Soft drink

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Soft drinks on supermarket shelves.

The term soft drink—more commonly known as soda, pop, or soda pop, in parts of the United States, Canada, and the U.K.[1]—refers to nonalcoholic beverages that are usually (though not always) carbonated. By contrast, the term "hard drink" (or sometimes just "drink") is used for beverages that contain alcohol. Common soft drinks include colas, sparkling water, lemonade, squash, and fruit punch. Drinks such as hot chocolate, tea, coffee, milk, tap water, alcohol, and milkshakes do not fall in this classification.

Although soft drinks are very popular around the world, their consumption in large quantities has raised serious questions about their effects on health. It has been noted that, unless fortified with vitamins and minerals, they provide almost no nutrition, while displacing healthier drinks such as milk and fruit juices. Generally sweetened with refined sugar or corn syrup, the drinks supply an over-abundance of calories. Moreover, the drinks often contain artificial flavoring, coloring, and other additives that may not be good for health. Some studies have found an association between high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages with weight gain, and with an increased risk for the development of type 2 diabetes (particularly in women).

History of soft drinks

The history of soft drinks can be traced back to the mineral waters found in natural springs. Peoples of ancient cultures believed that bathing in natural springs and drinking mineral waters could cure many diseases. Scientists who studied mineral waters included Paracelsus, Robert Boyle, Friedrich Hoffmann, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, Hermann Boerhaave, William Brownrigg, Gabriel Venel, Joseph Black, and David Macbride.

The first marketed soft drinks (non-carbonated) appeared in the seventeenth century. They were made from water and lemon juice sweetened with honey. In 1676, the Compagnie de Limonadiers of Paris was granted a monopoly for the sale of lemonade soft drinks. Vendors carried tanks of lemonade on their backs and dispensed cups of the soft drink to thirsty Parisians.

Joseph Priestley and other scientists

In the 1770s, several scientists made important progress in replicating natural mineral waters. In England, Joseph Priestley impregnated distilled water with carbon dioxide. Another Englishman, John Mervin Nooth, improved on Priestley's design and sold his apparatus for commercial use in pharmacies. Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman invented a generating apparatus that made carbonated water from chalk by the use of sulfuric acid. Bergman's apparatus allowed for the production of large amounts of imitation mineral water.

Soda fountain pioneers

Artificial mineral waters, usually called "soda water," and the soda fountain made the biggest splash in the United States. Beginning in 1806, Benjamin Silliman, a Yale chemistry professor, used a Nooth apparatus to produce soda water and sold it in New Haven, Connecticut. Businessmen in Philadelphia and New York City also began selling soda water around that time. In the 1830s, John Matthews of New York City and John Lippincott of Philadelphia began manufacturing soda fountains. Both of them were successful and established large factories to produce the fountains.

Health properties of mineral water

The drinking of either natural or artificial mineral water was considered a healthy practice. American pharmacists selling mineral waters began adding herbs and chemicals to unflavored mineral water. They used birch bark, dandelion, sarsaparilla, fruit extracts, and other substances. The also added flavorings to improve taste. Pharmacies with soda fountains became a popular part of American culture. Many Americans frequented the soda fountain on a daily basis.

On account of problems in the U.S. glass industry, bottled drinks were a small portion of the market in the nineteenth century. Most soft drinks were dispensed and consumed at soda fountains, usually in drugstores or ice cream parlors. In the early twentieth century, sales of bottled soda increased exponentially. In the latter half of the twentieth century, canned soft drinks became an important share of the market.

Soft drink bottling industry

During the early days of the bottling industry, more than 1,500 U.S. patents were filed for either a cork, cap, or lid for the carbonated drink bottle tops. The gas within carbonated drinks creates a lot of pressure, and inventors were trying to find the best way to prevent the carbon dioxide bubbles from escaping. In 1892, the "Crown Cork Bottle Seal" was patented by William Painter, a Baltimore machine shop operator. It was the first very successful method of keeping the bubbles in the bottle.

Automatic production of glass bottles

In 1899, the first patent was issued for a glass-blowing machine for the automatic production of glass bottles. Earlier glass bottles had all been hand-blown. Four years later, the new bottle-blowing machine was in operation. It was first operated by the inventor, Michael Owens, an employee of Libby Glass Company. Within a few years, glass bottle production increased from 1,500 bottles a day to 57,000 bottles a day.

Hom-Paks and vending machines

During the 1920s, the first "Hom-Paks" were invented. They are the familiar six-pack beverage carrying cartons made from cardboard. Automatic vending machines also came on the scene in the 1920s. The soft drink had become an American mainstay.

Production of fizzy drinks

A soft drink with fizz at the top.

Fizzy drinks (carbonated beverages) are produced by injecting carbon dioxide into the drink at a pressure of several atmospheres. Carbon dioxide dissolves readily at normal atmospheric pressure, particularly in cold beverages, but far more so that at high pressure large volumes of gas can be dissolved. When the pressure is released, the carbon dioxide comes out of solution, forming numerous bubbles that escape back into the atmosphere. After a few hours, most of the carbon dioxide has escaped and the drink is said to be "flat."

The chemical phenomenon whereby carbonated drinks taste sharper is due to carbonic acid inducing a slight burning sensation, and is only indirectly related to the bubbles. Both phenomena are caused by the carbonic acid concentration.

Carbonation can be produced by partial fermentation in a sealed container. This is the method used in the production of ginger beer. By careful control and the use of appropriate yeasts, the alcohol level can be kept very low.


Cans of soft drinks at a supermarket.

In the U.S., soft drinks are often sold in two-liter bottles, one-liter plastic bottles, 24 and 20 US fluid ounce bottles and in 12 U.S. fluid ounce cans. They are packaged in a variety of quantities like six packs, 12 packs and cases of 24 and cases of 36. In Japan, 1.5 liter bottles, 500 mL and 350 mL bottles and cans are more common. With the advent of energy drinks sold in 8 ounce cans in the U.S., some soft drinks are now sold in similarly sized cans. It is also common for fizzy soft drinks to be served as fountain drinks in which carbonation is added to a concentrate immediately prior to serving. In Europe, various systems are in use: plastic and glass bottles of sizes 2, 1.5, 1, 0.5, 0.35, 0.33 liters and aluminum cans of 0.33, 0.35, and 0.25 liters. Several countries have standard recycled packaging with a forfeit such as 0.15 euro: The bottles are washed and reused, cans are crushed and sold as scrap aluminum.

In Australia soft drinks are usually sold in 375 mL cans or glass or plastic bottles. Bottles are usually 390 mL, 600 mL, 1.25 L or 2 L. However, 1.5L bottles have more recently been used by the Coca-Cola Company.

Mixed soft drinks

Many people mix soft drinks, usually from a soda fountain, to combine flavor. Nicknames have been given to this concept of mixing soft-drinks by those who do it, among them are suicide, graveyard, sewage, pop bomb, swamp water, tornado, kamikaze, garbage soda, hurricane, atomic bomb, splat, or garbage can.


A "float" is created by dropping a scoop of ice cream into a soft drink. In the mid-western United States, a soft drink with ice cream added is most often called an "ice cream soda," or soda for short, as it is made at a soda fountain. In Australia and New Zealand, this is known as a Spider. In Scotland, (mainly West) this is sometimes referred to as an "iced drink" or an "ice-cream soda" (for example a "coke soda" or a "coke ice cream soda"). The most common of these is the Root beer float.

In Brazil, a scoop of ice cream in a soft drink may be given different names:

  • Vaca preta (black cow): Ice cream in cola
  • Vaca amarela (yellow cow): Ice cream in a guaraná-flavored soft drink
  • Pantera cor de rosa (the Pink Panther): Strawberry ice cream in lemon-lime soft drink

In Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, there is a regional variation: Cola (regardless of brand) and vanilla ice cream constitute a "coke afloat."

In the U.S., some floats have specific names, including Black Cow, Brown Cow, or Purple Cow, corresponding to vanilla or chocolate ice cream in root beer; or Boston Cooler, which is vanilla ice cream in Vernor's ginger ale.


Nutritional value

Nearly all of the food energy in soft drinks is in the form of refined cane sugar or corn syrup. Although the United States Department of Agriculture has a recommended daily allotment (RDA) of added sugars at 10 teaspoons for a 2,000-calorie diet, many soft drinks contain more than this amount. Unless fortified, they contain little to no vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, or other essential nutrients. Soft drinks may also displace other healthier choices in a person's diet, such as water, milk, and fruit juice.

Many soft drinks contain food additives such as food coloring, artificial flavoring, emulsifiers, and preservatives, which some consumers find objectionable. Some also argue that caffeine-containing soft drinks are not a valid source of dietary fluids because of the diuretic properties of caffeine. This argument, however, is disputed.[2]

Studies showing a correlation between soft drinks and obesity

A study shows that soft drinks may be responsible for the doubling of obesity in children in the United States over the last 15 years.

From 1991 and 1995, adolescent boys in the U.S., on average, increased their intake of soft drinks from 345 mL to 570 mL. Most soft drinks are sweetened with sugar or corn syrup, and not artificial sweeteners. Dr. David Ludwig of the Boston Children's Hospital showed that school children drinking at least eight U.S. fluid ounces (240 mL) or more of regularly sweetened drinks daily will consume 835 calories (3,500 kilojoules) more than those avoiding soft drinks. In other words, children who drink soft drinks loaded with sugar tend to eat much more food than those who avoid soft drinks. Either those taking sugared drinks lack the same restraint on foods, or sugared drinks cause a rise in insulin that makes adolescents more hungry, causing them to eat more. Soft drinks (including diet soft drinks) are also typically consumed with other high-calorie foods such as fast food. Children who drink soft drinks regularly are therefore fatter on average, in addition to being more likely to develop diabetes later in life (see below).[3]

This finding is controversial, because children in much of the Third World also consume large numbers of soft drinks with even more sugar and do not share the same obesity rates as American children, indicating that other factors are involved, besides sugar consumption in soft drinks. Suggested factors include physical activity, and the fact that American soft drinks are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup instead of cane sugar.

In March 2006, Pediatrics published a paper, "Effects of Decreasing Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption on Body Weight in Adolescents: A Randomized, Controlled Pilot Study." According to this study, reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages helped reduce body mass index in the heaviest teenagers. It was reported that drinking a single 330-ml can a day of sugary drinks translated to more than one pound of weight gain every month.[4]

Soft drinks linked to weight gain and type 2 diabetes

In 2004, an eight-year study of 50,000 nurses showed a correlation that suggests drinking one or more sugar-sweetened beverages (such as soft drinks and fruit punches) per day increases one's risk of developing diabetes by 80 percent, versus those who drink less than one such drink per month. This finding was independent of other lifestyle factors. It concludes, "Higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with a greater magnitude of weight gain and an increased risk for development of type 2 diabetes in women, possibly by providing excessive calories and large amounts of rapidly absorbable sugars."[5]

Soft drinks and teeth

A large number of soft drinks are acidic and some may have a pH of 3.0 or even lower.[6] Drinking acidic drinks over a long period of time and continuous sipping can therefore erode tooth enamel. Drinking through a straw is often advised by dentists, as the drink is then swallowed near the back of the mouth and does not come into contact with the teeth. It has also been suggested that brushing teeth right after drinking soft drinks should be avoided as this can result in additional erosion to the teeth due to the presence of acid.[7]

Soft drinks and sleep

According to one report, soft drinks with caffeine can disrupt children's sleep and leave them feeling tired during the day.[8]

Soft drinks and bones

There has been a theory that the phosphoric acid contained in some soft drinks (colas) displaces calcium from the bones, lowering bone density of the skeleton and leading to conditions such as osteoporosis and very weak bones. However, calcium metabolism studies by leading calcium and bone expert Dr. Robert Heaney determined that the net effect of carbonated soft drinks, (including colas, which use phosphoric acid as the acidulant) on calcium retention was negligible. He concluded that it is likely that colas prominence in observational studies is due to their prominence in the marketplace, and that the real issue is that people who drink a lot of soft drinks also tend to have an overall diet that is low in calcium.[9]


In recent years, debate on whether soft drink vending machines should be allowed in school has been on the rise. Proponents believe that soft drinks are a significant contributor to childhood obesity and tooth decay, and that allowing soft drink sales in schools encourages children to believe they are safe to consume in moderate to large quantities. Proponents note that children are not always mature enough to understand the consequences of their own food choices, and should not be routinely exposed to the temptation of cheap, readily available soft drinks. They also argue that schools have a responsibility to look after the health of the children in their care, and that allowing children easy access to soft drinks violates that responsibility. Opponents believe that obesity is a complex issue and soft drinks are not the only cause. They also note the immense amount of funding soft drink sales bring to schools. Some people take the middle ground, saying that soft drink machines should be allowed in schools, but that they should not be the only option available. They propose that when soft drink vending machines are made available in school grounds, the schools should be required to provide children with a choice of alternative drinks (such as fruit juice, flavored water, and milk) at a comparable price. However, fruit drinks may contain as much sugar as the soft drinks they replace.

On May 3, 2006, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation,[10] Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the American Beverage Association announced new School Beverage Guidelines[10] that will voluntarily remove high-calorie soft drinks from all U.S. schools.

On May 19, 2006, UK Education Secretary Alan Johnson announced new minimum nutrition standards for school food. Amongst a wide range of measures, from September 2006, school lunches will be free from fizzy drinks. Schools will also end the sale of junk food (including fizzy drinks) in vending machines and tuck shops.[11]

In August 2006, after a controversial new report about the presence of pesticides in soft drinks sold in India, many state governments have issued a ban of the sale of soft drinks in schools. Kerala has issued a complete ban on the sale or manufacture of soft drinks altogether. In return, soft drink companies such as Coca Cola and Pepsi have issued ads in the media regarding the safety of consumption of the drinks. Since there is yet no enforcement of the agreed standards by the Bureau of Indian Standards, the governing body to oversee the safety levels in soft drinks in India, it remains to be seen how this situation will be resolved.[12]

Carcinogens in soft drinks

Benzene is a known carcinogen, or cancer-causing agent. Major soft drink companies have had documentation of benzene contamination in soft drinks since at least 1990. It was originally thought that the contamination was caused by contaminated carbon dioxide, but research has shown that benzoates and ascorbic acid or erythorbic acid can react to produce benzene.[13]

In 2006, the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency published the results of its survey of benzene levels in soft drinks,[14] which tested 150 products and found that four contained benzene levels above the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for drinking water. The agency asked for these to be removed from sale. The United States Food and Drug Administration released its own test results of several soft drinks and beverages containing benzoates and ascorbic or erythorbic acid. Five tested beverages contained benzene levels above the Environmental Protection Agency's recommended standard of 5 ppb. The Environmental Working Group has uncovered additional FDA test results that showed the following results: Of 24 samples of diet soda tested between 1995 and 2001 for the presence of benzene, 19 (79 percent) had amounts of benzene in excess of the federal tap water standard of 5 ppb. Average benzene levels were 19 ppb, about four times tap water standard. One sample contained 55 ppb of benzene, 11 fold tap water standards. Despite these findings, as of 2006, the FDA stated its belief that "the levels of benzene found in soft drinks and other beverages to date do not pose a safety concern for consumers."[15]


The Center for Science in the Public Interest believes that a small tax on soft drinks may help curb consumption while raising money to fight obesity. (See fat tax) Opponents of this scheme believe this creates a conflict of interest for the government who collects these taxes, and may undermine their ability to reduce consumption of soft drinks.[16]

Alcohol content

A report in October 2006 demonstrates that some soft drinks contain measurable amounts of alcohol.[17] In some older preparations, this resulted from natural fermentation used to build the carbonation. Modern drinks use introduced carbon dioxide but alcohol might result from fermentation of sugars in an unsterile environment. A small amount of alcohol is introduced to at least some soft drinks where alcohol is used in the preparation of the flavoring extracts.[18] The Turkish soft drink manufacturer whose product was listed as highest in alcohol in the October 2006 study noted that the naturally occurring alcohol level in yogurt is 1.5 times higher than that found in their soft drink.[19]


  1. Pop Vs. Soda, Generic Names for Soft Drinks by County. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  2. Snopes, Eight Glasses. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  3. 2001. Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: A prospective, observational analysis, Lancet 357:505-08.
  4. Sam Lister, Can-a-day soft drink habit that puts a stone a year on teenagers, Times Online. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  5. M.B. Schulze, J.E. Manson, D.S. Ludwig, G.A. Colditz, M.J. Stampfer, W.C. Willett, and F.B. Hu, Sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain, and incidence of type 2 diabetes in young and middle-aged women, JAMA. 292 (8): 927-34. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  6. British Soft Drinks, Acids. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  7. M.A. Bassiouny, J. Yang, Influence of drinking patterns of carbonated beverages on dental erosion, General Dentistry 53:3.
  8. BBC, Fizzy drinks affect children's sleep. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  9. R.P. Heaney and K. Rafferty, Carbonated beverages and urinary calcium excretion, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 74: 343-347.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Healthy Generation, Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  11. Alan Johnson, Setting the Standard for School Food, Department for Children, Schools and Families. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  12. Sanjoy Majumder, Indian state bans Pepsi and Coke. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  13., Benzene production from decarboxylation of benzoic acid in the presence of ascorbic acid and a transition-metal catalyst, Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  14., Survey of Benzene Levels in Soft Drinks.
  15. FDA, Questions and Answers on the Occurrence of Benzene in Soft Drinks and Other Beverages. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  16. Merrill Matthews, Soft Drink Tax Slowly Gains Momentum. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  17. Abdulhamit Yildiz, Soft Drink Producers Silent on Alcohol Report, Today's Zaman. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  18. My Masjid, Alcohol: In soft drinks. Retrieved September 26, 2007.
  19. Sabah, Dumankaya ürünlerini Dalan'la birlikte tanıttı. Retrieved September 26, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Ashurst, Philip R. (ed.). 2005. Chemistry and Technology of Soft Drinks and Fruit Juices, 2nd edition. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Pub. ISBN 1405122862.
  • Falls, Michaela (ed.). 2004. The Food & Beverage Industry: Industry Leaders on Manufacturing, Marketing and Distributing the Edible Goods that Sell. Inside the Minds. Boston: Aspatore Books.
  • Steen, David P., and P. R. Ashurst (eds.). 2006. Carbonated Soft Drinks: Formulation and Manufacture. Oxford: Blackwell Pub. ISBN 1405134356.

External links

All links retrieved January 30, 2023.


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