One thing I keep doing, year after year, is trying new things. Granted, no life is long enough to try everything you’re curious about, but by regularly exploring different avenues, you can get a better sense at what comes naturally to you.
And if you plan on not dying a stranger to yourself, you’d better know what you’re all about. The only way to do that is to be open to new experiences.
This year, I decided to learn how to make soda drinks. Here is what I have learned.
It’s Stupid Easy
Soda drinks are some of the most ingredient-light and time-short recipes you can make in your own kitchen. And after learning to make my own soda, I realized what a ripoff commercial soda drinks are.
Coke, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, Fanta, and all other sodas you buy from food stores cost only a few pennies per liter to make. The most expensive part of them is likely the bottle, yet they sell for sometimes greater than $2 a liter. Little wonder that soda companies post record profits year upon year.
Making your own soda at home reduces the cost by an order of magnitude. And it allows you to brew soft drinks that match your own tastes, rather than marry yourself to the two or three good sodas on the market.
Once you’ve done it for the first time, you’ll never again be tricked into thinking the soda companies are performing rocket science. Because their task is far simpler than that of the average bartender.
The First Ingredient: Carbonated Water
This is where most people get intimidated, even though there is nothing to fear.
There are many home appliances that are good for carbonating water. SodaStream is the most famous, but other (and arguably better) better options exist. Kitchenaid makes a supposedly professional-grade carbonator, for example.
But none of that is important to know. And I think you know why.
Carbonated water can be bought in any grocery store. And whether you buy it as
- Seltzer (straight-up carbonated water),
- Tonic water (seltzer with minerals added),
- Or Club Soda (slightly sweetened/flavored seltzer)
it has all the same advantages of carbonating your own tapwater. As an added bonus, the carbonated water you buy at the store comes in its own disposable bottle.
Though if you tire of throwing away dozens of soda bottles, a home carbonator might be more your speed.
The Second Ingredient: Acid
If you’ve ever tried drinking seltzer, tonic water, or club soda (and I do not recommend you try it), you immediately discover why so many people hate it.
It’s called the “talc taste”. And it’s a shame, because if carbonated water tasted exactly like ordinary water (except with bubbles) then I would love drinking it.
But the talc taste makes the water seem…dirty. My body is convinced it is drinking something tainted with heavy minerals. I simply can’t stomach it.
So to make your soda palatable, you need to cover up the talc taste. And the only thing strong enough to do that is acid.
Commercial soda companies use a variety of acids to mask the talc taste. The most commonly used acid is citric acid (pictured above). And, luckily for home soda makers, you can buy citric acid crystals from any cooking supply store. Many grocery stores also carry it as it is a common laundry additive (just be sure the package says “food grade” on it).
A half teaspoon of citric acid crystals is enough to completely smother the talc taste, though some flavors of soda benefit from a more powerful acidic kick. If you’re making a fruit flavored soda, feel free to experiment with one full teaspoon per liter.
The Third Ingredient: Sweetness
Congratulations! Instead of having water that tastes like talcum powder, you now have water that just tastes sour.
But since that does not quite count as a soda drink, let’s up our game a little, because the one commonality of every popular soda’s flavor is that it is sweet.
Commercial soda brands primarily use corn syrup for this ingredient. Cane sugar is occasionally still used.
But if the reason you’re brewing your own sodas is to escape sugar’s gravitational pull, then you are free to use any number of sugar substitutes.
As for me, I like using sucralose (the primary ingredient of Splenda) as it comes closest to the natural flavor of cane sugar. The biggest problem here is that Splenda uses maltodextrin as a filler, which is opaque and gives the soda a “dishwater” look.
So instead I use Sucradrops.
They’re basically just sucralose + water. One drop equals one teaspoon of sugar. And I find that 28 drops is sufficient to make any homemade soda liter approximate the sweetness of commercial soda (which should give you an idea of just how much sugar is in popular sodas).
The Last Ingredient: Flavor
This is where the recipe becomes fun. Choosing and mixing different flavors allows you to flex your creative muscles to make something really special. But what kind of flavoring should you use?
In an effort to avoid added sugars, I would recommend using popular ester-based or essential-oil-based flavorings, such as the ones sold by LorAnn Oils.
A common staple of home candy making, LorAnn Oils are also effective soda flavorings. Six drops per liter of soda gives it a strength of flavor comparable to most commercial sodas. And you’re free to mix and match those as you please. Go crazy!
Optional Ingredient: Thickener
If you used corn syrup to sweeten your soda, then feel free to skip this step.
Even if you didn’t, this step isn’t particularly necessary. Most soda drinkers are concerned more with the beverage’s flavor than its texture.
However, if you find yourself desiring a more syrupy soda, then you may find yourself looking for a thickener.
Luckily, a sugar-free thickener is already in common use. Some commercial soda brands even use it (Fanta, in particular). It’s easy to find in kitchen supply stores, but only in small quantities. If you want to buy it in bulk, you have to go online.
It’s called “glycerin”.
Also known as “glycerol” or “sugar alcohol”. But don’t let those names fool you: glycerin triggers no insulin response, and though it is technically an alcohol, it does not intoxicate humans in the same way ethanol does.
It is also fully edible. Just remember to buy “food grade” glycerin and not “cosmetics grade”.
Being slightly sweet itself, it is a natural fit for homemade sodas.
There You Have It
The only thing left is to mix the ingredients, which is tremendously easy: just put them all in a closed bottle and shake.
If using a home carbonating appliance (such as a Sodastream), I recommend you dissolve the citric acid crystals (and a pinch of salt) in the water BEFORE carbonating. Make sure it is completely dissolved, because any granulated substance added to soda water causes the carbonation to burst out all at once.
Apart from that, the process of combining ingredients is a no-brainer. Just put them all together and shake. It helps if the water is cold to start with (cold water holds carbonation better), but there’s nothing else to it.
Mix and drink to your heart’s content.
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