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Often in life there is good news and bad that can go hand in hand, in this article we’ll first discuss the disadvantages of drinking soda but then we’ll look at how to make a healthier alternative. It still contains sugar so remember, “All things in moderation”.
The terms ginger beer and ginger ale can be confusing. Authors have sought to define the two for over a hundred years. Apparently neither necessarily refers to an alcoholic content, although ginger beer can contain alcohol – up to 11%. The difference in intensity of the ginger flavor can vary with either.
Years ago I used to make the alcoholic version with yeast which went well up to a point. I hadn’t yet adopted the philosophy, “If it ain’t broken don’t fix it”, and decided to amp up the alcohol content by increasing the yeast. Can I tell you how big a mess exploding ginger beer makes? Now I prefer a non-alcoholic version and love the ability to prepare it from ginger syrup one glass at a time.
The Canada Dry folks, like many others, do not list the flavor ingredients on the label, instead, they lump everything under the title, “natural flavor”. That doesn’t sound bad until you realize that anything that comes from a plant or animal (any part of it) can be considered “natural”.
Title 21, Section 101, part 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations says:
“The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”
By their definition a lot of things we’d never choose to eat can end up in our food or drink. Look up ingredients such as castoreum and you’ll see what I mean. Chances are a food or drink flavored with artificial vanilla, strawberry, or raspberry contains castoreum lumped in with other ingredients under the catch-all name of “natural flavor”. It is an exudate from the castor sacs of mature beavers, quite possibly mixed with beaver urine as the glands are located between the beaver’s pelvis and tail.
There are so many loop holes in food labeling just about anything could be lurking in the food on our plate or the soda in our glass and the FDA would be OK with it.
Ingredients on the label of Canada Dry ginger ale are carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, sodium benzoate, “natural flavors” and caramel color. Since I haven’t observed their process, I cannot say with any certainty, but I suspect the ginger they claim to use is dried and not the fresh version as I find no need for caramel coloring with the recipe I drafted. See photo.
The dangers of high fructose corn syrup are too well known to need clarification so let’s skip to the innocuous term “caramel color”.
Rather than inundate the reader with foreign chemical terms, let’s look at what the Center for Science in the Public Interest has to say about the caramel color found in soft drinks.
“In contrast to the caramel one might make at home by melting sugar in a saucepan, the artificial brown coloring in colas and some other products is made by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures. Chemical reactions result in the formation of 2-methylimidazole and 4 methylimidazole, which in government-conducted studies caused lung, liver, or thyroid cancer or leukemia in laboratory mice or rats”.
In government studies on the dangers of 4-Mel found in caramel color it was noted that it caused cancer in mice and it was found to be “possibly” carcinogenic in humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. For those who say the amount is negligible, I ask, why have any at all if you can produce a beverage at home that has none?
One bad nasty ingredient in your soda may be considered “safe”, but at the end of the day if we could peruse a total of all the bad nasties we’ve consumed within a 24 hour period and see how high the combined totals are, maybe we’d all be more diligent in eliminating them from our diets.

GINGER BEER. Oct. 2, 1824. “The Chemist”.
“Take three-quarters of an ounce of pounded ginger, half an ounce of cream of tartar, and one pound of lump sugar, (if any person does not like it very sweet, a less quantity of sugar may be used) and five quarts of water; boil the ginger in the water about half an hour, and then pour the whole on the sugar and cream of tartar. When nearly cold, put a table-spoonful of the best yeast on a piece of toasted bread, and add it to the mixture. When it has worked about twelve hours, or somewhat longer in cold weather, bottle it in stone bottles, and be careful to tie or wire down the corks, or they will fly out. In about three or four days it will be fit to drink, and will form a pleasant, refreshing summer beverage”. [The days of home-made yeast are relegated to the past for most of us so I’d suggest starting with a lesser amount of yeast and tweaking the recipe a little at a time until you are happy with the results.]
I read several versions of Ginger Syrup, many of which were described as being very spicy and because I wanted a light refreshing beverage rather than something that would numb my taste buds, I came up with my own version.
1 generous cup of sliced or coarsely chopped fresh ginger, peel it or not as you like
2 ½ to 3 cups sugar, raw sugar if you like
4 cups non-chlorinated water
Pinch of salt

Put all ingredients in a nonreactive pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer about 30 to 45 minutes (You should have about 3 cups of syrup). Remove from the heat and allow it to cool. Strain out the solids. Place the syrup in a covered container and refrigerate.

To use: Fill a glass with ice and add the ginger syrup with club soda (1 part syrup to 2 parts soda or to taste) and a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice if you like. I find it quite refreshing and tasty without the lemon.
I then dredged the ginger slices in sugar and popped them into a low oven (about 250 deg.) until they were dry but still chewy (2 to 3 hours). I’ll use the candied ginger in recipes or nibble on it as is.
See: ConsumerReports.org and http://www.cspinet.org/new/201102161.html.