11 - 2007

Dealbusters: Homemade ginger ale

This is the first in a Monday series checking out whether something that sounds like a good deal really is. We’ll look at cost and benefit — with everything filtered through my individual experience. Please chime in with your take.

Ginger Ale

Over the past few weeks, I’ve tried out this recipe for ginger ale a couple of times, partly because I’m in a science project kind of mood, partly because I was curious whether homemade soda can touch the real stuff.

The cost breakdown:
1 cup of sugar = $0.14
¼ tsp yeast = $0.14
2T grated ginger = $0.08
2 liters of water = $0.00 (effectively zero, based on our water costs of $.00186 per gallon — I know, that’s outrageously cheap)
Total: $0.36 for two liters

The winner: Sometimes soda is $0.99 for a two-liter bottle on sale. So, homemade ginger ale sans lemon (because I had none) saves 64 percent over Canada Dry. With lemon, it still would be cheaper.

The priceless factors:

  • Canada Dry includes high fructose corn syrup, sodium benzoate and caramel color. Homemade has none of that.
  • Canada Dry has 33 grams of sugar per 12 ounces. Homemade starts with 20 grams per serving (a rough estimate using probably sketchy calculations) — and some of that is eaten by the yeast. I’m not sure how much remains — but homemade has less sugar.
  • Homemade has a bit of alcohol in it — although it isn’t so delicious as to inspire anyone to drink the 1.5 gallons needed to equal the alcoholic power of one bottle of beer, as estimated by Dr. Fankhauser.
  • Big eco-benefit: Making it at home allows me to re-use a sturdy plastic milk bottle, rather than buy a new plastic bottle to hold the soda.

One caveat: I usually don’t buy or drink much soda. So if I start making ginger ale all the time, I’ll run a cost deficit, since I’ll be adding an expense rather than replacing something pricier.

The verdict: Mixed. Homemade is okay, although it has a faint yeasty aftertaste. I suspect the lemon would help, and perhaps some additional sugar. The nutritional and financial aspects are good. It’s worth tweaking the recipe. And it has been really fun to see how fermented soda is made.

Grade: B+

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