I've been sober for more than six years (since I was 22). I'm also a restaurant reviewer, which means that I've developed an autopilot routine of swiftly handing the drink list back to the host or hostess before my butt’s even in the seat. "Unsweetened iced tea would be perfect!"
Sadly, most mocktails can quickly go from a healthy choice to a high-calorie one—between the sodas, the syrups, and the sugars used—so more often than not, they are a hard pass.
Enter: the SodaStream. The product I was hoping would be the cure to falling into an iced-tea-or-bust rut. When it arrived at my house, the creative child in me thought, “Look out, 2018, here comes your newest non-alcoholic-beverage-barista-mixologist.” Full disclosure: I’ve never tried to come up with my own drink recipes before. But with the mocktail struggle being all too real, it was time to start.
Using my knowledge of cooking and my vast experience as a human person who drinks cold beverages, I decided to give infusing a go, and now I had the SodaStream to help me. But are the results just as good as store-bought seltzers and bartender-yielding mocktails? And is this DIY form of carbonating your water worth the investment, the counter space, the hype?
My First Go With a SodaStream
The process is fairly simple: Fill the provided glass bottle with water, then twist and secure the glass bottle inside the main compartment, kind of like securing a Magic Bullet blender in place. Start to pump the big button on top in small bursts to carbonate it. The more you pump, the more carbonated it will get. If you push down too hard, it will scare the crap out of you. If you want to add flavor—add the flavor drops to the water (yes, it's that easy).
For my first drink, I made myself a seltzer with a lemon-lime flavor and one with a raspberry flavor for my husband. We drank them out of chic ribbed glass bottles with black caps on them that, as far as I know, are just meant to look cool for the sake of it.
Result: It tasted just like store-bought seltzer! Oh, the novelty.
Experimenting With SodaStream
On day two with my SodaStream, I wanted to tap into the world of DIY. (This meant I wasn't going to use the flavors they provide.) Fresh Direct arrived with an unholy amount of fruits and vegetables because I got carried away. Here's what I created, loved, and hated.
- Since cucumbers are composed largely of water, and I’ve had many glasses of cucumber water before a facial, I have a feeling this will work out. I slice a few the long way with a vegetable peeler and dropped them in the bottle provided, letting them marinate for 10 mins.
- Result: Exactly as I’d hoped. Cucumber seltzer, which you can’t find in stores.
- So far, so good.
Blackberry and Cantaloupe
- I squish a few pieces of cantaloupe into a handheld juicer (sounds weird, but it works), then dump the fruit into the bottom of the glass along with the juice. Ditto with the blackberries. I pour the freshly carbonated soda into the glass, add stevia, and watch as it instantly turns into a foam while praying that it doesn’t turn into a full-on volcano like I'm in a high-school science class. I place it in the fridge for 15 minutes.
- Result: Um, the colors are really pretty. There are floating bits of blackberry in the glass, which is nice, but I could probably just put a few berries and slices of cantaloupe on the rim of a glass of regular seltzer and achieve the same effect.
- This was a waste of time.
Orange and Vanilla
- My favorite seltzer flavor of all time is an orange-vanilla flavor with a glorious zero-calorie label, and I wonder, If I squeeze half an orange and add three drops of vanilla extract plus stevia, will it be amazing or meh?
- Result: Drinking this creation while expecting that magical flavor was an experience I can only describe as similar to opening a giant present that’s clearly got to be a bicycle, only to realize someone had just made a paper mache version out of wrapping paper and it was empty inside.
- I will never do this again.
- I realize that when I fill the bottle with sliced strawberries, it is not going to taste like a Starburst in a glass. Turns out, there’s a clear difference between actual fruit flavor and the “flavor” (scent + taste) that we’re used to associating with hundreds of, well, store-bought flavors. Having adjusted my expectations, I rather enjoy the strawberry seltzer. I just have to figure out how I’m going to get these engorged slices out of the top of the bottle.
- Result: I miss store-bought flavors.
- I might do this again.
Turns Out, I Can't Create "Natural Flavors"
The flavors in the seltzers I made were not strong. If you had super spidey-senses, you might wonder if a piece of fruit had passed through this glass within the last month. Also, the fruit itself becomes bland, so it’s not as fun to munch on, and the carbonation actually becomes flat way sooner than the seltzer we made using the flavor drops.
So my biggest question was this—why does the store-bought orange-vanilla seltzer taste so much sweeter and so much—I’ll say it, better—than pure vanilla extract and the juice from an actual orange? Well, news flash, your favorite store-bought flavors are created in a lab, so by extracting certain compounds from the plant and combining them with other additives, you can get a flavor that, sorry, folks, you just can't make at home.
One example is the compound vanillin, which in its natural form is extracted from the vanilla bean (and is also extremely expensive), so folks in white coats replicate it in a synthetic form. And that is what we’re used to tasting and smelling as "vanilla." This might be why the vanilla in my favorite store-bought seltzer tastes more like the vanilla you’d find in a bowl of ice cream, and my DIY concoction tastes more like... a wannabe 'nilla (even those it's au natural).
So Is a SodaStream Worth It?
As far as I can tell, the most exciting thing that’s happened in the history of SodaStream is the commercial controversy behind their Set the Bubbles Free campaign back in 2014 and a recall of thousands of bottles that were discovered to be potentially unsafe. But hey, I'm just one person, so there are some pros to the product (and cons).
- If you're into kitchen gadgets, I admit, it's a fun one to try and is reminiscent of science experiments in high school.
- Can't kick your one Coca-Cola a day? The SodaStream syrups have way less sugar and calories than a regular can, so it's a good place to at least start cutting back.
- If you love a good DIY and want to stop buying cases of LaCroix every week, go for it.
- It' supposed to stay carbonated longer than regular seltzer, and, because you aren’t buying plastic bottles or using cans for your seltzer or soda, you could argue that it’s greener.
- If you're tired of looking at ingredient labels to see which seltzers have added sodium and which ones don't, or you're over wondering what "natural flavors" really are, with a SodaStream, you know exactly what goes into it: water and bubbles. The added flavors are up to you.
- Small kitchen? This bad boy, which is reminiscent of a small rocket being launched into space with a full tank of nitrogen, might take up too much counter space.
- By the time that you’re done buying refill cartridges and flavored syrup, you’re not saving much money and might just be breaking even. Plus, don't you want to relish in the fact that buying store-bought seltzer is one of the few things in this world you can still buy for $1 a liter?
- If you can't live without coconut-flavored LaCroix (or any other brand), you should just keep buying it because, trust me, fresh coconuts aren't going to give you the same taste in a DIY version.
Note: The views expressed herein are those of the author.