Make Pop from Plants
Combine herbs with sugar and yeast for soda pop that will beat the socks off anything you can buy in the store.
Fresh ginger combines with other flavors for a refreshing ginger ale.
Grit File Photo
Tonic Root Beer
Rose Petal Pop
With soft drinks as much a part of the junk-food pantheon as burgers and fries, it’s hard to imagine that physicians once promoted the drinks as cures for all sorts of ailments. In the late 1800s, druggists frequently served up root beer for well-being, ginger ale for nausea and Coca-Cola for hangovers.
Of course, the sodas of yesteryear were entirely different creatures from the ones we find today. They were made from natural ingredients – the roots, leaves, flowers and barks of plants credited with health benefits. But many pharmacists had received training as chemists, and they couldn’t resist the urge to experiment. By the early 1900s, synthesized flavorings were taking over.
Fortunately, the art of making pop from plants was not completely lost. For centuries, homemakers had been stirring up batches of “small beers” – low-alcohol, bubbly drinks – right alongside homebrewed beer. During Prohibition, when the only way to acquire beer was to make it yourself, the art of small beers also went through a revival.
You can rekindle this tradition in your own kitchen. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
- Large soup or spaghetti pot
- Plastic soda bottles with screw-on caps and/or bail-top beer bottles
- Unscented chlorine bleach
A Word on Yeast
Yeast and sugar are what give homebrewed sodas their carbonation. As the yeast cells consume sugar and reproduce, they create carbon dioxide and alcohol. Normally, carbon dioxide dissipates into the air. But trapped inside a closed bottle with sugary water, it has no choice but to infuse the liquid. The amount of alcohol in the finished product is very low.
Bread, ale, lager, wine and champagne yeasts contribute slightly different flavors, but all result in a fine fizz. The recipes here call for granulated yeast of any variety. I generally use champagne yeast because of its light flavor, but some people prefer the “yeastier” taste of bread and beer yeasts. Don’t use nutritional yeast (sometimes called brewer’s yeast), which is not alive and therefore will not produce carbonation.
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