Post-Consumer Pantry: Soda minus the guilt

Oh, the sweet effervescence of soda. This syrupy, bubbly concoction is a staple of the American diet, for better or for worse. The back of a Coke can is a jumble of unpronounceable words and scary-sounding chemicals, and rumor has it, a splash of Coca-Cola will remove rust, blood and oil stains. Is this really what we want sloshing around our stomachs next to our hard-earned organic veggies?

When Rich and I decided to move away from packaged goods and focus on homemade staples, we relegated soda to a special occasion treat. Then we realized that, just like vanilla extract and English muffins, we could probably make soda at home. Like many of our friends, we already owned a soda maker and drank plenty of seltzer. All we needed was syrup.

After several attempts, we finally found something that tastes like cola. It has a rich, complex flavor that mixes orange, lemon and lime zest with winter spices and vanilla. We used the vanilla sugar we had in the pantry from January's column ( If you don't have any on hand (it takes a couple weeks for the flavor to set in), use a vanilla bean and regular sugar instead. Since we didn’t use food coloring, the cola doesn’t have that deep, dark color of Coke, but the taste will still make you smile.

If you’re not crazy about the taste of cola or would prefer something more plant-based, we included a ginger ale recipe that has a sweet, yet earthy, flavor. Next time you sit down with a bowl of popcorn, wash it down with soda you can feel good about. Just grab a local pint glass — like these Asheville-centric glasses made by Etchville — and drink up.


1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cardamon
1/4 tsp. citric acid
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1 tsp. molasses
Zest of one lime
Zest of one lemon
Zest of one orange
2 cups water
2 cups vanilla sugar (or 2 cups sugar and one 2" piece of vanilla bean split open)

Combine water, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamon, citric acid, ginger, molasses, and zests (along with vanilla bean if using that method) in a pot and bring to boil. Simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Transfer sugar to a large bowl.

Pour the liquid into sugar, using a strainer or cheesecloth to catch any solids.

Stir sugar and liquid together until all the sugar has dissolved.

Transfer to jar and refrigerate until ready to mix. 2-4 tbs. of syrup per 1 cup seltzer, to taste.

Ginger Ale

1 lemon
1 cup minced fresh ginger
1.5 cups sugar
2.5 cups water

Juice lemon reserving one thick slice from the middle.

Combine lemon juice, lemon slice, ginger, sugar and water in pot and bring to boil. Simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Pour liquid mixture into bowl, using a strainer or cheesecloth to catch any solids.

Return the liquid to pot. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until liquid has reduced by half.

Transfer to jar and refrigerate until ready to mix. 2-4 tbs. of syrup per 1 cup seltzer, to taste.

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