Homemade Soda Tips and Tricks

Sara Bonisteel

Use homemade syrups to make classic egg creams as well as flavored sodas.Use homemade syrups to make classic egg creams as well as flavored sodas.Anton Nocito, founder of New York's P&H Soda Co., shares recipes and tips for making flavored soda pop with naturally sweetened syrups.

Homemade pantry staples are having their moment, with jams, butter, crackers, cheese, beer, and other traditionally store-bought sundries now being made from scratch. But what about soda? Thanks in part to the wide availability of home carbonation machines, crafting naturally flavored soda pops and soft drinks has never been more popular. Anton Nocito, the founder of Brooklyn's P&H Soda Co., has written a new book, Make Your Own Soda: Syrup Recipes for All-Natural Pop, Floats, Cocktails, and More, that details just how easy it is to make your own flavored sodas. All you need is a carbonation machine or a bottle of seltzer.

But does homemade necessarily mean healthier? "Some of the recipe ingredients are barely cooked, so you're getting more vitamins, but I wouldn't consider the sodas healthy," Nocito says. "I mean, it is still sugar." So why bother to make-and drink- homemade sodas at all, besides the fact that they're fun to whip up and customize according to your taste preferences? Because they're "definitely better for you than if you're drinking something that's not real, something that's made from artificial extracts and sweeteners."

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With name-brand sodas so cheap, it can be difficult to justify the work and expense involved with making your own, but if you buy bottled seltzer water, homemade soda won't cost you that much more. If you do invest in a home carbonation machine, take consolation in the fact that the cost amortizes over time, and that the price of ingredients won't break the bank. As Nocito points out, "A lot of the recipes call for a container of fruit or a couple of oranges, so that's not really costing you that much at the end of the day."

1) Keep the Water Cold:
In order for homemade syrup to mix properly with sparkling water, Nocito says to use cold carbonated water, with an emphasis on "not cold from the tap, but cold from the refrigerator. CO2 doesn't grab onto the water properly if it's above 38°F… When you start getting above 40°F it starts to taste a little flat. And the warmer it gets, the flatter it's going to be." At home, says Nocito, "We keep a glass jar of filtered water in the refrigerator, and my wife constantly uses that to fill her SodaStream bottles and carbonate."

2) Know the Shelf Life:
Certain herb-flavored syrups, like lemon verbena, don't last that long. "Lemon verbena is one of my favorite sodas ever," shares Nocito, "but the problem is after about three or four days, the syrup really changes in flavor. It doesn't taste the way it did when you first made it. The green herbs really change shortly afterwards. Other than that, flavors like lemon will generally last a week or two."

3) Experiment:
Don't let conventional flavors hold you back from tinkering with and creating flavors that you like. "I'm always surprised every time something works out," reveals Nocito. Take inspiration from some of his syrups: "The Seville orange was a really nice one. The apricot burdock soda uses dried apricots. When I started using dried fruits, it was a really fun thing because you had an intense flavor from the drying process. Fresh apricots just did not work. Banana syrup is a fun one. That was one of the first syrups I ever made. That one was, Surprise, you can make syrup! It's not cooked; it's just sugars pulling the flavors out of the bananas. It's kind of cool."

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4) Try Acids:
Creating your own drinks requires a balancing act between sweet and sour flavors. While lemon and lime juice, as well as vinegar, are traditional ingredients used to finesse and brighten flavors, Nocito also makes use of acid phosphate, citric acid, and lactic acid to achieve the same. He recommends using them in different recipes to impart a fresh taste that's not overtly lemony or limey. "If it's a lighter fruit, I recommend using lactic acid, and if it's darker like grape or chocolate, the phosphoric acid works really well," he says. Citric acid, he adds, works in many different recipes, but home soda makers should experiment to see what flavors they like best.

5) Pour and Mix Gently:
Nocito likes to add the syrup after the carbonated water is poured into the glass. "All the syrups in the book are not dense," he says, "so they'll generally sort of mix together on their own." Of course, the ratio you choose of syrup to seltzer water will determine how intensely flavored your soda will be.

6) Use in Cocktails:
Many of Nocito's flavored syrups can double as mixers for alcoholic drinks. In fact, his Pomegranate Syrup might be more familiar to cocktillians by its other name, grenadine. For a fresh take on cocktails, try mixing your favorite flavored syrup with vodka, gin, or sparkling wine.

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