Returning a joy of summer to its healthful origins
By Jordan Champagne
Photography by Michelle Magdalena
Summer fruits can be preserved in many different ways. But what could be more fun than making soda with your friends and kids this summer? Creating your own soda with fresh fruits reveals the most amazing colors and flavors that they have to offer. And when you make your own soda, you control the ingredients. Soda can make an ordinary summer day seem like a party, so why do we feel bad about drinking it?
Soda has rightfully developed a very bad reputation. But if we dig a little into its history, we discover that it has very honorable and authentic roots. Soda began with natural mineral springs, which humans have long visited for the health benefits they are believed to provide. Some of these healing waters have naturally occurring bubbles, and our love for carbonated beverages originates from them. Scientists eventually discovered that carbon dioxide was behind the bubbles in natural mineral waters, and in 1767 the first drinkable, manmade glass of carbonated water was created. It was the dawn of a new era for humans and their beverage consumption.
Drinking natural or artificial mineral waters was considered a healthy practice. Pharmacists were the original dispensers of mineral waters, and they began adding medicinal herbs to heighten the beverages’ beneficial properties. They added things like ginger, birch bark, dandelion, lemon, elderberry and other fruit extracts. I can think of a lot of situations when I crave soda as a therapeutic application: grapefruit soda for morning sickness, ginger ale for nausea and good old lemon soda for a fever. In just the same way, drugstores were serving soda for these common ailments.
The early drugstores with their soda fountains became a popular part of American culture. As they evolved into the central attraction in many American towns, pharmacists were providing beverages that were part pharmacology and part refreshment. People began wanting to take some home with them, and, thus, the bottled soda industry was born.
But it was at this time that soda began to greatly stray from its therapeutic path. The medicinal herbs and fruit extracts began to disappear from the beverages and eventually, unmentionables like high-fructose corn syrup became the main ingredients.
Few other items have stirred up as much health controversy as soda. Studies connect consumption of soda to such modern health epidemics as diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, obesity, kidney disease and some cancers. I remember when soda vending machines were introduced into schools and then when they were banned from schools. It is ironic that an item that was once sought after for its health benefits and distributed by pharmacists has now become something that doctors warn us against.
It is high time that we take back soda—that we relish in its effervescence and dance to its beautiful reds and oranges. No need to cringe when someone offers you a soda. You just have to be sure you are drinking the right stuff.
Healthful soda can be easily produced at home by making a fresh, healthy syrup and combining it with sparkling water. If you have a home sparkling water maker that will carbonate filtered tap water, you can feel even better about the soda you create, by reducing its carbon footprint by skipping the bottles in which commercially produced sparkling waters are delivered. (The nonprofit Carbon Trust has given drinks made by one brand of home carbonator a carbon footprint rating that is 80% lower than some commercially produced sodas.)
As with anything you cook up at home, you’ll have the freedom to experiment with fruits, spices, herbs and sweeteners when you make your own sodas. There are different techniques for extracting the juices for syrups from berries, stone fruits and citrus, and for that reason, I have included two recipes. Feel free to adapt them with ingredients of your choice!
Jordan Champagne is the co-owner of Happy Girl Kitchen Co. She has a passion for preserving the local, organic harvest and loves sharing her secrets at the workshops she teaches across the region.
EXPLORE: Inspired by her experiments for this piece, Champagne has organized a new class, “Syrups, shrubs, infusions and candied citrus,” that she’ll hold on June 20 at Happy Girl Kitchen Café in Pacific Grove. For more information, go to: happygirlkitchen.com.