Friday, July 1, 2011

Homemade Soda Pop

Say what you will about the unhealthiness of soda pop, there is something undeniably summery about a big glass of root beer or sarsaparilla after a few hours of gardening.  (In fact, that might be one of the best anti-obesity messages out there:  go ahead and have a pop -- right after you've weeded the garden for an hour.)

Soft drinks are at once a part of American culture (think of all the rec rooms that are decorated in Coca-Cola advertising) and a part of the American problem.  And while I acknowledge that it would be both cheaper and healthier to restrict ourselves to water and unsweetened iced tea, I still love a glass of pop now and again.

Here's a good solution if you want to have your pop and your sustainability too:  Lehman's and others sell the syrup for homemade soda pop.  You can control the sweetener this way, an important issue since both HFCS and aspartame have both come under fire for possible health consequences.  Also, you are paying to ship a tiny little bottle instead of participating in the shipment -- in large plastic bottles, often -- of gallons and gallons of what is primarily water.

Cost wise, this is favorable.  A gallon of this mix will take about $1.90 worth of syrup and about 80 cents worth of sugar, plus a little yeast if you want to carbonate the mix (I usually don't, because I actually like flat pop).  That translates to about $1.15 in inputs; let's call it about $1.25 per 2 litre bottle if you follow the instructions in the box for that project.  That is on the high side, when you can get pop on sale for 99 cents per 2-litre, but it is very favorable if you compare to specialty pops that use cane sugar and come in specialty flavors, often for $1.00 per 12 oz. serving.

The specialty flavors are what make this project fun.  Sarsaparilla, spruce beer, and ginger beer are all unique flavors that I love -- in fact, it is worth keeping a bottle of the ginger beer around to mix up in the event of upset stomachs.  We are not big fans of the cola flavor, although I think that is because we have all been trained since infancy to like the flavor of Coke or Pepsi, and these are close but not exact.  However, Mr. FC&G has been looking for a cola with a drier flavor, and I think he can find it here by tailoring the mix to his liking.

The Analysis

Fast:  Takes practically no time to mix up, although you do have to allow 4-6 days if you want the yeast to add fermentation. 

Cheap:  While probably not cheaper than the mainstream pop varieties, certainly a financial win over the specialty flavors, and with the ability to choose your own sweetener.  And, just as important, you aren't contributing to the shipment of water over long distances, one of the least sustainable practices ever.

Good:  Treat yourself to some of the classic flavors that you don't usually see bottled in stores, or keep some around to mix up a treat.  A little box of extract is certainly easier to keep than a case of pop, and the flavors will be the talk of your next cook-out.
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