Save Money with DIY Soda

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The average American drinks more than 500 cans of soda per year, according to some estimates, which amounts to about $73 billion spent of soft drinks annually, a hefty chunk of change that could be less if we made our own soda.

Soda making at home works much like the soda fountain at any restaurant or movie theater; it’s just on a smaller scale. You carbonate water, and then add the syrup or other flavoring of your choice.

There are actually several types of seltzer bottles, soda siphons and soda makers out there, ranging in price from about $50 to nearly $3,000. Depending on soda-drinking habits in your household, one of them is likely to save you money if you’re a fan of fizzy drinks.

Plus, more cities are considering levying sin taxes on sugary drinks, which could mean paying more for every ounce of soda you buy in a store. Reusing soda containers at home means no more deposits for bottles and cans as well as less trash in landfills.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, you’ll also want to consider taste. Homemade soda may not be as pleasing to your palate as the mass-produced stuff you buy in stores. MainStreet decided to try out one DIY soda machine for a week and here’s what we found.

The SodaStream

The SodaStream comes complete with a carbon dioxide cartridge and sturdy reusable bottles, and you can choose from a variety of flavors, which come as bottles of syrup with enough to make 12 liters of soda. A Fountain Jet starter kit like the one we used costs about $100 for the machine, cartridge and bottles, plus two syrup flavors of your choice that cost between $5 and $7 each on their own.

With a couple pushes of a button, you can inject a full bottle of plain water with carbon dioxide. After you’ve reached sufficient carbonation, you pour soda syrup in the bottle, mix it gently and voilà.

At least, that’s how we hoped it would work. It was actually a bit more awkward than that.

Assembly and Carbonation

On the package, the SodaStream looks like a simple enough system, but it took the help of three people just to take the cap off of our CO2 tank. Once it’s assembled, simply attaching a bottle, which screws into the front of the soda maker, requires pressing a button, holding the contraption and screwing in your soda bottle all at the same time.

What’s more, adequate carbonation is hard – if not impossible – to achieve. There seemed to be plenty of bubbles at first, but couldn’t compare to the fiercer effervescence of your average Coca-Cola (Stock Quote: KO), even though we carbonated our water according to the recommended level, and even beyond that.

Assuming the average consumer doesn’t exactly know the physics of soda making and the effect of water temperature and other conditions on carbonation, the machine should have been adequate right out of the box.

Flavoring

The act of adding the syrup to the carbonated water could turn off some serious soda drinkers. Various flavors like cola, diet cola, orange soda, root beer and even a Red Bull-like energy drink come in bottles that look like they’re meant for laundry detergent, and you dispense the dense flavoring by the capful into your freshly-made seltzer.

We sampled seven flavors:

Root Beer: The SodaStream version of root beer was the best flavor we tried, and it was almost a spot-on copy of A&W Root Beer. And somehow the flavor itself masked the fake-sugar aftertaste that came through much stronger with other flavors.

Ginger Ale: The ginger flavor managed to mask the taste of Splenda enough to make this ginger ale enjoyable enough, but it was definitely not as good as the branded, store-bought stuff.

Lemonade: This was the SodaStream version of Pellegrino Limonata, which is basically carbonated water, lemon juice and sugar, which makes a great mixer with Vodka in the summertime.  Sodastream’s sparkling lemonade’s aftertaste of Splenda - the sugar-free, calorie-free sweetener that replaces just some of the sugar in the syrups - made a mix with Vodka barely palatable compared with Pellgrino’s mixer.

Regular Cola: SodaStream’s regular cola isn’t quite “regular.”  It still contains Splenda along with natural sugar in the form of sucrose.

Diet Cola: Some tasters were turned off with the taste of Splenda as opposed to the more familiar aspartame sweetener. One of our tasters suggested the SodaStream diet cola was a bit like the store-brand soda you might find at Costco (Stock Quote: COST).

Orange Soda: An unnaturally orange ooze sticks to the mouth of your bottle when you make orange soda, and the smell of ever-present Splenda permeates.

Lemon-Lime: The worst thing about the syrups was the Splenda, and the aftertaste was most apparent in the equivalent to 7-Up, which tasted much like the branded soda until that sickly sweet taste kicked in.

The Verdict

Ultimately, if you care more about saving money than making the perfect flavor match with your favorite brand-name carbonated beverage, spending about $80 for this gadget could pay off. You’ll spend 25 cents or less per 12 ounces (one can) of soda, according to SodaStream.

And for those who can easily go through a $6 12-pack of soda per week, the SodaStream starter kit including syrups would pay for itself in a little over three months.

Store-brand and sale shoppers could get similar prices by shopping around, however, and the while the SodaStream is convenient, it might not be cheaper than getting a seltzer siphon and different syrups, like those sold at Costco.

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