SodaStream Penguin Review - How to Make Your Own Soda
My Love of Fizz
I have to admit, I’m not a fan of soda, or pop, as some call it. As someone who tries their best to remain as healthy as possible, the high-fructose corn syrup laden beverages are just not on my radar when my thirst must be quenched, nor are their aspartame laced diet alternatives. I just drink plain water to keep hydrated. The problem I have is that plain water just isn’t very palate pleasing. Sure, I could add a squeeze of lemon, but what I crave is the fizz of soda. I miss the effervescence, even that burning sensation you get on your tongue and in your throat due to the carbonic acid, a byproduct of the carbonation process. While it can be slightly painful, it’s an endorphin producing pain, the same type of pain that brings about pleasure to those who enjoy consuming extremely spicy foods. Also, no matter how hard you try to suppress it, you can’t deny the satisfaction of an expressive belch to expel that pent up carbon dioxide.
Store Bought Seltzer: Expensive and Bad for the Environment
My solution was to purchase seltzer, also known as sparkling water, fizzy water, carbonated water, or soda water. Seltzer from the grocery store can be purchased in small glass bottles, or larger liter size plastic bottles. The tiny glass bottles are great as they hold just the right amount. The only negative is they are usually more expensive. The plastic liter size bottles, while cheaper, seem to lose their fizz quicker. I’ll drink about half a bottle, screw the cap back on tight, and set it aside for later. When I later return, I’m often disappointed to find that most of the fizz has escaped. Also, even though I recycle the bottles, I know that their creation, shipment, and subsequent recycling processes all require energy that results in added environmental pollution.
SodaStream / Soda-Club and Their Line of Home Soda Makers
The SodaStream Company helps solve these problems with their line of home soda makers. They currently offer four different models: Fountain Jet ($99.95), Genesis ($129.95), Pure ($169.95), and Penguin ($249.95). The listed prices are for starter kits, and except for the Penguin, all include one carbonation canister and a BPA-free plastic bottle that holds one liter of liquid. One thing worth mentioning is that the plastic bottle does slowly degrade and must be replaced every three years. You can get a pack of two for around $15.
Unlike the other models, the Penguin uses glass carafes that hold 620ml of water. Also, the Penguin is the only model that is fully enclosed, which means you can’t watch the water being carbonated. Additionally, the Penguin starter kit includes two carbonation canisters, whereas the other starter kits contain only one.
Note: SodaStream will soon be offering a new model called Fizz. This model features something called Fizz Chip technology. The unit has an interactive digital screen which shows how much carbon dioxide is left inside the canister as well as the strength of the carbonation in the drink.
SodaStream offers two sizes of their carbonation canisters, one that makes 110 liters of soda water, and a smaller one that makes 60 liters. The Fountain is the only model that can accept both the 110 liter canister and the 60 liter canister. The other models can only accept the 60 liter canister. Canisters can be exchanged at one of thousand or so retail stores across the United States. To exchange an empty 110 liter canister for a full one costs $25, whereas it costs $30 to replace two 60 liter canisters. To exchange one 60 liter canister and buy a spare costs $40.
The Penguin Starter Kit – Our Review
Looks: The main unit is made out of stainless steel and plastic, and it does look remarkably penguin like. In my opinion, the Penguin model is the most elegant of all the models SodaStream offers, and it would look the most attractive on a kitchen counter.
The directions in the manual were easy to follow. I only had to remove a glass carafe from the unit, and then squeeze the penguins eyes simultaneously in order to pop the back cover off to install the carbon dioxide canister.
Making Soda Water at Home
In the manual, Sodastream makes it very clear that you should only use cold water before carbonating. This is because cold water will produce a stronger and longer lasting fizz as it slows down the dissolution of the carbon dioxide.
Once I had a carafe of cold water, all I had do is unlock the unit, put the carafe inside, close it and lock it. Next, I had to push down on the carbonation lever (penguin’s beak) until I heard the carbonation entering the carafe. It only took a second or two to hear the gas rush into the carafe. Once you hear it, you just release the lever. Then I just repeated this until I heard a whistle. The whistles provide you with an indication of how carbonated the water is becoming. If you enjoy lightly carbonated beverages, you press the lever down one more time for a total of two whistles.
However, if you prefer lots of fizz like I do, you press down the lever a couple more times until you have heard an altogether total of three or four whistles. Now, before you can unlock the machine to reveal your fizzy creation, you must allow the Penguin to release its excess gas… To do so, I had to press down on the pressure release button. When you do this you will hear a loud hiss which indicates the gas has been released. You can now unlock the machine. The top of the machine rises, and the stainless steel flask tips forward to reveal your glass carafe containing seltzer water. (Be sure to watch our video demonstration at the bottom of this article). I have to admit, the hiss of the gas and the “dink” sound the glass carafe makes as it hits the side of the steel flask once the flask tips forward is all very satisfying. With all the sounds and all the varieties of soda flavorings available to experiment with, I imagined I’d become a mad scientist let loose inside a bottling factory. Oh, and a word of warning, SodaStream emphasizes in the manual to only carbonate water with no additives. I’m wondering that if you tried to carbonate something like milk it would result in a catastrophe, with milk expelling from the Penguin’s orifices at remarkable speeds. The mental results of which would for sure require therapy to be able to look at penguins the same way ever again.
Seltzer Water – Results
It’s perfect. Highly carbonated, fizzy goodness.
Keeping the Fizz Contained – The Carafe Cap
Each carafe comes with a stopper. As you screw it on it clamps down into the bottle to create a perfect seal. I left a carafe of carbonated water in the fridge with a stopper on it for a week, and when I opened it, it was still fizzy!
SodaStream Brand Soda Flavorings
SodaStream offers a large line of flavoring syrups. Here is a listing of the flavors that come in both regular and diet versions: cola, cherry cola, energy drink (their version of Red Bull), lemon lime (their version of Sprite), orange, root beer, Fountain Mist (their version of Mountain Dew), Pete’s Choice (their version of Dr. Pepper), cranberry raspberry, cream soda, ginger ale, tonic, grape, orange mango, lemon iced tea, peach iced tea, and lemonade. The diet only flavors are: zero cola (their version of Coke Zero), diet cola caffeine free, and diet pink grapefruit (their version of diet Fresca. Each syrup bottle makes 12 liters of soda. The syrup bottles range in cost from $4.99 to $6.99, so it’s roughly $0.41 or $0.58 per liter (not factoring in any shipping charges if you order from their online store). What’s great is they also offer a variety pack consisting of twelve sample size bottles of their most popular flavors.
Each sample will make one liter of soda. SodaStream also offers what they call MyWater Essence Flavors, which are unsweetened, “all-natural” flavor essences which come in tiny 1.35 fluid ounce glass bottles that each make about twenty liters of flavored seltzer water. A set of three bottles costs $9.99, so figure you can flavor a liter of seltzer water for around $0.17. They currently offer the following MyWater Essence Flavors: mint, lemon lime, orange, berry, or a trial pack consisting of orange, lemon lime, and berry.
SodaStream Syrups Currently Use Splenda and Acesulfame Potassium
SodaStream doesn’t use high-fructose corn syrup in their flavorings, which is great, but what I’m not too thrilled about is that they use the artificial sweeteners Splenda and Acesulfame Potassium. What doesn’t make sense is that they even use the artificial sweeteners in the non-diet versions of the syrups. I have always had great concerns over the safety of using anything artificial in food or beverage products. As for the MyWater Essence flavors, they use “natural flavorings” which means the flavor is derived from something natural, but created chemically. I would like to see SodaStream offer all-natural syrups that contain only pure sugar or cane juice. I would also like to have the option of purchasing the syrups without any food colorings added.
Note: SodaStream will soon offer a line of syrups using only natural sugar.
The sample size pouches in the trial pack, and also the bottle tops you use to measure the syrup out of the bottles with are both designed to create a one liter size bottle of soda. This is a problem because the glass carafe that comes with the Penguin model only holds 620ml. The instructions on the bottle or trial pack doesn’t mention this. This could lead to pouring almost double the amount of syrup into the carafe, making the soda far too sweet. There needs to be trial packs made for the 620ml carafes. Also, the syrup bottle lids need to have a special measuring fill line indicating how much to use if you you have a 620ml size carafe.
Flavorings - Taste Tests
Below are the following flavors we tested and our opinions of them:
Pete’s Choice: Tastes and smells similar to Dr. Pepper, but the artificial sweeteners completely ruin it. It tastes like a diet version with the diet aftertaste I can’t stand.
Root Beer: Has no “bite” to it like real root beer does. It just came out watered down / weak tasting. It also has the same diet-like aftertaste due to the artificial sweeteners.
Orange-Mango: This one is a winner. Doesn’t have a diet aftertaste and reminds me of Tang, only tastier. Everyone I shared this one with really liked it.
Lemonade: Another winner. Tastes just like lemonade. It’s balanced really well and isn’t sour at all.
Tonic: I had never had tonic water before. And on the back of the bottle it says it contains quinine, so I know this is the real stuff. This was probably the worst tasting drink I’ve ever had in my life. Horrible bitter aftertaste that just lingered in the back of my throat. If you know you already love tonic water though, you will probably like this.
Energy: This is SodaStream’s version of Red Bull. I’ve never had a Red Bull so I can’t compare, but I enjoyed this. It has an interesting taste that I can only describe as fruity.
Orange: This was enjoyable as well. It reminded me of Sunkist soda.
Fountain Mist: This is their version of Mountain Dew and it does taste similar. It even has the neon like color.
Lemon-Lime: This is their version of Sprite and it tastes just like it. I was very impressed. If you don’t like drinking beverages with artificial colors this would be the syrup to choose.
Diet Cranberry Raspberry: Decent. Tart. Strong artificial sweetener taste.
Diet Pink Grapefruit: This was too tart for me but I had someone else try it and they didn’t think so at all. Strong artificial sweetener taste.
MyWater Flavor Essence – Berry: This flavored the seltzer with touch of berry flavor without adding any sweetness. It tastes exactly like the flavored seltzer water that you can purchase in the store.
Should You Purchase a Soda Maker?
If you love seltzer water, then you should be bubbling with anticipation on getting your own SodaStream soda maker. The ease of use, low cost per liter, convenience, and earth friendliness of making your own seltzer at home make it a no-brainer.
If you’re someone who doesn’t like seltzer but does enjoy flavored soda, then there are some things I would consider first. If you already drink diet soda, then you would probably love SodaStream’s current line of syrups. However, if your against consuming any kind of artificial sweeteners or lab created essences, I would hold off on purchasing a unit until SodaStream releases their upcoming line of syrups that use only natural sugar.
Which Model Should You Get?
While the Penguin model is the most elegant of them all, the 620ml carafe is just too small. It just doesn’t hold enough and it makes measuring syrups difficult. The model I would suggest purchasing is the Fountain Jet because it’s the cheapest, allows you to attach the larger 110 liter carbonation canister, and uses the one liter size bottle.
Penguin Demonstration Video:
Best Prices: Where to Purchase a SodaStream Machine
Do you have a Sodastream soda maker? If so, how do you like it? What are your favorite syrup flavors? Be sure to leave a comment and add your own SodaStream reviews in the comment section below!
Disclosure: Products were provided for free for this review.
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