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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, July 28, 2014

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Skip the store soda and do-it-yourself from the comfort of your own kitchen.
Skip the store soda and do-it-yourself from the comfort of your own kitchen.

So you think you can make soda pop?

This past year one of the big trends was do-it-yourself soda. Sound like fun? Well it is, and if you're not careful it can be messy fun.

I set out to create the most popular soda you might find; a version of a homemade Coca-Cola.

There are a couple of kits and carbonators on the market that are relatively affordable. William Sonoma sells the iSi's Twist 'n Sparkle for $49.95, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond sells the SodaStream Pure Soda Maker for $130.

Most kits on the market offer an option to use their version of syrup that you mix with carbonated water – pretty easy. Well, I skipped that part and made the syrup all from scratch using all-natural ingredients – no food coloring, no fructose corn syrup or preservatives. Not an easy task.

First you have to procure the ingredients. You can read the back of the label, but that doesn't give you the recipe. So I turned to the internet to hunt down some kind of starting point.

This recipe was like putting together a puzzle with missing pieces and only your taste buds to guide. I learned most soft drinks require citric acid to some degree, a water-soluble powder having a strong acidic taste, obtained by fermentation of crude sugar or corn sugar. Thankfully, I didn't have to do that part; you can find citric acid pretty easily – The Spice House carries it and it's not expensive.

Another ingredient hurdle was cassia oil; this is supposedly the secret ingredient to Coca-Cola. This Vietnamese cinnamon oil usually is used for aromatherapy. This hard-to-find ingredient is essential for flavoring and is very intense. You can find this at most health food stores.

I found in Coca-Cola they use lemon oil, orange oil, citric acid, cassia oil, vanilla (I used fresh bean paste), caffeine (which I chose to omit, but crushed NoDoz can be used) and carbonated water. I recommend finding the oils; extracts lack the potency.

One of the challenges about recreating the cola syrup was the color. I attempted to create the right flavor by caramelizing the raw sugar in place of food coloring. The result was a flavor combination of crème brulee and cream soda. I really don't think you can get past the food coloring. I wanted to create a natural version; in future experiments I would look for natural ways to create color.

Another challenging aspect was the ratio of syrup to carbonated water. Coca-Cola is known for its crisp flavor. If you're not careful when playing with carbonation you might end up wearing more cola than drinking – at one point I felt I was in an "I Love Lucy" episode covered in "faux coke."

The end result was pretty good; either way it wasn't a half bad way to spend an afternoon. The ironic part is since being diagnosed with diabetes a couple years ago I gave up soft drinks altogether.

I will admit to enjoying an occasional Mexican Coca-Cola; they say the taste of cane sugar compared to fructose corn syrup is negligible. However, the flavor takes me back to childhood days when Dad would teach me there is a technique to pouring coke: "Pour down the side of the glass not over the ice, nothing worse than flat coke!"

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