For Soda, the Genie Is Out of the Bottle (NY Times)

Via NY Times


Before the 1890s, when the technology to carbonate water became commercially available, fizzy water was an imported rarity. It was considered medicinal, so the first commercial carbonators were installed in pharmacies.

At first, pharmacists added only mineral salts like potassium, calcium and magnesium to replicate those in naturally carbonated water. But soon, they got notions of making the stuff even more palatable — and profitable — with cream and sweet syrups like chocolate. (Not all the additives were so benign. Soda was also spiked with cocaine, alcohol and other exciting formulations, some of them genuinely addictive.)

Later on, mass-produced branded syrups in spectacular colors like Cherry Smash, Green River (a vibrant green lime) and Ward’s Orange Crush took over at the taps. Canned pineapple, artificial flavorings and commercial ice cream became the norm, and “the whole sad story of American food in the 20th century came to the soda fountain,” as Mr. Reiter put it. Although popular culture now identifies the 1940s and 1950s with soda fountains, purists say that the quality had already gone hopelessly downhill by then.

“I think soda fountains died because they didn’t keep up with American food,” said Anton Nocito, a chef who owns the P & H Soda and Syrup Company in Brooklyn, making moderately sweet all-natural syrups in flavors like lime, ginger and hibiscus. Similarly, bottled artisanal sodas like the ones made by GuS and Boylan’s have taken off, and homemade soda is on the rise, too. Last year, sales of sleek Sodastream home carbonator systems in the United States were at 370,000, up almost 300 percent from 97,000 in 2009, according to the company.

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