How to Make Homemade Soda

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how-to-make-homemade-soda

Let’s say it’s a hot summer day, and you’d like a nice refreshing glass of ginger ale. Looking at the two ingredient lists below, which would you rather drink?

Number 1: Carbonated Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Natural Flavors, Caramel Color (notice the lack of the word “ginger”?)

Number 2: Water, Cane Sugar, Fresh Ginger, Fresh Lemon Juice, Yeast

Personally, I’d go with number 2. If you haven’t guessed already, #1 is one of the leading supermarket brands, and #2 is homemade.

People have been making homemade soda for hundreds of years – it is incredibly easy and fun to make, and in many cases, it’s even cheaper than the commercial versions. Additionally, homemade sodas can be healthier as well – not only can you control the amount of sugar, but you get all the health benefits of the natural herbs and spices used, plus B-complex vitamins from the yeast.

The main difference between store-bought and homemade sodas (other than the chemicals, of course) is the way they are carbonated. Store-bought soda is mixed, then has carbon dioxide pumped in to give it the bubbles.

Homemade soda is mixed, and then yeast is added. After a day or two, the yeast has eaten some of the sugar and released carbon dioxide bubbles. This is basically the same process as brewing beer, but you don’t let it ferment as long, so alcohol does not form.

how-to-make-homemade-soda

Speaking of yeast, you’ll need to get some! You can use the standard bread yeast if that’s all you have, but yeast specifically designed for brewing will turn out much better. You can use wine yeast, but DON’T use a lager yeast – it can over-carbonate your soda and lead to exploding bottles. Also, you can’t use nutritional yeast; the yeast cells are no longer active, and you’ll wind up with a flat soda.

The only hardware you’ll need to start, other than some normal kitchen items, is a few plastic bottles. Just save a few 2-liter soda bottles (after washing them well). I’ll talk about using glass bottles a little later in the post, but it’s easier to start with plastic for your first couple batches.

You’ll also need some measuring cups and spoons, a large non-reactive mixing pot, a spoon for stirring, a funnel and strainer, and probably a knife and a grater (depending on your ingredients). A thermometer is also handy, but not absolutely necessary.

Regardless of the recipe, you’re using, the basic steps for making soda are the same. I’m going to go over the basic procedure first, then get into specific recipes at the end.

The first step will be to sanitize all your bottles and utensils to eliminate the chance of any bacteria spoiling the taste of your soda. You can buy a commercial sanitizer at your local homebrewing store, but a 20-minute soak in a solution of water and chlorine bleach (1 tablespoon bleach per 1 gallon of water) works just as well. After the soak, be sure to thoroughly wash and rinse everything; you don’t want any traces of bleach killing off your yeast! You can use a baby bottle brush to scrub inside the soda bottles.

how-to-make-homemade-soda

Next, you’ll mix all your ingredients (sugar, water, and flavorings) together, following the recipes at the end of this post. The above picture shows ingredients for the Lemon Lime soda. Then, proof your yeast by filling a cup with 100-degree water (not too hot or you’ll kill the yeast) and stirring in your yeast. Let this sit for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

how-to-make-homemade-soda

Add the yeast liquid to your other liquid. If you’ve brought it to a boil, make sure it’s cooled down enough (this is where the thermometer comes in handy) – remember, don’t kill your yeast! The above picture shows me adding the yeast mixture to root beer. You should swish the yeast cup around in the mixture to rinse it as best as you can; all the yeast will probably not have dissolved at this point.

Next, pour an equal amount of the mix into each of your 2-liter soda bottles. You’ll probably want to strain the mixture as it goes in to remove any large bits of roots, citrus, ginger, or whatever else you’ve used for flavoring. Top the bottles off with plain, room temperature water, leaving about 1-2 inches of air at the top. Cap them, give them a quick shake or two, then store them at room temperature for a couple of days.

how-to-make-homemade-soda

how-to-make-homemade-soda

You should monitor your bottles every day to determine when there is enough carbonation. This is why I suggested using a plastic bottle for the first few batches – you can do the squeeze test. When the bottles are nice and firm, usually after 2-3 days, it’s time to move everything to the refrigerator. This is critical! If the bottles are left at room temperature, the fermentation process will continue and you’ll start making alcohol.

This will be the least of your worries, though; the bottles will explode before too long. The photo below shows a bottle I left out a bit too long; you can see stress fractures forming in the plastic from the pressure.

how-to-make-homemade-soda

If, after a few days, your bottles don’t feel firm, just leave them out a bit longer. As long as your yeast was good, they should eventually pressurize. You could always add a tiny bit more yeast and shake it up to speed up the process.

The worst case scenario is that your soda will be flat – it’s still very tasty!

Most soda recipes call for sugar, but you could try substituting honey for a slightly different flavor (plus getting the local honey benefits). You’ll have to do a little experimenting to find the exact ratio to substitute; I’ve found a 1-to-1 ratio works fine for some recipes but is too sweet for others.

You can also use a no-calorie sweetener such as Stevia in place of some of the sugar. You can’t use just Stevia by itself, as the yeast will not consume it. You’ll have to experiment to find out the minimal amount of sugar needed; start with half of what the recipe calls for and go from there. Personally, if I’m making soda this way I like to add the Stevia to each glass when I’m ready to drink, but you could add it in the bottle if you’d prefer.

When you’re ready to drink, be sure to open your bottles slowly, either outside or over the sink. I’ve had several batches of ginger ale that were so highly carbonated that it took 3-4 minutes of hissing through a loosened cap before the pressure was gone; if I had just taken it off quickly I would have had a nice fountain.

how-to-make-homemade-soda

So, now you’ve made a few batches in 2-liter plastic bottles, and you’d like to move on to real glass bottles. I’ll admit, it’s somehow more satisfying to open up a glass bottle than to twist off the top of a recycled 2-liter! You can use standard bottles and a bottle capper, but I prefer the swing-top bottles myself; the price for a case of 12 is less than just the bottle capper, and there’s no extra work to reseal them. Ikea also sells a swing-top bottle, if you don’t want to do mail order.

how-to-make-homemade-soda

how-to-make-homemade-soda

Amazon sells a few “butterfly” style bottle cappers, but they are very tricky to use if you don’t have exactly the right type of bottle. I prefer the bench style capper above, I’ve never had a problem capping any bottle with it.

If you do decide to cap your own, you’ll need to find some bottles, obviously. You can either buy brand new or just use recycled beer bottles. You want to make sure you’re not using the type of bottle that had a twist-off cap; you want to be able to cap them properly yourself. And never try to just cork a soda bottle!

Homemade Soda Recipes

Now for the recipes. If you want to try something extremely simple for your first batch, you can get a soda extract in many different flavors. These come with complete directions (basically the same as above), and makeup to 4 gallons of tasty soda. However, the real fun is making your own from scratch; try one of the following recipes, and have fun!

 “Basic” Root Beer

0.3 oz. dried sassafras root bark
About 4 quarts of water
2 cups of sugar
1/8 teaspoon yeast

  1. Add the sugar, root bark, and 2 quarts of water to a non-reactive pot. Simmer (do not boil), covered, for about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for another 25 minutes.
  2. While the mixture is simmering, proof the yeast in a small amount of warm water.
  3. Once the mixture has cooled to lukewarm (some ice may be necessary to cool it off quicker), add the yeast mixture.
  4. Strain your mixture into two 2-liter plastic soda bottles, then top off with cool water leaving about an inch or two of air at the top.
  5. Cap the bottles, give them a few good shakes and store for a couple of days. Watch them, and bottle according to the instructions above.

(Note: You can make a nice sassafras tea by just simmering the root bark, leaving out the yeast, and adding the same amount of sugar you would normally use for tea)

 “Advanced” Root Beer / Sarsaparilla Soda

how-to-make-homemade-soda

5 T dried sassafras root bark
9 T dried sarsaparilla root
1/4 C raisins, chopped
About 4 quarts of water
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon yeast

  1. Add the sugar, sassafras, sarsaparilla, raisins, and 2 quarts of water to a non-reactive pot. Simmer (do not boil), covered, for about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for another 25 minutes.
  2. While the mixture is simmering, proof the yeast in a small amount of warm water.
  3. Once the mixture has cooled to lukewarm (some ice may be necessary to cool it off quicker), add the yeast mixture.
  4. Strain your mixture into two 2-liter plastic soda bottles, then top off with cool water leaving about an inch or two of air at the top.
  5. Cap the bottles, give them a few good shakes and store for a couple of days. Watch them, and bottle according to the instructions above.

Ginger Ale

1.3 oz. fresh ginger, coarsely grated
1/2 of a large lemon, cut into several pieces
About 4 quarts of water
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon yeast

  1. Add the sugar, ginger, lemon, and 2 quarts of water to a non-reactive pot. Simmer (do not boil), covered, for about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for another 25 minutes.
  2. While the mixture is simmering, proof the yeast in a small amount of warm water.
  3. Once the mixture has cooled to lukewarm (some ice may be necessary to cool it off quicker), add the yeast mixture.
  4. Strain your mixture into two 2-liter plastic soda bottles, then top off with cool water leaving about an inch or two of air at the top.
  5. Cap the bottles, give them a few good shakes and store for a couple of days. Watch them, and bottle according to the instructions above.

Lemon Lime Soda

2 lemons
5 limes
About 4 quarts of water
2 cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon yeast

  1. Heat 2 quarts of water just enough to dissolve the sugar. Let the sugar water cool, adding ice if necessary.
  2. Proof the yeast in a small amount of warm water.
  3. Juice the lemons and limes, then add the juice to the sugar water.
  4. Add the yeast and water, swishing out the cup to rinse it.
  5. Strain your mixture into two 2-liter plastic soda bottles, then top off with cool water leaving about an inch or two of air at the top.
  6. Cap the bottles, give them a few good shakes and store for a couple of days. Watch them, and bottle according to the instructions above.
  • Dan says:

    When you fill the bottles I’m assuming you fill the bottle half way with the strained mixture and then the rest of the way with cool water? Is that correct?
    I love this and I’m gonna try it as soon as possible.

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Dan, you want to divide the strained mixture equally between the two bottles and then top off with plain water. They might not be exactly halfway full, as long as the amount in each one is the same.

  • Dexter says:

    What’s the difference between using sassafras root bark and using sassafras root? I make up tea quite often in the winter with just the root.

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Dexter, The difference is that sassafras root bark has more of the essential oils from the plant. Sassafras root is not as potent.

  • Alex says:

    How long do the sodas last?

    • Jennifer says:

      Alex, I’m not sure how long the soda will last because we go through it pretty quick. Opened it probably would last about as long as store bought soda. Unopened I don’t know. For food storage I would store the ingredients and make as needed/wanted.

  • C. w. says:

    Where can I purchase sarsaparilla root and sassafras root bark?

  • Tina says:

    Thanks for this excellent tutorial and the accompanying recipes!

  • melissa says:

    hello! I cant wait to make these! Thankyou for the tutorial. One quick question though…..After you bottle them do they need to be stored in the frige or can they sit in the pantry? Thankyou!!

    • Bill Osuch says:

      They need to go into the fridge, otherwise the yeast will keep going, producing more and more carbonation, and your bottle will explode (or at least blow it’s top).

  • melissa says:

    Hello Bill! I made the lemon lime, root beer and ginger soda and it all tastes great! The only thing is that when I poured it into the bottles (it was very carbonated)capped them and put them into the frige. I pulled 3 out (about an hour later)and opened them and all the carbonation is gone.They still taste great but with no fizz. I did use regular yeast and I bottled them the same way you did. I took them back out of the frige and am letting them sit out room temp in hopes of getting the carbonation back.
    Can you help me??? I am so bumbed. I know its my first time making it but so I know it will take some time to perfect but I just dont know really what to do! 🙂 Thanks!

    • Bill Osuch says:

      How long did you allow the yeast to work before moving the bottles to the refrigerator? They have to sit out (after capping) a bit to allow them to pressurize; when you put them in the cold the yeast should stop, and they won’t pressurize any further. What I usually do is to fill one small water bottle (like a 16 ounce bottle) along with the glass bottles, then when that is nice and firm again I move everything into the fridge.

  • Rebecca Maynard says:

    I was looking at the affiliate link for the swing top bottles. Do they have to be a dark glass or would clear work just as well?

    • Bill Osuch says:

      Clear glass works just as well as dark… If you were brewing actual beer, you’d want dark bottle, since UV light can react with the acids in the beer and make it go bad, but it has no affect on soda.

  • tammy says:

    This was really interesting! I remember my dad making home made wine and one year he decided to make root beer for us kids. He must have missed the part where your supposed to put it in the fridge to stop fermentation, because when he deemed it done, he allowed us to call our friends over for a tasting party. Upshot of all this was that none of the parents could figure out why all the kids were acting crazy, eventually tracking drown that they had all been at our house drinking SODA POP!!! Dad tested the SODA POP, only to fid out that it had very high alcohol content!!! After 40 years, we still laugh about it!!!

  • Suzanne says:

    Want to try this out. Wondering what kind of pot is considered “non-reactive”? Do you have to use copper? We have Circulon cookware, will that work? Thanks! I am trying to do more things from scratch to control ingredients.

    • Bill Osuch says:

      A reactive pan or pot is made from a metal that will react chemically with other foods or liquids. Aluminum and copper pans can react with acidic ingredients (like lemon juice) and give off a metallic taste. Non-reactive pots would be stainless steel, enamelware, and all the varieties of Circulon/Calphalon/Teflon.

  • Tara says:

    Thank you for these recipes! My husband just recently got into beer-brewing so all of this makes sense to me 🙂 I cant wait to try these recipes with the kids!

  • cindi p says:

    these recipes look great! one question……the directions for advanced root beer and ginger ale are identical 🙂 surprised no one else noticed!! would you be so kind as to clarify and maybe correct the directions for the ginger ale? thanks a bunch!!

    • Bill Osuch says:

      Thanks for catching that! I’ve corrected the text above, but the steps are pretty much the same – put everything in a pot and simmer for 25 minutes. That’s what makes these so easy!

  • Susan Lynn says:

    What would be the pros and cons of using already carbonated water to make your sodas?

    • Bill Osuch says:

      A pro to using some form of carbonated water (seltzer, club soda, sparkling mineral water, etc.) is that you need less time to make your soda. Instead of needing a couple days to ferment and carbonate a recipe using yeast, you would mix up a concentrated syrup recipe and add the carbonated water when you’re ready to drink (see my post on orange soda for a sample recipe). The cons would be the cost (water and a packet of yeast are considerably cheaper), and the potential added sodium and other chemicals – be sure to look for a low- or no-sodium brand. Also, it’s easier to perfect the flavor of the soda if you’re carbonating it yourself – you can sample it and adjust the flavor any time before adding the yeast to carbonate, but it’s not as easy to sample and fix a concentrated syrup.

  • Monica Eisenman says:

    I have tried making lemon soda but nothing happens. I read somewhere that yeast can have a hard time with the acidity of the lemons. Is this something you know anything about?

    Kind regards,
    Monica

  • Rowena Philbeck says:

    Thanks for all the instructions. I haven’t made any of these and wanted to try them. Can’t wait to start making my own.

  • Candie says:

    Hi there, can the yeast be substituted with ginger bug?

  • Chris Dry says:

    Hello. Is there a way to kill the yeast after the level of carbonation is reached? I am using PET bottles, so i dont think i can pasturize them.

    Thanks

    • Bill Osuch says:

      You can slow it down (but not kill it) by refrigerating, or you could add potassium sorbate (found in homebrewing stores) to render any surviving yeast incapable of multiplying. Yeast currently living moment can continue fermenting any residual sugar. Refrigeration is usually your best bet.

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