DIY Cherry Cola Recipe

Photograph: Marcia Simmons

Why It Works

  • Creating your own cola syrup first allows you to tailor the taste.
  • Fresh cherries bring a true cherry flavor, not the artificial taste typically found in commercial cherry sodas.

Cherry cola is amazing. Cherry Coke, on the other hand, is a disgusting tease. For a split second there's some cherry flavor, but then it's replaced by a chemical finish that reminds you that no cherries were harmed while making that beverage. I've done some experimenting with adding cherry syrup to store-bought cola, which was good. But making my own cola and cherrying it up was even better.

My homemade cherry cola tastes like actual cherries, and the cola part of the equation is made from ingredients I can pronounce that are available at the grocery store.

What's Available to Buy?

The availability of commercial cherry cola seems to vary greatly by region, but there are quite a few choices. My favorite cherry cola is Fentiman's, which has a great kick and strong cherry and herbal flavor. Of course, there's Cherry Coke, Wild Cherry Pepsi, and Cherry RC Cola. These brands have a familiar flavor, even if the cherry part of the equation tastes artificial. I've heard good things about cherry cola from Faygo, Dr. Brown's, Caruso's, and Sprecher but haven't seen them in stores near me.

Why DIY?

Commercial cherry cola usually tastes like it was manufactured in a lab, and many people are loyal to Coke or Pepsi exactly because of the unique artificial taste. But if you want a complex natural cola with the flavor of fresh cherries, you may have to do quite a bit of hunting—unless you make your own. With simple ingredients, you can create your own cola with hints of citrus, herbal, spice, and floral notes, plus real cherry flavor. It won't taste like Coke or Pepsi, and that's the point. Think of my recipe as a jumping-off point for creating your ideal cherry cola.

Cola recipes are trade secrets, so we don't know exactly what it is we're drinking when we sip on a Coke or Pepsi. I was inspired by Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain's natural cola recipe as a starting point. Anise and vanilla give this soda its "cola" flavoring. So if you want to amp up the "cola-ness" in your version, you could put in even more of those two ingredients. The tart zing comes from citric acid. You can skip it in favor of some lemon or lime juice, however that will alter the flavor significantly and won't have the same pop. I skipped the caramel coloring, so this soda is cherry-colored as well as cherry-flavored. (If you made this cola without the cherries, it would be a pale gold color.) I recommend sampling the cola syrup before adding in the cherries and almond extract. That way you can tweak the flavor profile if your cola preferences are different from mine.

Use It!

There are more ways to enjoy DIY cherry cola than just pouring it over some ice and sipping away. You can add a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a cherry cola float or add a little half-and-half for a creamy soda.

Sub your homemade cherry cola in for plain old Coke for a cherry Cuba Libre. With a little experimentation, you can use DIY cherry cola in all sorts of cooking—from Coca-Cola Cake to Cherry-Coke-Glazed Country Ham. The most intriguing possibility, to me, anyway, is Fried Coke. Let us know how that goes if you try it.

Recipe Facts

Active: 40 mins
Total: 60 mins
Serves: 8 to 10 servings

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Ingredients

  • 2 oranges, zest only

  • 1 lime, zest only

  • 1 lemon, zest only

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

  • 2 pods star anise, crushed

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender flowers

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

  • 1/4 teaspoon citric acid (see note)

  • 1 fresh vanilla bean (approximately 6"), split lengthwise (see note)

  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander seed, crushed

  • 2 cups water

  • 10 to 12 cherries

  • 1 1/3 cups sugar

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. Place citrus zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, lavender, ginger, citric acid, vanilla, coriander seed, and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer on low for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

  2. Line strainer with cheesecloth and strain ingredients from the pot, pressing down on the cheesecloth to extract as much liquid as possible. Pour liquid back into pot along with both sugars, cherries, and almond extract and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool. Pour through strainer to remove cherries. This is your cherry cola syrup.

  3. To make soda, combine 1 part syrup with 3 to 4 parts seltzer, according to taste. Store syrup in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Special Equipment

Zester, mortar and pestle, fine-mesh strainer, cheesecloth

Notes

Some grocery stores sell citric acid, but you can also find it at health food stores, canning supply shops, or online. I used a large vanilla bean, about 6 inches long, so if your vanilla bean is very small, use more. I recommend sampling the cola syrup before adding cherries and almond extract and adjusting to taste if you think you will want a very strong cola flavor.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
117 Calories
0g Fat
30g Carbs
0g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8 to 10
Amount per serving
Calories 117
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 3mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 30g 11%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 29g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 3mg 14%
Calcium 9mg 1%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 19mg 0%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)