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Ingredients of Soft Drinks

Updated on July 15, 2011

On a hot summer day, nothing is more refreshing than a cold soft drink. And countless people around the world drink soft drinks every day. Made iconic in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century, soft drinks are immensely popular and come in many different flavors produced by dozens of different manufacturers. From fruity flavors, such as grape and orange soda, to colas and lemon and lime beverages, soft drinks are a staple of many people's diets.

But what makes soft drinks so delicious and appealing to so many people? The answer is in the selection of ingredients. Most soft drinks contain the basic ingredients of carbonated water, sweeteners, and caffeine, but also include many other ingredients, such as acids, flavoring additives, and preservatives. Types of soft drinks are differentiated by their different flavorings and colorings, and the unique combination of the following ingredients allows each type of soft drink to taste unique and different from another.

Carbonated Water

Carbonated water was invented long before soft drinks were popular and is an essential ingredient of most soft drinks. Carbonated water is made by combining water with carbon dioxide, which is a colorless, odorless glass that creates the bubbles characteristic of carbonated drinks. Carbonated water can help speed digestion, which is part of the reason why many people sip soft drinks for relief from stomach aches.


In the past, most soft drinks were made with pure cane sugar; however, today mostsodasand carbonated beverages are made with high fructose corn syrup instead. High fructose corn syrup is not under the same price control as sugar is, and it is also sweeter than sugar, which means that less of it is needed to sweeten a drink.

And most soft drink manufactures also produce and distribute low-calorie versions of their different flavored beverages (commonly called diet drinks), which are sweetened with low-calorie sugar substitutes. The most popular artificial sweetener is aspartame, followed closely by cyclamates and saccharin. Other artificial sweeteners sometimes used include neotame, acesulfame, and sucralose. These sugar substitutes sweeten a drink without adding calories, although there is a noticeable difference in taste.

Cola Nut

One of the most popular soft drinks is the cola. In fact, colas make up the largest segment of the soft drink industry and are characterized by their blends of cocoa leaf and cola nut extract. In most cola drinks the cocoa leaf is actually no longer used, but the cola nut is still a necessary ingredient that comes from two species of trees found on the Ivory Coast of Africa. The cola nut contains the alkaloids caffeine and theobromine, which are active ingredients in cola soft drinks. Many people find relief from pain, such as headaches, by consuming drinks that contain these two alkaloids.


While the cola nut may not be an ingredient in every soft drink, caffeine can be an ingredient used in almost any carbonated beverage, although some manufacturers choose not to include them in some types of their drinks. However, over 60 percent of soft drinks in the United States contain caffeine. Many argue that the bitter taste of caffeine enhances the flavor of a drink, while others argue that any noticeable difference in taste between caffeinated and non-caffeinated beverages is psychological.

Phosphoric Acid or Citric Acid

Many soft drinks contain phosphoric acid that serve as a flavoring agent and create a tart taste. Phosphoric acid has the added benefit of acting as a preservative. Citrus flavored soft drinks, such as orange soda, often use citric acid instead to help provide flavor. Although there is evidence that these acids may be harmful to bone health, they are one of the primary ingredients in most soft drinks.


Of course, what sets one soft drink apart from another is its flavor. Although many of the ingredients of soft drinks contribute to the taste of carbonated beverages, flavor additives make the overall difference in taste. The cola nut largely contributes to the flavor of colas, and herbs help crate other flavored beverages, such as root beer and ginger ale. Fruit flavoring is usually used to create flavors such as cherry, grape, and orange.

In fact, orange soda is probably the most popular of the fruit-flavored soft drinks, and different manufacturers use different combinations of flavorings to create different tastes, some even using orange juice. Orange soda also often contains glyceryl abietate and brominated vegetable oil that help keep flavors suspended in the liquid.

The flavor of many soft drinks is quite similar, and the taste preference of one soft drink over another depends on the individual. Web sites that offer orange soda reviews or reviews of other soft drinks can help consumers understand the differences in taste among similarly flavored soft drinks.

Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Benzoate

Sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate are antimicrobial agents that serve as the main preservatives of soft drinks. They help prevent bacteria, yeasts, and molds, and they a help lengthen the shelf life of soft drinks. Sodium benzoate also helps lower the pH of soft drinks by buffering the acidic ingredients. Sodium benzoate also emulsifies fat-soluble compounds in the flavorings of the drinks, which helps keep them in the solution.


Different dyes and coloring are used for different soft drinks to create the desired visual effect. In colas, caramel coloring is used, which is made from burnt sugar. In fruit-flavored drinks, such as orange soda, red 40 and other colors are used. These colorings have a minimal effect on the flavoring of the beverage, although red 40 is common allergen for many people.

Although the ingredients in soft drinks may vary among different types and brands of sodas, most contain some variation or combination of these basic ingredients. The combination of ingredients and especially the different flavor additives are what give each soft drink its own unique taste. Different consumer preferences will determine what type of soft drink will appeal to each person, but the fact remains that soft drinks are staple of many Americans' diets and promise to continue being popular in the years to come.

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