The History of Cream Soda

For decades soda lovers from around the globe have indulged themselves in the sweet “creamy” deliciousness of what is known to be cream soda. Despite what its name entails, cream soda is, well, not cream soda everywhere. Regularly interchanged with “ice cream soda”, the vanilla-y soft drink differs from culture to culture. Whether made with ice cream or dollops of your good ol’ fashion vanilla creamer, this drink labels itself as a novelty in many countries from America, Italy, and to our friends in Japan.

So, how did cream soda become the cream of the pop?

Like most soft drinks, cream soda’s conception doesn’t differ when it comes to its connection with illness. If you were to look back in drink history, especially soda history for that matter, you would find that many of today’s most popular sodas began as medications to treat various illnesses before they inevitably became mass-marketed refreshments. These illnesses ranged from indigestion, impotence, headaches, and various psychological disorders. However, unlike most sodas, cream soda was not necessarily marketed as medication, but as a solution to an icy issue in the 19th-century.

During the 1800s, disease was everywhere–yes, everywhere. Between the Black Plague and the Cholera epidemic, life in the 1800s was much scarier, and harsher than the conditions we have experienced with Covid-19 today. Now, you’re probably thinking: what does that have to do with cream soda? Well, honestly, it has a lot to do with it. Throughout the course of this ill-stricken time, water and ice were carriers of diseases such as cholera and dysentery. Contaminated water supplies contributed to the widespread prevalence of dyspepsia in the 1800s, when bitters, herbal tonics, and snake oil were available on every street corner.

Many people believed that eating ice or drinking cold drinks was dangerous, even going so far as to claim that swallowing an ice cube could cause fatal stomach spasms or other intestinal illnesses. Though technically, they were not wrong, the truth of the matter was that the ice itself could not kill you, the infectants and bacteria, however, could and would. In the 1800s, almost all ice came from frozen lakes and rivers, but as cities expanded and people spread out across the world, those once-clean lakes became dumping grounds for sewage. This made finding and sustaining clean ice more difficult for compact refrigeration as well as advanced filtering properties.

Nevertheless, for those who still wanted to indulge in the surgery drink–and really, who can blame them– Soda Jerk’s (someone who operates a soda fountain) began to concoct innovative ways to cool down the room temperature drinks. Now, instead of adding ice to soda, the ice was used to cool or freeze the ingredients within the beverage. The Jerks would now simply use ice to freeze the cream in the case of ice cream soda, and then pour the now frozen, uncontaminated cream into the drink.

Other fizzy innovations

            Still within the era of the 1800s, many found themselves concocting what they and many like to call “cream soda”. Not necessarily having to do with the pandemics of the time, many Soda Jerks and even doctors were playing around with the ideas of new novelty drinks and medicines.

            E.M. Sheldon, in an 1852 edition of Michigan Farmer, is noted for publishing one of the first recipes for cream soda. His recipe consisted of ingredients such as water, cream of tartar, Epsom salts, sugar, tartaric acid, milk, and an egg–nothing like one would insist on cream soda to consist of. Theoretically, this cream soda has its roots; carbonated drinks with whipped egg whites and assorted flavorings have a long history. The cream in the name likely refers to the cream of tartar, which happened to be commonly used as a stabilizer to prevent the syrup from crystallizing. It is unknown or honestly, hard to believe that this concoction has any connection to the cream soda we all love and know today.

 A physician named Dr. Brown (his first name is to this day unknown) started selling sodas in his hometown of Brooklyn in 1868. By 1886, he had expanded to selling bottles marketing a variety of flavors such as cream soda. Celery, black cherry, and ginger were among the ingredients in these sodas, with the majority of them claiming to have elixir-like health benefits. Eventually, the FDA pressured the doctor to stop marketing his sodas as medicines after a few decades for he lacked the research to back up his claims.

Cream soda was the most popular among Dr. Brown’s first wave of soda flavors. Dr. Brown’s cream soda mirrors the characteristics of the cream soda we see today. It was flavored with vanilla and tinted with the familiar pale brown hue you see stacked up upon your local grocery store shelves. In the 19th-century, vanilla was considered to be a luxury spice, a spice that would not be readily available until the creation of vanilla extract in the 1930s. This is not only made cream soda so popular but a staple beverage within one’s meals.

Try your own Soda God Cream Soda

Though cream soda may have a variety of evolutionary paths, one thing we know for sure is that it made its way to our stomachs as well as our hearts. If you would like to swim upon your own creamy soda-y path, create your own customizable Soda God beverage today!

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