No longer just limited to the age-old debate over Coke versus Pepsi, the soda aisle is now exploding with options making all sorts of promises. Whether brands are insisting that they’ll improve your health or approximate your favorite cocktail without the booze, this new generation of sodas is decidedly more complex in just about every sense than its predecessors.
They’re also fancier. Instead of being made with caramel color and untold artificial flavorings, these drinks are infused with ingredients like rose, basil, and cardamom to create sophisticated flavor profiles. As such, they’re a little pricier than the typical can of soda, starting at around $2, and are often found in chic markets instead of the drugstore. But they’re still worth seeking out, especially if you’re observing Dry January or are tired of your current rotation.
To help sort through this onslaught of new soda options, I tried more than a dozen fancy sodas ranging from those that insist they’ll make your gut healthier to juice-infused seltzers that are much more exciting than a boring ol’ Diet Coke.
Prebiotic soda and other “functional” options
In addition to quenching your thirst, these beverages proudly claim that they’ll improve your health, one way or another. Some are made with prebiotics that will nourish gut flora, while others include allegedly calming compounds like CBD and L-theanine that offer to soothe stress. Whether or not any of that’s actually true, these drinks taste good enough to take a chance.
Thanks to its brightly colored cans and the promise of prebiotics, or plant compounds that encourage gut flora growth, Poppi has taken over social media. The brand boasts classic soda flavors, like root beer and cola, along with more creative combinations like raspberry-rose and cherry limeade, all made with less sugar thanks to the addition of stevia. While the cola and root beer are pretty good for “healthy” sodas, the raspberry-rose flavor is definitely worth checking out even if you don’t care about the purported benefits.
Also packed with prebiotics, each can of Olipop boasts about 9 grams of fiber, which the brand says can help boost your digestive health. Amazingly, it doesn’t taste quite as “healthy” as you might expect, thanks to sweet flavors like Orange Squeeze and cherry vanilla. The Vintage Cola flavor is among the best — it’s a little bit spicy and plenty fizzy, making it perfect for sipping over lots of ice.
Unlike the aforementioned prebiotic sodas, Culture Pop actually includes probiotics, or tiny bacteria that can make your gut operations run more smoothly. It’s a solid alternative for people who can’t stomach the vinegar-y tang of kombucha, and is available in flavors like basil-lime or wild berry and pink peppercorn. As a bonus, it doesn’t include any artificial sweeteners or stevia.
This “functional” beverage eschews caffeine and other energy-boosting ingredients in favor of hemp, magnesium, and adaptogens, all of which promise calming, stress-reducing benefits. Flavors like blood orange and peach-ginger are made with real fruit juices and no artificial sweeteners, which means that they’re just the right amount of sugary without being over-the-top.
Seltzer is now ubiquitous on supermarket shelves, and many of the newest iterations of the fizzy beverage add juice, botanical flavors, and other ingredients that transform these beverages beyond the classic clear seltzer. These are the best of this new generation of seltzer-ish drinks.
Even though it’s technically in the seltzer category, Sanzo is a solid soda alternative thanks to the addition of juice. It’s not as dry as the typical seltzer, and boasts a slight sweetness that makes it perfect for pairing with lunch or using as a cocktail mixer. The best flavor is calamansi, a citrus that’s popular in Filipino cuisine, but don’t sleep on the lychee and yuzu-ginger varieties.
For anyone who loved orange soda as a kid but now considers their palate too sophisticated for a Crush, there’s San Pellegrino Aranciata. Made with Pellegrino’s iconic mineral water and orange juice, it’s an original fancy soda that’s been made in Italy since 1932. The brand makes other fruit sodas, including the lemon-flavored Limonata, but Aranciata is the best of the bunch thanks to the way that the orange works with the minerally flavor profile of Pellegrino. The Aranciata Rossa, or blood orange, is equally compelling.
Many of these new-generation sodas and seltzers are made with artificial sweeteners, which are a no-go for many folks. Enter Spindrift, which combines carbonated water with juice and tea for a slightly sweet beverage that isn’t as sugary as soda. The grapefruit flavor is wildly popular, and the cran-raspberry is perfect for anyone who likes a slightly tart sip.
Citrus enthusiasts know: There’s no flavor more coveted than the floral, lemony yuzu. Kimino makes its sparkling juice and sparkling water in flavors like ume (plum) and Fuji Ringo apple, but the yuzu flavor is the most coveted — and in my experience, the easiest to find. It’s made with yuzu fruit harvested on Japan’s Shikoku Island, and both the juice and sparkling water are great for drinking solo or stirring into a summery cocktail.
The most grown-up, marketed-as-nonalcoholic-options sodas
Whether you’re staying away from alcohol or just looking for a more nuanced flavor profile, these sodas take their cues from classic cocktails, thanks to the addition of ingredients like bitters and citrus, to produce a canned sip that’s truly sophisticated.
Bitters obsessives must try Casamara Club’s sodas, all of which are inspired by amaro, or bitter Italian liqueurs. The Alta flavor is intended to evoke the bitter citrus flavor profile of a classic Negroni without the booze, while Como is bright and complex, blending mandarin orange with mint and floral flavors.
Hella Bitters & Soda
For centuries, people have consumed the classic combination of fizzy water and bitters for medicinal purposes. Hella repackages the cocktail for today’s health-conscious drinkers in a sleek can and with the addition of gentian root, a common ingredient in popular bitters like angostura. Try the option that’s inspired by a classic Aperol spritz, or the excellent ginger-turmeric.
Described as a “nonalcoholic aperitif,” Ghia is definitely for grown-ups. The brand’s canned option, Le Spritz, is available in a slew of interesting flavors, including sumac & chili and lime with salt. The classic Ghia soda is a balanced and nuanced combination of flavors like elderflower, lemon balm extract, and riesling grape juice, and the ginger kicks things up with a hint of spicy zing.
While a lot of canned nonalcoholic cocktails tend to be bitter or citrusy, Avec offers a slightly broader range of flavor profiles. Fuji apple & cardamom, hibiscus-pomegranate, and spiced mango with passionfruit and almond are excellent options for anyone who wants a great drink that isn’t trying to imitate a classic cocktail.
Louiie Victa is a chef, recipe developer, food and beverage photographer, and stylist living in Las Vegas.