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PHOTO: Ulysses Press
Thirsty for something different and craving refreshment that will quench your thirst while tickling your taste buds? Then look to your garden for homemade soda inspiration.
Syrups crafted from your fruit and herb bounty and combined with an in-home carbonator will quickly elevate you to artisan homemade soda maker.
The concept of flavored water with bubbles is nothing new. In the late 1800s, the invention of a means to manufacture carbon dioxide in a tank that then could be injected into water to add carbonation resulted in soda fountains popping up across the country.
Common in drugstores, young men working as “soda jerks” would “jerk” the fountain handle back and forth to serve up a tall, cold glass of bubbly water flavored with syrup.
Through the 1940s, these soda fountains quickly grew into more than just a beverage stop. They provided a community gathering place where folks could linger and talk over a refreshing drink.
As fast-food joints and mass-produced commercial sodas gained popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, interest in soda fountains dried up. Today, there are just a handful of them left across the country.
But thanks to new, convenient and easy-to-use home carbonators, such as Sodastream, you can rekindle the Americana spirit through connection and conversation over a bubbly homemade soda.
You can make both your own soda water (aka seltzer or sparkling water) and syrups in-house using your garden produce as not only inspiration but as infusions.
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One reason behind the current classic-soda-making revival is our increasing consciousness about what we put into our bodies. And we’ve realized how unhealthy mainstream, mass-produced soda is.
“The high-fructose corn syrup found in most commercial soda is sourced from highly processed GMO, or genetically engineered, corn. That’s not good for our environment or us,” explains Melinda Hemmelgarn, a registered dietitian and host of Food Sleuth Radio.
“When we think about food, we need to take a perspective beyond just ourselves and think about how our food choices affect the global food system and our environment. GMO corn uses fossil-fuel-based fertilizers, pesticides and a lot of energy to process into high-fructose corn syrup. We all pay the environmental costs.”
“Sweeteners of all kinds also add extra calories to our diet without nutritional merit, so using as little as possible is best,” Hemmelgarn says. “Most commercial sodas contain more added sugar than recommended by our national dietary guidelines. To find out how many teaspoons of sugar are in your soda, read the label. Divide grams of carbohydrate by four to get teaspoons of sugar.
“You’ll be sugar-shocked!”
Make Your Own Homemade Soda
Making your own homemade soda enables you to control all the inputs, adjusting sweetener levels and avoiding artificial colors and preservatives found in most commercial sodas.
When you use sugar, you can choose higher-quality ingredients, such as organic, Fair Trade-certified sugar.
Trying to cut back calories? Simply use less sweetener than the chemically derived, low-calorie versions.
“By using fresh, in-season fruits for your syrups, the flavors simply pop more and taste way better,” says Andrea Lynn, author of The Artisan Soda Workshop and soda-making expert. She grew up on a blueberry farm in Alabama, where she first realized the importance of seasonal eating.
“You can also customize everything about the soda based on what you like, from the sweetness factor to the level of fizz.”
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Home carbonators are both economical and environmentally sound in the long run. The units use a carbon-dioxide carbonator unit that injects CO2 into water to create fizzy bubbles.
The unit requires an upfront investment, but the more you use it, the lower the cost of your beverages, averaging about 25 cents per liter of seltzer.
Sodastreams run between $80 and $200, and the carbonator refills cost around $30. Sodastream carbonators vary in size, from 60 to 130 liters. According to Sodastream, a 130-liter carbonator might last between three and four months depending on use.
Cuisinart and other manufacturers are also getting into the sparkling-beverage-maker market, coming out with their own units.
Traditional soda-making depends on yeast to ferment sugar into alcohol and generate carbonation, amounting to more of a science experiment than a cooking project. There are many variables to control, and a miscalculation could lead to disaster in the form of a botched batch or exploding bottles.
“Forced carbonation is much easier and safer than the old-fashioned way of fermenting soda and carbonating directly in the bottle,” says Austin Ashley of Viroqua, Wisconsin.
His passion for making homemade soda led him and his wife, Hallie, to launch Wisco Pop!, a Wisconsin-based soda company that uses local ingredients and natural sweeteners.
Ashley also recommends looking into do-it-yourself soda-carbonating kits that use a large carbon-dioxide tank what a bar or restaurant would use). You can better control carbonation and avoid being locked into buying a specific manufacturer’s carbonator unit.
4 Steps to Bubbly Bliss
Follow these simple instructions to craft artisanal homemade soda that quenches your thirst for farm freshness.
Step 1: Make Syrup
Soda syrup can contain any combination of flavor and sweeteners. While the recipes below provide starter ideas, feel free to experiment with combinations.
Ideally, the key is to use fruit in peak season. Flavors will pop from natural sweetness, so you’ll need to add less sugar or other sweetener.
Frozen fruit also works well for making syrup. It’s generally more watery, so after defrosting, cut back the water used in the recipe by half. (You can add more water to achieve the desired flavor.)
Chop fruit into small pieces or slice thinly to expose more of the fruit surface for extracting flavor. In recipes like the Strawberry Soda Syrup, where you strain fruit pieces out of the final syrup, save this sweet pulp and serve it in yogurt or over pound cake.
“The sky is the limit as far as what you can put in a syrup,” Lynn says. However, she recommends avoiding watery produce varieties, such as melons, as their flavor is limited.
She adds that sometimes you don’t need to cook a syrup. Simply add your fruit, herbs or other flavoring directly to natural liquid sweeteners.
“I always have a simple citrus syrup on hand at home for my soda flavoring,” she says. “I’ll use a microplane grater to finely grate orange or other citrus zest directly into agave nectar, honey or maple syrup and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.
“You can strain out the rind pieces, but frankly, I just leave them in for extra flavor.”
Typically, syrups can be stored in sealed containers in the refrigerator for up to one week. Discard if the mixture appears cloudy.
A funnel is helpful for pouring syrup into your storage container. Lynn recommends freezing syrup in ice-cube trays for convenient single-serving portions all year long.
Step 2: Add Bubbles
“Always used chilled, cold water for carbonating,” Ashley advises. “Carbon dioxide is already very cold and will be more soluble if blended with another cold liquid.”
Follow your home carbonator instructions for adding fizz, but never carbonate anything other than water. (It will clog the internal mechanisms.)
Carbonation machines have a gauge indicating different levels of fizz. Stop the machine when you reach your preferred level.
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Step 3: Combine Flavor & Fizz
Combine soda water and syrup in your serving glass. A general rule of thumb is to use 1⁄4 cup syrup (2 ounces) for every 1 cup soda. But this can be readily customized based on your tastes.
Keep tasting and mixing until you reach your perfect combination of flavor and fizz.
Don’t mix up more than you immediately need because you start losing carbonation once you pour. It’s best to mix individual servings as needed to get the highest fizz factor.
If you have soda water left over, tightly seal the bottle cap and store it in the refrigerator.
Step 4: Play Mad Scientist
“Let your taste buds guide you in trying new flavors, and be open to trying something new,” Lynn says. “For example, adding an herb to your fruit syrup is the perfect gateway to experimenting with more savory flavored sodas.”
She recommends trying rosemary with strawberry, oregano with lemon, or lavender with berries. When making the simple-syrup recipe below, add a few sprigs of the fresh herb along with the fruit and let the flavors infuse as the syrup cools. Then, remove herbs before serving.
Think seasonally in your flavor experiments, savoring garden flavors during the growing season and enjoying citrus syrups in the winter months.
Above all, remember to rekindle that community connection found at soda fountains in decades past. Pour two glasses of homemade soda and invite someone to share in the fizzy drinks and lively conversation!
Sidebar: Simple Syrup
A staple soda-making ingredient, simple syrup is something you can keep in your refrigerator for drink sweetening throughout the summer.
As a liquid, simple syrup will dissolve much more readily into cold liquid than other sweeteners—no sugar crystals clumping together at the bottom of your glass. You can find simple syrup on grocery-store shelves, but it’s more economical to make this homespun version.
This syrup tastes best fresh and lasts about one week, so it’s a good idea to make small batches suited to the amount you’ll need for a couple days’ worth of homemade soda.
The proportions below make a medium-weight syrup, perfect for sweetening drinks. Use 3 cups water for an even lighter syrup or reduce to 1 cup water for thicker syrup suitable for sweetening cocktails.
You can easily double or triple this recipe to serve a crowd.
Traditionally, simple syrup is made with granulated white sugar. You can experiment with brown or other sugars, such as turbinado, which is less processed. While the flavor with these alternative sugars will be very rich and distinct, the darker color will alter the appearance of your drink.
You can keep your simple syrup as a basic sweetener or add other flavorings as it cools, such as vanilla extract for a vanilla syrup (great in iced coffee), grated ginger, or any fruit or herb combo.
Make the syrup the night before you make homemade soda for enhanced flavors.
Yield: approximately 2 cups
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- flavorings, such as fruit, herbs or extracts (optional)
- In a medium saucepan, stir together water and sugar. Bring to boil over high heat.
- Reduce to low heat. The syrup will turn clear as it boils.
- Stir until all sugar granules are dissolved, approximately 3 minutes. Do not continue to cook syrup after sugar dissolves or syrup will be too thick. Syrup will naturally thicken as it cools.
- Add desired flavorings.
- Remove from heat and cool completely. Remove any flavoring solids, such as fruit or herbs, by either straining syrup or removing with slotted spoon.
- Store syrup in sealed, airtight container in refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Make simple syrup last longer by freezing it in single-serving cubes.
Recipe: Rosemary Honey Soda Syrup
Blend savory and sweet with this herbal syrup. Feel free to experiment with other favorite garden herbs, such as basil or lemon verbena.
Yield: approximately 2 cups
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 cup honey
- Three 3-inch-long sprigs rosemary
- In medium saucepan over low heat, stir together water and honey and cook until all honey is dissolved, approximately 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in rosemary.
- Cool completely.
- Remove herbs and store syrup in sealed, airtight container in refrigerator for up to one week.
Rosemary is refreshing, even in the cooler months.
Recipe: Strawberry Soda Syrup
Yield: approximately 1 1/2 cups
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups fresh or frozen stemmed and quartered strawberries
- If using frozen strawberries, defrost first. Pour strawberry liquid into a measuring cup and add water to equal 1 cup liquid.
- In medium saucepan over high heat, stir together water (or water-juice mixture) and sugar, and bring to boil.
- Reduce heat to low and stir until sugar is dissolved.
- Add strawberries, then simmer about 10 minutes until strawberries are soft and sauce starts to thicken.
- Remove from heat and let cool.
- Strain liquid and save fruit for another use. Store syrup in sealed, airtight container in refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Recipe: Strawberry Summer Fizz Cocktail
Yield: 1 serving
- 1/3 cup Strawberry Soda Syrup
- 1/8 cup white rum
- 1/8 cup triple sec or other orange-flavored liqueur
- 1 tsp. lime juice
- 1 cup seltzer
- mint or lime, for garnish
- Mix strawberry syrup, rum, triple sec and lime juice in serving glass.
- Add seltzer and mix.
- Add ice and garnish.
Recipe: Tart-Cherry Cinnamon Soda Syrup
Yield: ~2 cups
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup fresh or frozen tart cherries, pitted
- 1 cinnamon stick
- If using frozen cherries, defrost first. Pour cherry liquid into a measuring cup and add water to equal 1/2 cup liquid.
- In medium saucepan, stir together sugar and water and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and stir until sugar is dissolved.
- Reduce heat to low, and add cherries and cinnamon. Simmer about 10 minutes until syrup is thick.
- Remove from heat and cool completely.
- Strain liquid, and save fruit for another use. Store syrup in sealed, airtight container in refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Recipe: Blackberry Lavender Syrup
From The Artisan Soda Workshop by Andrea Lynn
Yield: approximately 1 cup
- 2 cups blackberries
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup raw cane sugar
- 1 tsp. dried lavender flowers
- In medium pot over high heat, combine blackberries, water, sugar and lavender. Bring to boil and stir to dissolve sugar.
- Reduce heat to medium or medium-low.
- After about 5 minutes, smash blackberries with masher. Continue to simmer until berries are completely softened, about 5 more minutes.
- When finished cooking, remove from heat and let cool.
- Use fine-mesh sieve to strain berries and lavender from syrup, pressing berries against strainer to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard berries and lavender. Refrigerate in covered container for up to 5 days.
Recipe: Pear Ginger Soda Syrup
The maple syrup-infused pear pieces strained from the syrup are perfect for serving on vanilla ice cream.
Yield: ~2 cups
- 2 large pears, thinly sliced (Anjou pears work well.)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 tsp. ginger powder or 1/2 T. fresh grated ginger
- In medium saucepan over low heat, stir together pears, water, maple syrup and ginger. Cook until pears soften, about 30 minutes.
- Remove from heat, and cool to room temperature.
- Strain liquid and save fruit for another use. Refrigerate in sealed, airtight container for up to 1 week.
This article appeared in Hobby Farm‘s Best of Hobby Farms Home 2019, a specialty publication produced by the editors and writers of Hobby Farms magazine. You can purchase this volume, Hobby Farms back issues as well as special editions such asBest of Hobby Farms and Living off the Grid by following this link.