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I’ve been sober for ages. I’m also a restaurant reviewer, which means that I’ve developed an autopilot routine of swiftly handing the drinks list back to the host or hostess before my butt’s even in the seat. “Unsweetened iced tea would be perfect!”

However, between the sodas, syrups, and sugars, most mocktails can quickly go from a healthy choice to an onslaught of calories in one fell swoop. More often than not, they are a hard pass.

Enter: The SodaStream, a global staple in the noble art of putting bubbles in things.

It’s the product I was hoping would be the cure to falling into an iced-tea-or-bust rut. When it arrived, the creative child in me thought, “Look out, 2020, here comes your newest non-alcoholic-beverage-barista-mixologist.” Reach for the stars, people.

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. Teetotallers deserve fizzy pink beverages with umbrellas, too!

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 as good as store-bought seltzers and the overpriced mocktails on the bar menu? And is this DIY form of carbonating your water worth the investment, the counter space, and the hype?

The process is fairly simple:

  1. Fill the provided glass bottle with water.
  2. Twist and secure the glass bottle inside the main compartment, kind of like fixing a Magic Bullet blender in place.
  3. Start to pump the big button on top in small bursts to add carbonation. The more you pump, the more carbonated it will get. (If you push down too hard, it will scare the crap out of you.)
  4. If you want to add flavor — add the flavor drops to the water. It really is that easy.

For my first drink, I made myself a seltzer with a hint of lemon-lime and threw together a raspberry-flavored seltzer for my less-citrusy husband.

We drank them out of chic ribbed-glass bottles with black caps on them. Yes, we are that cool.

Result: It tasted just like store-bought seltzer! Oh, the novelty.

So smug was I concerning my creation that my husband and I did nothing but pose with the glasses for the rest of the day. The real experimenting would unfold later.

While alcohol was still out of the question for me, I woke up the next morning drunk with the power of my new contraption. On day two with my SodaStream, I wanted to tap into the world of DIY. No box can hold me.

I wasn’t going to use the provided flavors. Fresh Direct arrived with an unholy amount of fruits and vegetables because I got carried away. The gloves were off. We were about to run these bubbles through a gauntlet of ideas.

Here’s what I created, loved, and hated. If you’re not very experimental in the kitchen, there are ways to get in the headspace.

Cucumber seltzer

Since cucumbers are composed largely of water, and I’ve had many glasses of cucumber water before a facial, I had a feeling this would work out.

I sliced a few the long way with a vegetable peeler and dropped them in the bottle provided, letting them marinate for 10 minutes.

Result: Exactly as I’d hoped. Cucumber seltzer, which you can’t find in stores.

So far, so good. (Also, here’s why you should pick seltzer over tonic.)

Blackberry and cantaloupe

I squished a few pieces of cantaloupe into a handheld juicer (sounds weird, but it works), then dumped the fruit into the bottom of the glass along with the juice. Ditto with the blackberries.

I poured the freshly carbonated soda into the glass, added stevia, and watched as it foamed up (while praying that it didn’t turn into a full-on volcano like in a high school science class). Then, it went into the fridge for 15 minutes.

Result: 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.

The colors were really pretty. There were floating bits of blackberry in the glass, which was nice in a “nutritious lava lamp” kind of way. But this was essentially a waste of time.

For the alcohol drinkers, we came up with some champagne cocktails that kick mimosas to the curb — including blackberry.

Orange and vanilla

My favorite seltzer flavor of all time is orange-vanilla with a glorious zero-calorie label. I wondered to myself, trendy tumbler in hand, if I squeezed half an orange and added three drops of vanilla extract plus stevia, will it be amazing or meh?

Result: F*cking horrendous.

Drinking this creation while expecting that magical flavor was an experience I can only describe as similar to opening a giant present that just has has to be a bicycle, only to realize that someone had just made a papier maché tricycle out of wrapping paper and it was empty inside.

Except it’s not empty. It’s actually 400 termites and they all hate you.

I will not be making this mistake again in a hurry. Here are some orange smoothie recipes to wash out the taste of whatever that was.

Strawberries

I realized, when I filled the bottle with sliced strawberries, it wasn’t going to taste like a Starburst in a glass.

As it turns out, there’s a clear difference between actual fruit flavors and the “flavor” (scent + taste) that we’re used to associating with hundreds of store-bought sparkling beverages.

Having adjusted my expectations, I rather enjoy the strawberry seltzer. I just have to figure out how I’m going to remove these weird, engorged slices from the top of the bottle.

Result: I started to miss store-bought flavoring.

I might do this again should the mood strike. Strawberries are the bomb, however, and should not be underestimated.

With a SodaStream, “natural flavors” are off the menu

The flavors in the seltzers I made were not strong. If you had Spidey-Sense, 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 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. They extract certain compounds from the plant and combine them with other additives.

This means they can get a flavor that the Average Joe won’t be able to make, unless you’ve added Peter Parker’s science acumen and equipment to your Spidey-Sense.

One example is the compound vanillin.Vanillin. (n.d.). https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/vanillin Manufacturers can extract it in its natural form from the vanilla bean, but it is extremely expensive. As money doesn’t grow on vanilla beanstalks, folks in white coats replicate it in a synthetic form.

This strange variation on vanilla is actually 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 pale imitation, even though it’s completely natural.

(We know ice cream is great. It doesn’t have to be unhealthy.)

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 the subsequent recall of thousands of potentially unsafe bottles.

But hey, I’m just one person. You’re another. So I’m just going to leave some pros and cons to the product here, and you can work out whether this meets your incessant need for bubbles or not.

Kitchen gadget aficionados should check out these miracle time-savers.

Pros

  • 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 concoction and want to stop buying cases of LaCroix every week, SodaStream might be a good option for cutting down.
  • SodaStream concoctions are 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 make the argument 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, you know exactly what goes into a SodaStream: Water and bubbles. The added flavors are up to you.

Cons

  • 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 i.e. your whole damn condo.
  • 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 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.

If you’re looking for more ways to jazz up your coconut water, put chia seeds in there. You’ll thank us.

SodaStream might be a fun weekend diversion for people with a fixation on kitchen gadgets, but they didn’t really add anything to my mocktails over and above store-bought seltzer.

However, both are better for you than chugging sodas or cocktails/mocktails from the store or bar, so you can have fun putting together bubbly beverages whether using a weird contraption or a simple seltzer.

Even folk boozier than myself can enjoy a healthy tipple. Here are 60 options right off the top of our heads.

Helaina Hovitz Regal is an editor, journalist, author, storyteller, social media, content strategist, and native New Yorker, who has always had the unreasonable notion that she can help change the world.