Soda was once unique. An occasional treat made by hand and sold from street stalls. Today, it’s hard for us to imagine this was the case – it’s so accessible you can not only find Coca-Cola in every corner shop, but you can find imitations of Coca-Cola for half the price. If things had stayed as they were, would soda drinks be considered such a health risk? The quality of their ingredients was actually an integral consideration at one point, and not just the concern of the customer and health experts.
Edinburgh’s own Roots Soda Company are pushing back against the current trend and have actually been doing so since 2012. “We wanted an alternative choice” it says on their website, “One that was 100% all natural with nothing artificial added. One that tasted like real fruit. One with clear labels. We wanted a real alternative we could trust”. Take a look and you’ll see that Roots Soda treat their product like an expert brewer treats beer. Their ‘Hoodoo’ isn’t just a fruit juice with the vague assertion that it’s citrusy. Instead, it’s “An avalanche of citrus fruit juice with pomegranate, hibiscus, bell pepper and chilli”.
The company’s founder Mark Pool wants to change the reputation of soda. It’s clear he has nostalgic feelings when it comes to this particular drink and is upset that we equate it so much with poor health and big business. “At Roots Soda Co. we simply want to challenge peoples preconceptions of what a soda can and should be,” he says, “It has become a commodity stripped of all craft and joy for mass consumption”. He wants to take soda “back full circle to its beginnings as a delicious treat for special occasions”. ‘Hoodoo’ was a step in the right direction, containing more fruit juice than your average soda, but its sugar content was still very high. This led to some interesting experimentation.
Inspired by well-known chef Yotam Ottolenghi, Pool and his team considered the effects of mixing sweet fruit with savoury vegetables. “Could we blend low and high sugar ingredients,” they asked themselves, “in order to build up a big flavour for our sodas, whilst at the same time lowering their sugar?” The results included ‘I Need My Girl’, the first of their sodas to receive an official nutritional analysis by Foodtest Laboratories Ltd. It contains only 2 teaspoons of sugar – compared to the average 7 or 8 – and has an intriguing mix of ingredients, including apple, beetroot, juniper berry, orange, bay leaf and pink grapefruit. “With so much sugar removed,” says Pool, “you can actually taste all those ingredients and their underlying character”.
Roots Soda’s product can be found at a number of stockists in Edinburgh and its sphere of influence has slowly begun to spread across the UK. The craft beer company BrewDog is proving to be particularly helpful, being the only company so far which sells their soda in England. Comments on Roots Soda’s website suggest people are impressed with their unusual produce – unusual for our times anyway. Soda itself was once a unique experiment.
We’ll leave you with a few passionate words from Mark Pool: “I dreamt the pioneers of soda… howled at the moon, shuddering at the difference between their crafted, artistic, big flavoured real soda, now watered down for mass consumption. They gathered up together to organise, and scream and kick and lashing out, would fight back under modern city lights. It’s time to get back to soda’s roots.”