Whether you’re a home cook or a home brewer, knowing how to make soda at home will be a valuable addition to your culinary skill set. Try these four soft drink recipes the next time you’re craving something sweet and unique.
Nothing beats a tall, frothy glass of homemade root beer.
Fizzy bubbles and full-bodied flavor rush the senses when you drink a tall glass of homemade soda. Making soda is easy: Create a flavor base, choose one of three methods of carbonation, add some flavoring and voila! A sweet and intense concoction of herbal liquid bliss right at your fingertips. This excerpt is taken from Homemade Soda (Storey Publishing, 2011) by Andrew Schloss, a comprehensive guide filled with recipes such as Orange Honey Ginger Ale and Anise Licorice Root Beer that are reminiscent of grandpa’s old-school soda fountain but with some zing.
• Orange Honey Ginger Ale recipe
• Curiosity Cola recipe
• Anise Licorice Root Beer recipe
• Ginseng Soda recipe
• Honeydew Mint Seltzer recipe
• Rooty Tooty Root Beer recipe
• Ginger Ginger Ale recipe
We are all used to the instant gratification of store-bought sodas, and you may have the impression that making sodas at home is overly time-consuming and technically beyond your reach. Nothing could be further from the truth. In some cases it’s almost ridiculously easy, and the results will beat commercial sodas hands-down, every time.
Homemade soda always starts with a flavor base. Some flavor bases are quick and simple. Others require more preparation and ingredients. Once prepared, the base can be used right away or refrigerated for spur-of-the-moment refreshment any time. I size the recipes for simple flavor bases for a single glass to give you flexibility. For flavor bases that are more complex, or those that can be used to make a variety of sodas, I give recipes for making them in bulk.
Once you have your base, it is time to add bubbles and turn your syrup into soda. I use three different methods of soda carbonation in my book:
For easy homemade soda that does not require any special equipment, you can simply mix your flavor base with bottled seltzer and drink up. Carbonating soda with a siphon is also very easy, but you do need that specialized gear. Or you can brew your soda in bottles with yeast: the least expensive but most time-consuming method.
I have included with each recipe instructions for each carbonation method that is appropriate for it. Not all sodas can be carbonated by all methods. A carbonated fruit juice, for example, would be weakened by a dilution of water or seltzer, so its recipe may specify only the siphon method of carbonation. Similarly, the recipe for a flavor base that needs to be fermented for flavor as well as carbonation, such as a honey soda, will specify only the fermentation method.
Soft drink flavors come from the fruits, roots, barks, leaves, and other parts of aromatic plants. In some cases soft drink recipes call for the plant parts themselves: burdock root, for example, or mint leaf. In other cases recipes may call for an extract, in which the aromatic components of a plant are extracted, concentrated, and suspended in alcohol. Still other recipes may call for essential oils, the volatile oils that give plants their characteristic scents and are potent flavoring agents.
Hundreds of plants fall into the flavoring category. Here’s some information on the most common ones:
Birch bark lends a mild wintergreen flavor to brewed sodas. Birch beer, flavored with sassafras and birch, is a classic American brew. Birch bark is usually sold in homebrew stores.
Bitter Orange (Bergamot) is highly aromatic, and its dried peel is an essential part of cola flavor. The dried peel and its extract are usually available in spice shops, or any store with a good spice selection. They can be pricey.
Burdock root is a traditional ingredient in American root beers. It has a mild sweet flavor similar to that of artichoke. Dried burdock root is available in most Asian groceries and homebrew stores.
Cinnamon has several species, but they all fall into two types. Ceylon cinnamon is thin and mild, with a faint fragrance of allspice. Southeast Asian cinnamon, also called cassia, is both stronger and more common. The best grade comes from Vietnam and is sold as Saigon cinnamon. Use it in sticks, rather than ground. The sticks can be found in most grocery stores.
Ginger, a common soda ingredient, is very aromatic, at once spicy and cooling. It is widely available fresh in the produce section of grocery stores, and it can be found whole and dried in most spice shops.
Lemongrass, a perennial herb from central Asia, contains high levels of citral, the pungent aromatic component of lemon oil. It yields a rich lemon flavor without the acid of lemon juice, which can disrupt the fermentation of yeasted sodas. Lemon zest is similar in flavor and can be substituted. Lemongrass is available in most Asian markets and in the produce section of well-stocked grocery stores.
Licorice root provides the well-known strong and sweet flavor of black licorice candy. Dried licorice root is sold in natural food stores and homebrew stores. Anise seed and dried star anise are suitable substitutes.
Sarsaparilla is similar in flavor to sassafras, but a little milder. Many plants go by the name sarsaparilla. Southern-clime sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.) is the traditional root-beer flavoring. Most of the supply we get in North America comes from Mexico; it’s commonly sold in homebrew stores. Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia spp.) is more common in North America and is sometimes used as a substitute for true sarsaparilla. Small young sarsaparilla roots, known as “root bark” are less pungent and are usually preferred for soda making, although fully mature roots give fine results.
Sassafras is the most common flavoring for root beers of all types. Its root bark is very strong and should be used with caution, especially if combined with other flavors. It is easily overpowering. Dried sassafras is available in homebrew stores.
Star anise, the dried fruit of an Asian evergreen, tastes like licorice, with hints of clove and cinnamon. The flavor is strong, so use star anise with caution. It is available dried in the spice section of most grocery stores but can be found much more cheaply at Asian markets.
Excerpted from Homemade Soda © Andrew Schloss, photography © Aran Goyoaga used with permission from Storey Publishing.
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