Homemade Soda Basics

Brew your own healthy, refreshing sodas from the comfort of your own home and feel bubbly with glee. Learn the basics and see what you can make.

Photo by fahrwasser

Before the modern soda craze, which has caused all manner of health problems and sugar addictions, people made their own refreshing, fermented drinks at home. Most early recipes refer to these drinks as “beer” or “ale,” and the entire family drank them, including young children. These weren’t high-alcohol beverages, though — most only fermented 1 to 3 percent alcohol, if that. Instead, these drinks were a way to pass along the nutrition, flavor, and medicinal effects of various plants. They were often much safer than the water available in settled areas.

Some drinks weren’t even carbonated, but rather simple mixes of various liquids — water, vinegar, maple syrup, molasses, and so on — and flavoring ingredients. Up until the early 19th century, pharmacists recommended sodas containing certain plant materials to help with ailments. Over time, synthetic ingredients replaced the natural ones, until sodas became the sugar-packed drinks we’re accustomed to today.

Luckily, you can easily recreate the old-time versions of these beverages at home with equipment and ingredients you likely already have on hand. You can incorporate a wild array of flavors into your home soda brews, and you can further diversify each drink’s flavor and medicinal benefits by using different parts of the plant, from the leaves and stems to the flowers, fruits, and roots.

Brewing Basics

For a 1-gallon batch of soda, you’ll need the essential tools and ingredients listed at right. Once you get your soda-brewing technique down, you can modify this basic blueprint to make a near-infinite range of drinks.

To develop your own soda recipes, you’ll need to follow some basic guidelines. Yeast turns sugar into alcohol if left to ferment long enough, but you’ll be bottling before this can happen, so there’ll be some residual sugar rather than alcohol. And because carbon dioxide (CO2) is a byproduct of fermentation, your drink will be carbonated rather than alcoholic. Even if you did let this ferment fully, it would contain no more than 1 to 2 percent alcohol. Just keep in mind that you’re not using the high-fructose corn syrup found in most commercial sodas, so the finished product will taste differently from what you’re used to.

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