Just before Christmas, we released four new sodas on tap at The Hanging Bat. At Roots Soda Co. we’ve been working on lower sugar sodas for quite some time. It’s something we’ve not talked about, because until now, we haven’t had nutritional analysis carried out on any of our sodas. When we realised that we were making good progress lowering our sugar levels with the four new sodas, we decided to double down on one flavour in particular.
We’re releasing our new soda; I Need My Girl, which has 69% less sugar than most industrial and premium sodas, when compared like for like, or 76% less sugar if you compared a 250ml bottle of our new soda with an average 330ml bottle of the mass produced stuff. It’s a crazy amount to reduce the sugar by in one go, and you’re probably not ready for it. I don’t say that to be antagonising, its just that we’re all more familiar with 7 or 8 teaspoons of sugar in our soda, not 2.
I started Roots Soda Company in April 2012 because I wanted to make a healthier soda. To do that (in my mind) it would have to be free from concentrates, artificial sweeteners, flavourings, colourings or preservatives. Traditional soda is typically 89.5% water, 10.5% sugar and 0.0128% flavourings. Premium soda is typically 77.5% water, 12% fruit juice and 10.5% sugar. I wanted our sodas to contain three to four times more fruit juice than premium soda, so that you’d drink something more substantial than sugar and water. I also wanted a simple, wholesome approach to making them, more akin to brewing than chemistry.
Our first sodas; Hoodoo and Kaleidoscope, were all those things but they were still too high in sugar. Because we use so much fruit juice when in comparison to many premium sodas, our fizzy pop contained lots of natural sugars from the fruit juice. When you tallied those sugars with the added sugar, our sodas were just as high in sugar as the sodas already out there.
We’ve not replaced our sugar with sweeteners, natural or otherwise. In keeping with Roots Soda Co.’s philosophy, our solution has been simple and wholesome. We’ve lowered our added and natural sugars by considering much more carefully the ingredients that we use. For instance, whole oranges typically contain 10g of sugar per 100g of raw fruit. Beetroot on the other hand typically contains 7g of sugar per 100g. We’ve been experimenting with ingredients such as celery too, which typically contains just 1.8g of sugar per 100g.
Our flavours have always been different. Our new soda was inspired by Turkish and Persian street food. Because we look for inspiration outside the narrow scope of traditional soda, we found possible solutions to the high sugar levels in soda from chefs such as, Yotam Ottolenghi, who mixes sweet fruits with savoury vegetables. These dishes tasted so good that they left us wondering, could we blend low and high sugar ingredients, in order to build up a big flavour for our sodas, whilst at the same time lowering their sugar?
Our ingredients can seem a little different for a soda, but we’re not just using unfamiliar ingredients (in the context of soda) just for the sake of it. By considering our ingredients and their natural sugar levels more carefully, we can mix our low and high sugar ingredients for a big flavour soda. We also get lots of fruit and vegetable juice, while keeping overall sugar levels down. We’ve also pared back the added sugar in this beverage to the absolute minimum.
We’ve been thinking about sugar in soda (and everything else) since 2012. At Roots HQ, being so tuned into this issue, has meant that we’ve cut the sugar in our own diets in general. As a result we simply don’t notice the drastically reduced levels of sugar in this soda. However, when we taste test it side by side with other sodas, and our own Hoodoo and Kaleidoscope, it becomes immediately apparent just how low the sugar is. It does sound a little odd to say, but this low sugar soda is not without its drawbacks. You do have to work at this soda a little harder than our first two. With such a low sugar level, its taste is acquired, but it doesn’t require a huge amount of effort.
Each of our sodas are created with a concept in mind. Hoodoo, for instance, was inspired by the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. A split personality, that was to first cool, before hitting you with a burn. We put poems on the backs of our bottles, as a clue which lead to each drink’s personality, that’s why each label is different, as we attempt to convey the character of the soda to you.
With a growing team at Roots, I Need My Girl is the first soda that I did not develop the recipe for, or brew. Those plaudits belong to David and Shaun respectively. Therefore, the concept for the soda had to come after the flavour was developed. It was lower in sugar, but the flavour was deep, rich and romantic. It had this habit of pulling at you, to take another sip while you drank it. When it was gone, it just made me want more. It was named after The National’s song; I Need My Girl, because it just felt right.
Aside from the obvious advantage of a low sugar soda, I Need My Girl has something special up its sleeve. Take Cola; recipes differ from one to another, but common flavours are kola nut, coca leaf, orange, lime, lemon, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, cassia, mace, petit grain, lavender, coriander, neroli, gum arabic, caramel and browning sauce, but you’d never know it smothered under all that sugar. Our new soda contains many ingredients too; beetroot, apple, orange, pink grapefruit, rose water, juniper berry, star anise, bay leaf, however, unlike cola, with so much sugar removed, you can actually taste all of those ingredients and their underlying character. Without the level of sugar we’ve all come to expect from a soda, I Need My Girl can taste insane at first, yet, with only 2 teaspoons of sugar, it’s the only sane one in the whole insane asylum.
We don’t just consider our ingredients more closely for their sugar levels, but also for their origin and price. I Need My Girl has several ingredients sourced from here in the UK. As a result, it will launch with a recommended retail price of £1.85, compared to Hoodoo and Kaleidoscopes recommended retail price of £2.50.
Perhaps, all of this seems a little extreme; 69% less sugar, three to four times more fruit and vegetable juice, flavours out-with the norms of fizzy pop, poems and labels alluding to the drink’s personality, and caring about whether or not you can taste all the ingredients in our soda, but it’s just us being us. We love what we do, and we’ll do everything that we can, to make our sodas even the littlest bit more special while you drink them. We’ve done everything we can to make this new age soda for you. It’s not incremental change, it’s a paradigm shift. Whether you choose to love it like we do at Roots HQ, is up to you.
I Need My Girl will be available from 5pm today on tap at both The Hanging Bat and Spit/Fire for £2.20. It will be available in bottles shortly.
You can download a new booklet about our company, how we do things, and why we want to change the landscape of fizzy pop here.
Peace be with you brother and sisters
I Need My Girl lab results.
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