Most orange soda has more in common with orange the color than the fruit, but that doesn't stop me from craving it. The reason I drink soda isn't because I think it's full of vitamins and minerals. I drink it because it tastes good. My idea of the perfect orange soda is the fast-food fountain Orange Crush and Sunkist that I grew up with, even though as an adult I know it's just a bunch of corn syrup and artificial flavoring. Luckily, DIY orange soda delivers the same satisfying combination of sweet and tart you get from the commercial version without the questionable ingredients. And mixed in with the familiar sharpness and prickly joy of orange soda is a new and exciting flavor I wasn't used to tasting in my soda—real oranges.
What's Available to Buy?
My longtime favorites, Sunkist and Crush are also the most ubiquitous. Fanta and Faygo are also pretty easy to find and pretty delicious. If you can find them where you live, seek out Nesbitt's and Capt'n Eli's, too. (All of these fared pretty well in the orange soda taste test, with Faygo coming out on top.) Boylan's is tasty, but it has more of a light tangerine flavor and doesn't quite have the same kick I expect from orange soda.
As loyal as I was to the corn syrup and chemicals of my childhood orange soda, DIY orange soda won me over with its bright and crisp flavor. It has the fresh taste of actual oranges while still delivering the nostalgic pleasure of a fountain soda. Big-brand soda is pretty cheap, so you'll pay a little more to skip the artificial flavors. But compared to the commercial sodas made with cane sugar and natural ingredients, DIY is a fraction of the cost.
There's a lot of room to have fun with this very basic recipe. If you're not such a stickler for matching the flavor of the well-known brands, you can try using different types of citrus like blood orange or mandarin...maybe even a mixing in some lemon or grapefruit. While you're playing around, maybe add some orange blossoms or other fruits like cranberries or mango.
I stuck with sugar as the sweetener for a more traditional soda flavor, but honey or agave could make for a delightful twist. Citric acid gives the soda that familiar pop and tartness, as well as extending the shelf life. However, you can skip it if you want to taste fruit and sugar and nothing else. For the truly adventurous, you could carbonate with champagne yeast like in this DIY grape soda recipe for a more dry and sophisticated flavor.
The best way to enjoy this homemade treat is by itself over ice. But I also like to spike it with gin, squeeze in a little lemon and top it off with a few dashes of rhubarb bitters. Next on my list is a drinkable Creamsicle—mix your homemade soda with a little ice cream and half-and-half.