A Shared Tradition: Soda

August 24, 2012

In her biweekly column, A Shared TraditionCIA grad and amateur food historian Molly Siegler cruises around the world (and into the depths of her pantry) to explore the versatility of a single food item. 

This week: Molly rounds up four bubbly drinks to kick off the weekend.

Celery Soda
Celery Soda (photo by James Ransom)

Molly

I grew up calling anything not water or milk a "special drink." I’ll admit it: I still call everything other than tap water a special drink. Everyone knows anything bubbly is particularly special. 

Sodas get a bad rap these days, but making your own fizzy drinks circumvents the overly sugary or chemically sweetened nature of some commercial varieties and any accompanying consumption bans. So, break out the soda water and bendy straws and enjoy every sip.

Vietnamese
Soda sữa hột gà is a sophisticated version of an ice cream float.

  • Egg yolks ground this fizzy drink and tint the end result the palest amber.
  • Sweetened condensed milk mingles with the egg yolk to create an instant creamy syrup.
  • Drizzle club soda into the sticky base and stir vigorously.

English
Ginger beer is a fermented drink that originated in breweries in the 18th century and made its way around the world with British soldiers.

  • Grated fresh ginger ratchets up the heat and has this soda teetering on the edge of savory.
  • Sugar and baker’s yeast work together to create a natural fizz (and the slightest hint of alcohol).
  • A generous squeeze of lime juice amplifies the effervescence.

Trinidadian
Hibiscus flowers are all over the Caribbean -- popping up in teas most famously. Sorrel soda is Trinidad’s rendition.

  • Sorrel is the base of the flower bud (the sepal) on a hibiscus plant -- not to be confused with the lemony spinach doppelgänger -- and is used fresh in this soda.
  • Cinnamon sticks steep with the flowers in boiling water.
  • Sugar helps to balance hibiscus' natural astringency.
  • The cooled sorrel concentrate is right at home swirled into a glass of soda water.

Italian
Spuma al cedro is an electric green afternoon pick-me-up shared in Italian cafés. 

  • Cedro (or citron) are hefty citrus fruit with a chartreuse rutted rind and a thick pith. Stew the citron peel in simple syrup to infuse the soda with the fruit’s signature floral aroma.
  • Add cold flat or sparkling water to the citron syrup for a drink reminiscent of a citron pressé.
  • Try your hand at candying citron for an outrageously fun edible garnish.

Concord Grape and Lemon Soda Orange Ginger Mint Soda
Concord Grape and Lemon Soda and Orange Ginger Mint Sodas. Photos by Jennifer Causey (left) and James Ransom.

These are just a few of the ways I like to travel by way of bubbly sodas. What other regionally inspired flavors would you use to make these "special drinks" your own? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

Do you love a good food theme as much as I do? Tell me what food items or themes you'd like to see featured in this column and your idea could be the subject of an upcoming post!

Like this post? See Molly's previous topic: Doughnuts and Fritters.

Molly is a chef and food educator living and cooking in northern Wisconsin. When she's not dreaming up themed menus, she's dishing out other delicious content as the editorial assistant for the Whole Foods Market Cooking program.

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2 Comments Add a Comment
  • Don4

    dgibson says: Molly, Please tell me not to worry about Salmonella in the Vietnamese egg soda, which otherwise sounds yummy. dpg

    about 1 year ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: Well, there is always a slight risk when using raw eggs, but choose pasteurized eggs for the safest bet. The author of the recipe claims that the carbonation in the soda water acts to "cook" the egg yolk, but I couldn't find any foundation for that assertion. I would love to know if you end up making it!

    about 1 year ago

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