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How to Make Healthy Homemade Soda With Molasses and Lemon
Why Use Molasses?
Many people don't think of anything more than as an ingredient in cookies or some kinds of cakes. But it has a long history as a medicinal tonic and energy supplement that is well founded. While it is far from a miracle cure for any ailment, it is a tremendous source of iron and has a much higher level of vitamins and minerals than most "sweeteners" on the market. Plus, for purposes of this beverage, it also offers a nice body and can deliver a foamy head on the drink as well.
Other natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup also have nutritional value, but they are far sweeter than molasses. Many people who do a "fast" or "cleanse" with the old recipe of water, maple syrup, lemon juice and cayenne pepper may already have an idea of the versatility available with these simple ingredients and their ability to keep one energized for an extended period. I do not personally recommend such a cleanse for any extended period because it can starve your body of important nutrients and without fiber to regulate your sugar intake, subsisting off of maple syrup or honey is a questionable choice.
Examining the nutritional labels on a variety of molasses bottles, it is easy to see why early American pioneers often relied on this thick liquid as a primary supplement to their limited diet. With high levels of B vitamins, iron, magnesium. calcium and potassium that dramatically outweigh the suggested RDA of sugar or carbohydrates, it is clear that this is a healthy choice. With no sodium or fat content and only 60 calories in a serving, it packs a lasting and satisfying punch.
Because of the B vitamins and iron, it offers a synergistic means of metabolizing the energy from the drink. As an "energy boost" for active people, the potassium is an essential component to keep the body operating at peak performance. Where I use it most frequently, however, is when I am pulling long hours writing at my desk. I need the constant fuel to keep my brain working at its peak and these nutrients support that function. Also, the drink offers sustained energy rather than a typical sugar spike that one gets from refined drinks or sugars like fructose. This drink also keeps me from getting hungry or engaging in habitual snacking, something I clearly don't need to do if I am sitting for an extended time. The sugars in molasses are not going to set up a craving pattern, either; this beverage leaves my body feeling satisfied and on an even keel, and I can savor it slowly for steady enjoyment and maximum absorption.
Other Key Ingredients
- Fresh lemon juice
- Sparkling water
These two ingredients are the other indispensable players in this recipe. Molasses on its own is certainly an acquired taste, especially for those of us who are used to the contrived sweetness of corn syrup and most commercially processed beverages. The fresh lemon takes the edge off the molasses flavor and makes it quite appealing, actually bringing out the innate sweetness of the molasses. Plus, there is a lot of evidence that even a small amount of lemon juice taken daily can have long-standing health benefits. By squeezing just a teaspoonful into this drink, you are doing your body a favor and enhancing the taste at the same time.
I do not always use lemon juice, and occasionally will swap out orange juice or a few drops of fruit oil, but a small squeeze from a fresh lemon is by far my favorite way to complete the basic drink. Meyer lemons offer a sweeter touch and I think create a more complex flavor for the beverage, but any lemon should work well.
And of course sparkling water is essential. It takes a few tries to get the process down, but I recommend pouring a small amount of water into the mixing glass before adding other ingredients. Adding the molasses to a full glass of bubbly water tends to make it hard to mix well, while adding the molasses to an empty glass and pouring the sparkling water on top too quickly can cause an overflow from the reaction, not unlike a simulated volcano in a children's science fair.
Making sparkling water from a home carbonating machine is ideal because you can experiment with the amount of fizz you like. I change my mind about this a lot, so it is good to have the flexibility. When I am out of the compressed CO2 cartridges or I am away from home, it always works to get a bottle of seltzer water from the store (usually in the aisle with alcohol mixers rather than the colas or regular bottled water). Club soda works, too, but has added sodium which the seltzer lacks. In fact, proper seltzer is also a bit more brisk than regular soda, which stands up better in this recipe due to the mixing phase where a lot of the bubbles could be lost.
Sparkle Your Own Water
Extra Ingredient Options
There are a few things that can be added for customized flavor and I suggest trying a few of these out once the initial mix of molasses and lemon has been satisfactorily mastered. These items are all to be used "to taste" and require a bit of experimentation. In all cases, I recommend starting with small amounts and tasting as you go.
Cinnamon: This is a good one, but requires a lot of mixing if added as a powder (much more flavorful than using a stirring stick). For this, I recommend adding it to the molasses before the water, mixing it together and then very slowly mixing the water in. Cinnamon powder has a tendency to float and not mix well when added directly to the water. Binding it with the molasses first helps to bring it into the drink and offers a really nice addition to the rich flavor.
Vanilla: Only use the kind of extract made without alcohol. The alcohol in most vanilla extracts will be fine for baking, but gives an obvious aftertaste if it is in a beverage. Vanilla is a good natural flavor additive, however, that smooths out the drink and adds some nice notes to the palate.
Honey: I only recommend a small amount of this or the drink becomes too sweet, but the right kind of honey can add a creamy roundness to the texture of the beverage. It is especially good when combined with cinnamon and vanilla.
Peppermint oil: This is to be used sparingly because it can quickly overpower other flavors. A drop or two is plenty; anything beyond that tends to be strong enough to bite. But with restrained use, especially when combined with other ingredients, can generate some very good flavors.
By combining various flavors with the base molasses and lemon beverage, it is possible to craft a drink that highly resembles a cola or a rootbeer. While this is a no-brew recipe, it competes very well with them in flavor and hands-down wins in a healthy choice competition. Not to mention that brewing takes a lot of time and specialized equipment but this recipe can be whipped up in a few minutes or less once you get the hang of it.
If you have tried this and have other suggestions for ingredients of variations, I'd love to hear about them in the comments section below.
- 12 ounces Sparkling Water, Seltzer is best
- 1 tablespoon Molasses, Blackstrap is best
- 1 teaspoon Lemon Juice, Fresh squeezed Meyer is preferred
- Dash or more Cinnamon, Optional
- 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla, Alcohol-free only
- 1 drop Peppermint Oil, Careful with this one