by Kate Payne
Photography by Jo Ann Santangelo
Born in drugstores and apothecaries, handmade syrup-flavored fizzy-water beverages from a soda fountain were the norm until commercial sodas started popping up at the end of the 19th century. Over time, those commercial sodas have moved even farther away from the beverages of long ago—containing less of the early natural herbal or root flavoring ingredients and more of the colorings, varieties of sweeteners and other faux flavorings.
Beyond the debatable ingredients list on modern-day sodas, as we become more conscientious of sugars in our diet, we are more likely to turn away from these concoctions. A standard 16-ounce bottle of soda has about 11 teaspoons of sugar, and the artificially sweetened versions are hardly health-promoting options.
Luckily, sodas made at home using homemade syrups made from fresh, whole ingredients are a fabulous and easy alternative to commercial sodas. Their flavors are complex, subtle and can highlight what’s in season. Yes, homemade syrups still contain sugars—either in the form of a sweetener or the juice from fruits—but they also contain fiber, vitamins and minerals that most commercial sodas don’t. Like the soda fountains that emerged in the 1800s, homemade syrups bring the handmade, seasonal and local aspect back to the experience of soda. In addition, the syrups can also be used in cocktails, swirled into plain yogurt or drizzled over ice cream.
Make these syrups refined-sugar-free by substituting honey or maple syrup (subbing the sugar one for one) or agave (by using 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons agave for ¼ cup sugar). Maple was our favorite sweetener of the sugar-free versions, and coconut palm sugar (subbed one for one with sugar) was a great substitute in the cream soda because it adds a layer of nutty flavor.
Important: To make a soda using the syrup, pour the club soda into the glass first, then add the syrup. (Do it the other way around and you’ll experience the voluminous fizz that will threaten to take over the glass and countertop!) Combining fruit syrups with cream soda is also a delicious idea. The cheater method for making fruit syrups into fruit-cream sodas is to add ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract to each finished 8-ounce soda. Make floats with the finished sodas by dropping a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream into the glass.