Making Soda the Simple Way


Hello everyone! Obviously my blogging has been super slow. I have a new job! I… am a stock guy and sales associate at Godiva. Still fucking retail. But it’s a paycheck, at least! I’ve decided to start sharing food posts and recipes. It won’t be often, but it will give some life to this blog for now. I do have ideas for other major blog posts, like the trilogy I did on ableism. I still want to do one about the US police and patriarchal white supremacy. But those kinds of posts take a lot of time, which I don’t have much of. I do also want to reignite my Great Guitar Solos series, but I’ve been listening to podcasts rather than music for a long time, now. I need to get back into listening to music again, so I can find more awesome guitar solos to highlight…

I’ve also been thinking about writing out my own political platform. No, I don’t plan on running for any political office. It’d be an excuse for me to really study and learn about politics in a more in-depth way… both domestic and foreign. I have so many thoughts and positions, but I also know that my views are at least somewhat shallow, and I could always stand to learn more. Such a platform would be long… several posts worth. But I think it could be fun. The first thing I’d need to learn, however, is how to actually write an in-depth political platform. I don’t actually know how to do that…

So in the meantime, I’ll do stuff like this. Food posts, recipes, etc. No, there won’t be fancy recipe cards or professional pictures. This isn’t a food blog. It’s just a blog that I’ll sometimes share fooding posts on. And I’ve done this before. I know I’ve shared several recipes here; and yes, I know the vast majority had pictures (a couple even had videos!). So this isn’t new. It’s just going to be a tiny bit more frequent, now…

So let me start with a confession… I’m addicted to soda. I absolutely adore carbonation, and I love the sweetness (I don’t care what anybody says… high fructose corn syrup is my bae).

I really don’t like seltzer, however. Don’t get me wrong… I love water (I literally have a 64-ounce water bottle that I fill once, sometimes twice, a day), but I like my water… flat, I guess. Adding carbonation to it actually does change the flavor, and I don’t like it.

And don’t get me started on “flavored seltzer”. Like… what a cheap imitation of soda. Fucking unsweetened soda? Fuck you. Shit’s gross. Give me real soda or get out of here.

So anyways

Point is, I really like soda. But I also know that, despite my love for it, HFCS can be bad for you if you overdo it (which… to be fair… is true of everything, so). I also have a love for making things from scratch… foods and drinks, specifically. One of the things I learned how to do, and quite easily, is make my own soda.

And now I’m gonna teach y’all how, as well…

So the basic thing is this: you make a syrup and you add it to unflavored seltzer. That’s… it.

Okay okay… you actually have to make the syrup first. But I promise you… it’s not actually that hard…

In order to make soda, there’s a few simple rules I follow…

Rule 1: The formula is one part liquid to two parts sugar. So, if I want two cups of syrup (and the directions here will all be for two cups of syrup), I use 1 cup (8 ounces) of liquid and 2 cups (16 ounces) of sugar. This works a lot better if you have a scale because, technically, 2 cups of sugar is only around 14 ounces (usually 14.4 to 14.6 ounces for me), but you want the sugar to be twice the weight of the liquid. So if you do it by volume, you are going to want a little more than two cups of sugar… like… 2⅛ cups or so…

Any other dry ingredients that can dissolve into the boiling liquid can be added on top of that (any dry ingredients that can’t be dissolved should be steeped), but the liquid must always be exactly half of the sugar. So if you end up with more than half the weight of sugar in liquid, either reduce the liquid or add more sugar.

Rule 2: Do not use sugar-free alternatives. It’s going to be disgusting. If you’re sugar-free, either do more research (I’m sure there are recipes out there for making sugar-free syrups and such) or skip this entirely. There are cases where I’ve used fructose rather than sucrose to pretty much the exact same results (and maybe 20 or so less calories). Cream soda also benefits from using either raw sugar or brown sugar (in equal amounts by weight to the white sugar), because it helps to round out the flavor. But basically, stick with any form of actual sugar, or just skip this one altogether.

Rule 3: If you’re not using any kind of citrus (like lemon, lime, orange, etc), then while the sugar dissolves into the hot water, add ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar and dissolve that into the syrup. This inverts the sugar, making the syrup thicker, sweeter, and extending the shelf life. If you are using some kind of citrus-based juice or flavoring, the citric acid in the citrus will do that already, so you don’t need the cream of tartar. Don’t worry about finding it… it really should be easily found in the spice section of your local grocery store, and it should be relatively cheap. You don’t get a lot, but you’re not using it all that much except for sodas…

Rule 4: Do NOT let the syrup boil once the sugar is dissolved into it. You do indeed want to take it to the point where it’s about to start boiling (you should see it bubbling on the bottom and up the sides), but never actually let it boil. It will boil over and onto your stove and trust me… you do not want to go through having to clean that up.

Once the syrup is ready, you can add as little or as much as you want to seltzer, flavoring it as you so choose. If you like it less sweet, use less syrup. If you like it sweeter, use more syrup. Either way, it’s up to you.

The simplest place to start is, really, simple syrup. Like I said above… I usually make two cups of syrup for my sodas, so… pour one cup of water into a small pot and bring it to a boil over the highest heat setting. As soon as it starts to boil, turn the heat down to medium (or even medium-low) and add your two cups of sugar. Stir (preferably with a silicone spatula) until the sugar is dissolved. Add the ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar and stir to dissolve.

As soon as you see that bubbling on the bottom and up the sides, and the sugar and tartar are fully dissolved, take it off the heat and let it cool. If you have the room, go ahead and stick it in your freezer for about an hour or two. Once cool, pour into either a squeezable condiment bottle or an airtight container and store in your fridge. Since this isn’t flavored, you don’t have to use it with seltzer… it can be used with other applications. All it is is a thicker simple syrup.

So for soda, you want to add flavor. The easiest, really, is cream soda. You basically follow the recipe above, but before you fill your one cup measure with water, put 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract (do NOT use imitation extract… it will taste fake) in it, first. Then fill your one cup measure the rest of the way with water. You can, if you have a scale, replace the white sugar with either 16 ounces of brown sugar (light, dark, or a combination works just fine) or 16 ounces of raw sugar. Otherwise, just stick with two-ish cups of white sugar.

Boil the vanilla-flavored water over high heat, turn it down to medium once the liquid is boiling, add the sugar, and stir. Once the sugar is dissolved, add ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar and stir to dissolve. Once the sugar and tartar are fully dissolved, and you see bubbling on the bottom and up the sides, take the pot off the heat and let cool.

And there you go! Two cups of cream syrup, easy enough to add to plain, unflavored seltzer for a great cream soda.

Before we get more complicated, let’s do a simple fruit soda, shall we?

Let’s say… pomegranate. Get your hands on pure, no-sugar-added pomegranate juice. Pour one cup into a pot and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once it starts boiling, turn the heat down to medium, add the sugar, and stir to dissolve. Once the sugar is fully dissolved, add the ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar. If you have a light over your stove, you may want to use it so you can see the sugar and tartar dissolve… while darker than water, it should still be noticeably clear. Once the sugar and tartar are fully dissolved, take the pot off the heat and let cool.

Et voila! Pomegranate syrup. This also brings us to another rule…

Rule 5: If you’re using fruit juice rather than water as your liquid, make sure it’s pure, no-sugar-added fruit juice. You’re adding a lot of sugar to this yourself to make it into a syrup… you don’t want even more sugar already in the juice. Yes, some fruit juices (like pomegranate juice) naturally have a lot of sugar in them. That’s fine. It’s the added sugar you want to avoid.

Now let’s up the game a bit…

This time, first you need to get your hands on some orange extract, orange zest, lemon extract, lemon juice, and lime juice. For lime juice, if you can find key west lime juice (like Nellie & Joe’s Famous), that’s even better… but it’s not required. Regular lime juice will work perfectly fine. Also, if I’m being honest, the lemon extract is optional, so don’t stress if you can’t find it. Worry more about the orange extract and orange zest… those are not optional. (For the orange zest, you can always get it by zesting some oranges… but if you can buy it, go for it… these are supposed to be simple, so the less work you have to do, the better…)

Okay… once you have all that…

Fill your one cup measure with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of lime juice, ½ teaspoon of orange extract, and, if you have it, ½ teaspoon of lemon extract (remember… this last one is optional). Then fill your one cup measure up the rest of the way with water.

Once you have that mixture, you’re next going to take 2 teaspoons of orange zest and wrap it in a mesh bag or cheesecloth or fillable teabag that can withstand steeping in boiling water. You could also just put the orange zest into the liquid and let it steep that way, but I personally didn’t want to have to strain the liquid out from the zest… hence why I use a teabag when doing this one.

Now, pour the very citrusy liquid into your pot. Add the teabag of zest. Bring it all to a boil. Once it starts boiling, turn the heat down to the lower end of medium-low (so… between low and medium-low) and allow the zest to steep and simmer for around 10 minutes with the pot covered.

Once done, discard the teabag, bring the heat up to medium, and add the sugar. (No, you won’t be using cream of tartar this time, because there’s a lot of citric acid in this doing the same job. The cream of tartar will be over-kill.) Stir until fully dissolved, take off the heat, and allow to cool. What you have here is what I like to call “Citrus Blast”. It’s probably my favorite soda.

So how about a variation on that? Look for pure, no-sugar-added cranberry juice, and get that pure, no-sugar-added pomegranate juice from earlier. Mix together a half cup of each, making one cup of pure, no-sugar-added pomegranate-cranberry juice. Make the same liquid substitutions that you made for the regular Citrus Blast (so, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp lime juice, ½ tsp orange extract, ½ tsp lemon extract… replace 2 tbsps and ½ to 1 tsp of the juice with all that). Don’t forget the orange zest, either. Follow the steps for the Citrus Blast and let cool. Now you have a Cranberry-Pomegranate Citrus Blast. I’m actually drinking this one while writing this post.

So does everyone get the idea, here? The amount of liquid you use must always be half of the amount of sugar you use. You must follow that ratio no matter what. Other dry ingredients can always be added on top, (some, obviously… like the zest… have to be steeped; others can be dissolved in with the sugar), and if you aren’t using any citrus, use ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar.

So let’s go for one more… and this time, we’re going expert level

This one is a personal favorite. And yeah, it is a bit complicated. I mean… not so much complicated as part of it takes overnight, and it can get… messy.

I call this one Irish Cream Coffee Soda.

Ready?

So first, you’re going to need two things: coarsely-ground coffee, and cocoa. If you can get it (a website called Chocolate Alchemy sells it), get coarsely-ground cocoa. Otherwise, cocoa powder actually does work decently… it just makes the draining part slow and very messy.

So the night before you make this soda, weigh out 40 grams of the coffee. If you have coarsely-ground cocoa, weigh out 40 grams of that. If you only have cocoa powder, you want 20 grams. (I apologize… I don’t have volume measurements for these. If anyone would like to contribute those in the comments, I’d appreciate it.) Place the coffee and the cocoa in a large jar and fill with 2 cups of cold water. Stir, seal, and place the jar into your fridge for around 12 hours.

When that 12 hours is up, strain the liquid from the grounds. If you used cocoa powder, this is going to take longer and be messier. But it will work.

Take your one cup measure and add the following to it: ⅛ cup of Irish whiskey (I apologize, but the alcohol is indeed going to be boiled away… so opt for the cheapest Irish whiskey you can find… don’t waste a good Irish whiskey on this) and 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract (again… don’t use imitation). Fill your measuring cup the rest of the way with the cold-brew you just made.

You are going to have left-over cold brew. Don’t worry… it’s delicious. Save it for another application (homemade tiramisu, maybe?) or drink it (just add water… it’s concentrated… and maybe some of that thicker simple syrup you made a while back to sweeten it up if you want to).

At this point, you know the drill… bring the liquid to a boil, add the sugar, as it dissolves add the cream of tartar, take it off the heat, and let cool.

A couple notes about this one…

a) If you really want it to be alcoholic, you could, feasibly, remove ⅛ cup of the cold brew before replacing 2 teaspoons of it with the vanilla extract, then add the whiskey at the last moment when the sugar and cream of tartar are fully dissolved, right before you take it off the heat. Just give it enough time to incorporate into the syrup. I haven’t tried this as I don’t think ⅛ cup of Irish whiskey is enough alcohol for how it’s used. So another option is to just replace some of the seltzer with Irish whiskey as well before adding the syrup.

b) If you want some actual creaminess, dissolve some malted milk powder into the syrup with the sugar and cream of tartar. Personally, I actually don’t like it with the malted milk powder. I like the fact that my syrup has the flavor of Irish Cream coffee creamer without the creaminess, because I don’t actually like creamy sodas. I personally don’t think dairy mixes well with carbonation. So I opt for the “cream” to refer more to vanilla and cream of tartar (like cream soda) rather than actual dairy cream. You may want it, however, so go ahead and add that malted milk powder. And add it to taste.

At this point, you really have everything you need to make your own simple sodas. Just remember the 5 rules:

  1. You must always have twice the amount of sugar as liquid. The ratio is 1:2 liquid:sugar.
  2. No sugar-free alternatives. They won’t work. Stick to real sugar.
  3. If you aren’t using anything citrus (this includes citric acid; also known as sour salt… I highly recommend picking some up, BTW… it’s useful in many applications), use ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar per 2 cups of syrup to invert the sugar and make the syrup thicker, sweeter, and more shelf-stable.
  4. Do NOT let the final syrup boil. Get it close, but take it off the heat before it actually gets there.
  5. Use pure, no-sugar-added fruit juices.

Other flavors I’ve made include black cherry (using the juice), blueberry (using the juice), cherry Citrus Blast, chocolate (I basically just made a cold-brew out of the cocoa by itself, replaced a tablespoon of that cold brew with vanilla extract, and made the syrup), blueberry Citrus Blast, and lemon lime (replace two tablespoons of the water with a tablespoon each of lemon juice and lime juice).

I haven’t mastered cola, yet. I haven’t gotten my hands on kola nuts, and I still don’t know how to convert a cola recipe to my ratios. I want to try, but I don’t have the time now to focus on it. Yes, I have found several recipes for “cola”, but it always turns out to be some kind of ginger-ish (or even damn-near pumpkin spice in one case) soda rather than the cola I’m aiming for.

So there you go! You don’t need to wait so long for fermentation, you don’t need a juicer (I mean unless you want to juice your own fruits… you can… the same ratio applies), you don’t need a carbonating machine, you don’t need a culinary centrifuge… you just need a cup measure, one part liquid to two parts sugar, a pot, some seltzer, and your imagination.

Have fun and experiment! What other flavors can you make? Let me know…

(I know I know… no nutrition facts. If people want them, I have them for the Irish Cream Coffee Soda, the Citrus Blast, and the Cream Soda. Just let me know if you actually want them.)

Comments

  1. says

    As much or as little as you want. Once the syrup is made, just mix to taste. I usually do a lot… like 0.25 cup of syrup or more in 2.5 cups of seltzer. But I like my sodas sweet and strong. You could do more or less.

  2. Marissa van Eck says

    For the love of little baby Madokami, get *off* the sugar and HFCS. It’s so bad for you. You can make perfectly good sodas using selzer and stevia instead, which seems to be the one non-sugar sweetener that isn’t bad for you (aspartame, sucralose, etc) and doesn’t make you throw up out your butt (anything ending it “-itol”). They sell flavored stevia, or you can mix it plain with some extracts and make things no one’s ever seen before.

  3. says

    Marissa… I’m sorry, but I disagree. What’s bad for you is overdoing it. I actually drink even my own homemade sodas maybe once every few weeks or less… they’re treats. My preference for drinking is, and always will be, water. Like I said… I have a 64oz water bottle that I refill once, rarely twice a day.

    Also, stevia, like basically all sugar alternatives, is disgusting. I simply don’t like it.

    Don’t be afraid of sugar… just have less of it.

  4. A. Noyd says

    Hmm, this is interesting. I have the same opinion of flavored seltzer and fake sugar (even stevia) as you, but I don’t like heavily sweetened sodas. Japan has a lot of unique soda flavors, but I don’t enjoy many of them because they’re way too sweet. (Worse, a lot have artificial sweeteners added to regular sugar, making them taste disgusting and even sweeter without lowering the calories much. WHYYYYY!?!)

    Maybe I’ll give making my own syrup a go over the winter holiday. A shiso and lime combo could be good. Or maybe yuzu and grapefruit. Something hibiscus tea based might turn out well, too. Those would work better for summer, though, so fruit and berry bases would be good to try, like plum wine or cassis.

    Oh, dear. This could get dangerous.

  5. A. Noyd says

    So the temptation of making my own soda got too great. Now my whole apartment smells violently of pomegranate because I’m reducing some juice to get a more suitable flavor-to-sweetness ratio when I do up the syrup.

  6. A. Noyd says

    Well, that sugar mixture boils a hell of a lot faster than I was expecting, so who knows if I’ll get something useful for soda when it finishes cooling. The reduced pomegranate juice was so dark, I couldn’t see whether the sugar was dissolved before it just exploded into a boil. On the plus side, my new steel pot was deep enough to keep it from boiling onto the stove. And I’m sure the result will be good for something. It smells absolutely heavenly.

    I ended up using citric acid in place of the cream of tartar because even at a restaurant supply grocery, they had no idea what the latter was. They also didn’t have nearly as many unsweetened juices as I’d hoped. But I did find some relatively cheap blood orange and some unsweetened grapefruit juices. They also had a decent sized bottle of pure yuzu juice, which I can add to other flavors to kick things up a notch.

  7. A. Noyd says

    Soooo, the cooled pomegranate syrup is not only way too thick to use in soda, it’s too thick to do anything with unless kept at room temperature—and that’s not ideal for keeping it preserved. The flavor is absolutely amazing, though. It’s intensely tart and intensely sweet at the same time. I’m sure it’d taste fantastic on ice cream, but the consistency thing makes it a bit difficult to preserve.

    I’m going to try a second batch, this time being far more conservative with how I heat it after mixing in the sugar. No more surprise boiling. Also, I’m going to try slightly less added sugar this time around because of how highly concentrated the natural sugar in the pomegranate juice ends up after reduction.

  8. A. Noyd says

    My second attempt at pomegranate syrup is still too thick to be ideal for soda. It will eventually dissolve in the carbonated water after a few hours, though, and is otherwise a success as the flavor-to-sweetness ratio is about what I was hoping for in a soda. (I added the syrup to a 500ml bottle of hyper-carbonated water, so it was still plenty fizzy by the time the syrup finally dissolved.)

    Since batch two can actually be poured when refrigerated, I’m going to give most of it to my friend who was searching in vain for some new pancake syrup a few days ago.

  9. A. Noyd says

    So, I’ve kept up the soda syrup experiments. The grapefruit and yuzu combo is a huge success. Its flavor wasn’t so great on the first day, but it apparently just needed to sit for a while. Now it’s settled into a unique taste that blends the two original citrus types into something rich and unique. The only problem is that it’s extremely efficient at rapidly de-carbonating carbonated water, so it’s hard to mix without creating a sticky foam geyser.

    The next thing I tried was a syrup of pineapple juice and (extremely reduced) coconut water. I find it a little over-sweet and the coconut taste gets dominated by the pineapple when made into normal soda. However, tonight I bought some rum and made an alcoholic version of the soda. The rum really brings out the coconut, and holy shit, is it ever delicious.

    Anyway, thanks for making this post and giving me a new hobby!

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