Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sizing Up ‘SodaStream’

Recently, a thread of conversation on Twitter caught my attention. The buzz was about a kitchen appliance that enables home-cooks to make their own sodas and seltzer water. The appliance is called SodaStream and is currently manufactured by SodaClub. Little did I know this system was invented back in 1903! For more of its history, check out this Wikipedia Sodastream article. I figured, if this was news to me it might also be news to some TOT readers, so I decided to feature the product in this week's blog.

Actually, I don't drink soda...well, except for the occasional chug from hubby's bottle. It seems soda of any kind makes me swell up like a blowfish, so I usually avoid it. Hubby, on the other hand, can't get through a day without, at least, one "sugar fix" – his words, not mine! That equates to at least one 710ml bottle of cola per day. That's why I found this product so appealing. Though we haven't yet bought one, we plan to, and for a couple reasons. First, there are potential savings to be had with making our own soda. And, second, we can control the amounts of sugar and soda, and the type of sugar used.

To learn more about the product, I asked Twitter-user, FoodieFinds, a few questions. Jodi generously agreed to be interviewed and here is what she had to tell us:

First of all, Jodi is using the 'Fountain Jet' model of SodaStream and – lucky gal – she received it as a gift. The cost for the 'Fountain Jet' is $99.95 US$, and includes the Soda maker, 110-litre carbonator and two carbonating bottles. The web-site offers varying models in starter kits, as well as soda mixes, gas refills, extra bottles, and other accessories. All prices Jodi quotes in the interview are in US$.

Now, to the interview...

QUESTION: Can you tell readers how the machine operates, and whether it is user-friendly?

ANSWER: I find the SodaStream machine to be extremely user-friendly. It sets up in about 5 minutes. Well-designed and easy to use. Takes about 30 seconds to create carbonated, flavoured water or soda from plain water. I was a bit trepidatious
about the pressurized CO2, but it seems quite safe and stable. Once initial set-up is complete, creating plain or flavoured seltzer, or sodas, is as simple as:

1) Fill the provided 1-litre bottles with tap or filtered water & chill.

2) Take chilled 1-litre bottle, push tilt lever, screw bottle onto machine & release tilt lever.

3) Pump the carbonation button 3 times, releasing after each "buzz." (Note: You can carbonate more or less, according to your taste.)

4) Remove 1-litre bottle from machine. Add any desired flavouring, cap bottle, and rock gently to mix.

5) Enjoy your homemade soda!

QUESTION: What are your opinions of the quality and variety of syrups they offer?

ANSWER: The quality of the syrups is higher than your standard soda brands in that they are not made with high fructose corn syrup. SodaStream seems to offer a wide variety of syrups, everything from diet root beer to "faux-Fresca" – even a "Red Bull"-style energy syrup.

QUESTION: I know you've created a few of your own syrups. How did you do this, and what were the results?

ANSWER: Loved the results I have achieved creating my own syrups. I'm what you would call a "frugal foodie." I love pushing the envelope with my flavour combinations, but I still like to minimize the costs by buying whatever fruits, herbs, etc. are on sale and/or in season. Syrups I have created thus far: cantaloupe, rhubarb, sriracha-lime, honeydew, strawberry-basil, lychee-ginger, and orange-coriander. Creating syrups could not be easier. Just use a basic simple syrup recipe (1:1 ratio of water to sugar.) Put water and sugar in a saucepan, heat until all sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to low, add fruit, herbs, etc. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes, remove from heat & let cool. Pour through a strainer into a bowl. Make sure to squeeze all of the liquid out of the fruit. Put the liquid into a squeeze bottle or Tupperware container and refrigerate for up to a week or so. To be extra frugal, I take the reserved pulp/fruit and use it over Greek yogurt as a quick & healthy take-to-work breakfast. You could also use the reserved pulp/fruit as a starter to make chutney.

QUESTION: What is your average cost per bottle using the bought syrup?

ANSWER: I have not depleted my first CO2 canister yet, but according to the documentation, you are supposed to get 110 litres of carbonation out of each canister. The replacement canisters are listed on the SodaStream website at $21.99 each, so I figure that the carbonation portion costs about $0.20 per 1-litre. The purchased soda syrups are listed on the SodaStream website at $4.99 and are supposed to make 12 litres, so the purchased flavour cost is approximately $.41 per bottle. This brings the total for a carbonated, purchased-flavour 1-litre bottle of soda to approximately $.61 per bottle. The unsweetened seltzer flavour bottles come in packs of 3 for $9.99, and each bottle makes 20 litres. Therefore, the purchased cost for seltzer is $.17 per bottle. This brings the total for a carbonated, purchased flavour 1-litre bottle of seltzer to approximately $.37 per bottle.

Now before you start saying – wait a minute – I can buy store brand 2L bottles of soda on sale for that much, remember that the SodaStream flavours have no high fructose corn syrups. If you make your own syrups, you also have no artificial ingredients or flavourings, and you get some vitamins/minerals from your choice of fruit. Another big selling point for the SodaStream is that you no longer have to lug heavy bottles home from the grocery store, and you are also being more "green" by minimizing your plastic use.

QUESTION: What is your average cost per bottle using the home-made syrups?

ANSWER: Again, the carbonation portion costs about $.20 per 1-litre. The homemade syrup cost varies widely depending on the cost of the ingredients. I use approximately 2 cups of water and two cups of sugar for each syrup mixture, at an average cost of $.15. However, tart fruits require more sugar (rhubarb, lemon, etc.), and sweeter fruits require less (strawberries, cantaloupe, etc.) The cost of the ingredients could be anywhere from $.99 for a cantaloupe on sale, to $4-$5 for out-of-season or exotic fruits, herbs, etc. I keep my costs down by buying in season and on sale. I also have an Aero-Garden, so I grow year-round most of the fresh herbs that I use (mint, lemon-basil, basil, cilantro, etc.) If you are lucky enough to have a fruit tree or berry bush on your property, then your fruit cost would be zero.

Depending on the amount of syrup produced, the concentration of the syrup, and your personal sweetness preference, you can get anywhere from 4-10 1-litre bottles from each batch of syrup. Therefore, you can potentially make your own flavoured sodas for as little as $.35 with the SodaStream machine. However, I would say that the average price would be about $.50 per 1-litre bottle. An even simpler way to do it (albeit not as fresh), is to get canned fruit in heavy syrup. Then you simply put the can & syrup into a pan, heat it up, simmer, and follow the rest of the instructions above. If you get canned fruit on sale and/or with coupons, you might be able to get your total 1-litre cost down to $.30 or so.

QUESTION: How would you compare the SodaStream syrup flavour with commercial sodas?

ANSWER: So far, I have tried only a few of the SodaSteam syrup flavours. I initially thought both the Diet Cola and Diet Pete (their version of Diet Dr. Pepper) syrups were too sweet, but I experimented with different ratios of syrup and carbonation. What I found is that the perfect "formula" for my personal tastes is:

  • For all sodas: 2/3 as much SodaStream syrup as recommended, 4 pumps of carbonation (instead of the standard 3.) This works out to about $.58 per 1-litre
  • For flavoured seltzers: recommended amount of flavouring and 3 pumps of carbonation
  • I suggest your readers start with the recommended ratios, but then experiment with more or less syrup/flavoring and more or less carbonation to find their perfect "formula."
  • The SodaStream syrups/flavorings I have enjoyed the most are:
    • the diet pink grapefruit is by far my favorite (supposed to be like Fresca.)
    • the diet cranberry-raspberry is also very good
    • the diet root beer & root beer are good
    • the "cola" based drinks (diet cola, diet Pete's Choice, Pete's Choice, etc.) are OK but don't compare favorably with my favorite commercial brand so I use the cola syrups as "back-up" only, then I don't need to run to the store when I run out.
    • the seltzer unsweetened flavorings are no different than those I purchase at the store. I liked all of these: berry, orange, & lemon-lime.

QUESTION: Do you have any other comments about the SodaStream for readers?

ANSWER: If you want to feel like a kid again, cut out high fructose corn syrups, be more "green", and serve healthier drinks to your family, you can't go wrong with the SodaStream. Also, at this point in the week (2 days before recycling goes out), my recycling bins are usually overflowing with soda & seltzer bottles. Instead, I now have exactly 6 bottles in my recycling bin - a visual reminder of how the SodaSteam helps us be more "green."

Thank you, Jodi, for this wealth of information! I'll be watching for further updates from you on Twitter (FoodieFinds). Now, I can hardly wait to get our own SodaStream and begin experimenting with our own flavours!

Upon researching this product for Canadian customers, I found the following caveat: Shipping gas canisters to Canada has been a problem, but should resume September –October 2009. For details on this, go to: Chiron Canada website