DIY Pine Needle Soda
People have been using wild yeasts for millennia to ferment beverages and make bread rise. It is much less common now to see people using wilds yeasts to bake and ferment because of the convenience of cultivated yeasts that you can buy for whatever purpose you need. Wild yeasts however are just as good at fermenting and getting your bread to rise, though can be a little more tricky since they are less consistent than store bought yeasts.
A fun, easy and delicious thing you can do involving wild yeast is ferment your own pine needle soda! The pine flavour is very light in the finished product and can be adjusted to your liking in future batches. The only ingredients you need are pine needles, sugar and spring water (not tap water, some municipalities have additives that may inhibit the growth of yeast).
First thing you have to do is scout out a nice pine tree that you can reach the branches, you can use red pine (Pinus resinosa) or white pine (Pinus strobus) for this recipe. It is also possible to do this with spruce needles but I have not tried it yet so I'm not sure if there is anything you would need to tweak in the recipe.
It is best to collect your pine needles after a good rain. You want this for a couple reasons, the tree is not dry and conserving water so the needles will be as lush as possible, and because the needles will be as clean as nature intends for them to be. Avoid washing your needles because you are looking to hire the yeasts that are naturally present on the needles to carbonate your beverage in exchange for a little sugar.
Add a cup worth of pine needles or whatever you can fit into your sterile vessel, (I used 1.5L) with four tablespoons (85g) of sugar, I used white sugar. You can use a sweetener if you'd like but the yeast will not do their job at the same pace. Sweeteners are typically packaged with dextrose which the yeast can metabolize but the sweetener itself the yeast will not be able to metabolize. Fill the rest of the jar up with spring water, leaving some room at the top for some pressure to build without causing a mess when you check on it.
Leave the jar out in a warm spot that is not in direct sunlight, yeast do not like direct sunlight. Wait a minimum of four days before checking your beverage, when you take the lid off there should be a little release of carbon dioxide like when you open a can of pop, but to a lesser extent. I ended up waiting four days for the red pine to be where I wanted it to be and five days for the white pine. Carbonation times will vary from batch to batch all depending on the conditions of where you let the soda ferment.
Red pine carbonated faster than the white pine and also had more of a pine taste though still very mild. If you want more pine flavour in your beverage put you needles in a bag and use a rolling pin to go over the needles a couple times to make it easier for the flavour to be exchanged into the water.
Give this recipe a try and let us know in the comments below how you do!