Posted on January 31st, 2023.
Have you ever heard about Italian soda? This sweet fizzy drink holds quite a unique place in the food business. Its Pinterest and Instagram-worthy colorful look and broad flavor selection have garnered a solid fanbase. However, many people still have no idea that Italian soda is an independent beverage, not just a regular American-style soda produced in Italy.
What is special about Italian soda?
What do you think about when someone mentions soda? Probably Coca-Cola or Pepsi. American-style sodas are usually very sweet, flavored with artificial flavoring, and there’s not a lot of variety in flavors (though smaller manufacturers are trying to change the narrative).
In comparison, Italian soda uses fewer sweeteners and comes in a wide variety of flavors. It’s primarily flavored with syrups made from natural fruits (organic soda varieties will keep the artificial flavorings slim to none, but even non-organic ones will incorporate natural flavor in a large capacity). This keeps the aroma fruitier and influences the rate of sweetness. For example, a blood orange soda will be bittersweet with more tang than its American counterpart. At the same time, a cola drink will be sweeter and similar in taste to American cola (though less sugary).
And last but not least, Italian sodas are entirely decaf - even cola-flavored ones.
Here are 10 interesting facts about italian soda a true foodie must know:
Italian soda is an oft undeservedly overlooked item by food lovers. Sometimes it’s because people associate the drink too heavily with its American counterpart and don’t consider it to be something worth their time. Other times, foodies consider the taste too inauthentic and artificial to give it a try (by the way, for all you picky eaters out there: there are plenty of organic soda options if you’re after authentic fruit taste). And, far too often, it’s because people don’t know that it even exists.
We consider that to be a real shame. Italian soda has a long history and has been a mainstay in both US and European markets for a long time, gathering a devoted fanbase. It deserves to be given a fair shot.
Below, you’ll find the ten most interesting facts about Italian soda, which we hope will convince you to try this distinct beverage.
1. Italian soda isn’t exactly Italian
We’re not really starting out with making a solid case for ourselves here, huh.
Give us a moment to make a case; we promise you’ll like this story!
Italian soda is the spaghetti-and-meatballs of the beverage world. While it was born on US soil, its roots are distinctly Italian.
While some consider this story to be apocryphal rather than an authentic fact, the most popular version of the birth of Italian soda is tied with the R. Torre & Company, Inc. name. If you recognize the name, it’s likely because they’re the manufacturers of Torani - Italian-style flavored syrups.
The story starts with Rinaldo and Ezilda Torre, the husband-and-wife duo from Tuscany, who immigrated to America, and settled in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. The area was brimming with first-generation Italian-American immigrants who came to America for new and better opportunities similar to the Torres and missed flavors from home. Rinaldo and Ezilda had great recipes for flavored syrups they brought from back home. It didn’t take them long to realize that their community would be interested in buying them, so they set up a small company and got to work.
At the same time, while the Torre couple was getting into the flavored syrup business, soda fountains started exploding all across America. According to our possibly-apocryphal-who-really-knows story, Rinaldo and Ezilda realized they could begin adding their syrups to sparkling water to create a new drink. They immediately got to work and soon introduced what is now considered to be the classic Italian organic soda to local establishments.
From there on, Italian soda spread first across America and then across Europe - including Italy itself. Funnily enough, while some of the most well-renowned Italian soda manufacturers are indeed Italian these days, they don’t tend to serve the drink in the cafes under the name of “Italian soda.”
2. Italian soda is a simple drink at heart
Back when the Torre couple started selling their drinks, the recipe was simple: they mixed their Italian fruit-based syrups with sparkling water, sweetened it with sugar, and got an organic soda drink on their hands.
That recipe has stayed pretty much the same over the years. Italian soda is still a sweet fizzy drink that doesn’t contain a lot of additional ingredients. Bottled sodas tend to hold certain stabilizing elements to ensure sufficient shelf-life, but that’s it.
3. Italian soda will turn 100 years old in 2025
The Torre couple first introduced Italian soda drinks to their community in 1925. At least, as per claims of our (probably apocryphal, but who can prove it at this point) story.
But if we believe the story to be accurate, this means in around three years (as of this moment), Italian soda will turn 100 years old. Is that considered old and traditional, or young in the drink world?
4. Italian soda started with just 5 flavors…
The way R. Torre & Company, Inc. tells the story, Rinaldo and Ezilda started out their Torani syrup line with just five flavors: Lemon, Orgeat, Grenadine, Anisette, and Tamarindo.
Interestingly enough, most of these flavors lost their popularity over the years. While lemon-flavored Italian soda remains a classic, and plenty of reputable manufacturers, like Galvanina and A’ Siciliana, keep producing it, flavors like orgeat and anisette are much harder to find.
5. …and now there are dozens
In fact, you’ll have an easier time finding a cinnamon, chinotto, and blood orange soda these days. For a drink that’s supposed to be traditional, Italian soda is refreshingly experimental, with manufacturers not afraid to try out new tastes.
For a country that tends to be very protective of its cuisine, Italy’s logic is straightforward when it comes to its soda: as long as it’s a syrup mixed with sparkling water (or club soda, they’re interchangeable), it’s Italian soda. Enjoy it, everybody.
With the growth of the flavored syrups industry, the manufacturers started expanding the flavor profiles, going from fruits to spices like cinnamon and vanilla, nuts, chocolate, etc. And as far as vendors are concerned, adding it all to sparkling water is a fair game. While certain flavors haven’t yet gotten traction with manufacturers, no one would be scandalized if they caught you experimenting with your sodas.
6. Chinotto is considered to be the first authentically italian soda flavor
If you’re visiting an eating establishment in Italy, you’re much more likely to find something called Chinotto in the drinks section than Italian cola.
Chinotto is technically not a drink. It’s orange-colored citrus, about the size of a ping-pong ball, and was first imported to Italy by a Ligurian sailor in the 16th century. It was first used as an ingredient for a soda drink sometime in the 1930s, with several large brands fighting for the credit, most notably San Pellegrino, which manufactures Chinotto Italian soda to this day.
(Ah yes, another apocryphal story that could be true, but who knows at this point).
The height of Chinotto soda came in the 1950s when it was heavily advertised as the “soft drink of Italy,” with manufacturers actively trying to portray it both as a patriotic alternative to Cola from over the pond and as a part of the hip experience, heavily featuring Cadillacs and Chryslers in their advertising.
However, in the 1960s, Coca-Cola came to Italy in full swing, and Chinotto soda didn’t stand a chance in a fight with the industry giant. For several decades, Chinotto soda was relegated to a very niche market until its popularity started climbing back up in the 1990s due to the Network of Chinotto’s efforts.
These days, it’s considered one of the most popular soda flavors. Many manufacturers compete with San Pellegrino for the title of top Chinotto dog, like Galvanina with its organic Chinotto soda.
7. Italian soda doesn’t contain any caffeine
If you love Dr. Pepper but are sensitive to caffeine, switching to Italian soda might be an excellent option to try. It comes in just as many flavors (including cola!) and is completely decaf.
8. Italian soda doesn’t contain any alcohol (usually)
If you carefully curate your alcohol intake, you can go ahead and order Italian soda at any establishment (or purchase it from any manufacturer) you like. It won’t contain any alcohol.
However, it does work great as an ingredient for cocktails that would use soda water or a coke. So don’t be surprised if you suddenly find them mentioned among components on a cocktail card.
9. Italian soda and italian cream soda are not the same
If you thought Italian soda was the same as Italian cream soda - think again! Italian cream soda is arguably much more well-known than simple soda, so if you have never tasted either or tasted just one, you may believe they are the same.
They’re pretty much as similar as their names, which aren’t ubiquitous, by the way.
Italian cream soda uses sparkling water (or club soda) and flavored syrup as primary ingredients for a base, similar to classic Italian soda. But Italian cream soda calls for another significant ingredient - a generous helping of some dairy product. Most often half-and-half, but it’s not unusual to see heavy cream or whipping cream being used instead.
10. You can easily make a similar drink at home
We’re not saying the drink you make will be exactly the same as organic soda from Italian manufacturers (after all, they’ve had years to perfect their recipe). But the inherent simplicity of the drink, as well as the inclination to be reinvented, makes it easy for amateurs and home cooks to whip it up at home quickly.
All you need for a good homemade Italian soda is good, preferably Italian, sparkling water like the one from San Benedetto, and a flavored syrup close to your heart. You can make classic lemon, risky cinnamon, or popular blood orange soda yourself in under 2 minutes. Add a tablespoon of half-and-half or heavy cream, and you've got yourself an Italian cream soda just like at a café.
Flavored syrups are a versatile ingredient you can use for many a thing, so keeping a couple of bottles in a pantry is a smart idea anyway for those who want to diversify their food (and drink!) experience.
Is all Italian soda organic?
While quality Italian sodas usually contain natural flavors and ingredients, not all of them are considered to be strictly organic. There are very specific rules to what constitutes organic, and organic soda will be labeled as such.
What’s the difference between regular and organic soda?
The most significant difference is not between the sodas themselves, but the syrups used to flavor them.
Organic soda is supposed to be flavored with syrups and juices from fruits that come from organic farms. If the fruit hasn’t been organically farmed, then the syrup isn’t organic, which means the soda isn’t organic.
While we don’t consider organic sodas superior to classic Italian sodas, we do understand they have their place. People are allowed to like what they like as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else, so we’re definitely not going to judge you for liking organic products. In fact, we have a rather lovely organic soda collection you can check out if this has been a concern of yours.
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