Despite the anti-sugar fearmongering and our collective obsessions with wellness and hydration, there are still millions of Americans who, at some point every day, drink a soda. And a growing minority of those soda-drinkers are consuming “dirty sodas,” a concoction that’s trending on TikTok following more than a decade of obsession in Utah.
In the mid-2010s, shops slinging “dirty sodas,” or fountain sodas spiked with cream, flavored syrups, and other add-ins, started popping up all over Utah. The drinks are similar to Italian sodas, which combine flavored syrups with club soda, but are made with popular soft drinks like Sprite and Diet Coke. Their popularity is owed in large part to Utah’s substantial population of Mormons, many of whom do not drink alcoholic beverages or coffee (and other “hot drinks) because they are explicitly prohibited in the religious dogma.
“Dirty sodas have become more than a novel beverage; they have enmeshed themselves into the culture of Utah,” Michelle Leung wrote for Vice in 2016, as the dirty soda trend was peaking in that state. “Dirty soda shops are where you take the kids after soccer practice, where you go on a first date, where you stop in the morning, and where you go after work to treat yourself after your long day.”
In the years since Leung’s article, these virgin spiked sodas became a bonafide online sensation. Dirty soda shops have proliferated in Utah, and brands like Swig and Sodalicious are now opening a slew of new locations across the country. The genesis of the current TikTok trend can be linked to Gen Z musician Olivia Rodrigo, who posted a photo with a cup from Utah chain Swig in December 2021. Just a few months later, TikTok is now replete with more than 700,000 mentions of the #dirtysoda hashtag, most of which accompany videos of creators showing viewers how to make their own dirty sodas at home.
The formula for the original dirty soda, the exact origin of which is hard to pinpoint, is simple: a Diet Coke poured over ice, then spiked with a shot of coconut syrup, lime juice, and half-and-half. Some shops use coconut-flavored coffee creamer instead of the syrup, but the flavor profile is ultimately the same. These days, there are are thousands of different combinations of cream, flavored syrups, fruit, and other add-ins on both soda shop menus and online videos, making this the kind of drink that you can fully customize to suit your preferences.
In the interest of science — and after seeing about a thousand TikTok videos on the subject — I grabbed a bottle of Coconut Creme Coffee-Mate at the grocery store on Sunday and set out to make my own dirty soda. I don’t drink Diet Coke, which meant that a cold can of Dr. Pepper would have to do. I poured it over ice in a cup, then added a shot of the creamer and squeezed a wedge of lime inside. After mixing the concoction, I was mildly concerned that my drink had curdled, because combining dairy and citrus juice doesn’t generally tend to produce good results. With a quick stir, though, the mixture came together nicely and my dirty soda was ready to drink.
Taking the first sip, I was a little unsettled by its light tan color, and could still see little speckles of cream that hadn’t fully incorporated into the mixture. Upon tasting, though, it actually turned out to be pretty good! The creaminess was nice and the acidity of the lime a pleasing addition to a super-sweet soda. The coconut was arguably a little overpowering, and tasted slightly like sunscreen, but only in that good way that recalls a bright blue snow cone or an Ocean Water at Sonic Drive-In.
Adding cream to soda seems a little weird at first, but soda floats have existed for more than a century. Remember a root beer float? Or a purple cow? It’s sort of the same thing, only missing a scoop of ice cream. It’s sweet and creamy, and makes something as simple as consuming a beverage feel a little bit special, almost like you’re enjoying a dessert. But am I totally convinced that dirty sodas are as great as the folks who are religiously prohibited from consuming anything stronger than Coke seem to think? Definitely not.