The classic flavors of Thailand in a fizzy and sweet form!
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.