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What is in a cream soda?

Cream soda is a sweet carbonated soft drink that has a distinct vanilla flavor. It’s a popular beverage that has been around since the mid-1800s. But what exactly gives cream soda its unique taste and texture? Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients that go into making this classic drink.

The Main Ingredients

There are 4 key ingredients that are used to make cream soda:

  • Carbonated water – This provides the bubbles and fizz.
  • Sugar or high fructose corn syrup – These sweeteners give cream soda its sweet flavor.
  • Natural and artificial flavors – Vanilla is the most common flavor used, but others like caramel or wintergreen can also be used.
  • Caramel color – This gives cream soda its darker creamy color.

The exact recipes and proportions of these ingredients vary between brands and manufacturers. But nearly all cream sodas contain these basic components.

Carbonated Water

The carbonated water, or soda water, used in cream sodas starts off as plain purified water. It then gets infused with carbon dioxide gas under pressure. This creates the bubbles and fizziness when you pour a glass of cream soda.

Carbonation not only gives the drink its bubbly effervescence, but it also delivers a slight tartness and dryness that balances the sweet flavors. Without the carbonated water, the drink would be cloyingly sweet and syrupy.

Traditionally, cream sodas were made using a combination of plain carbonated water and carbonated water flavored with vanilla. The addition of the vanilla-flavored carbonated water gave the drink its namesake creaminess. However, most modern cream sodas use artificial flavors instead.

Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup

What would a soda be without a sweetener? Cream sodas derive their sweet taste from added sugars or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Early cream soda recipes used sucrose or table sugar as the sweetener. However, most mass produced cream sodas today use high fructose corn syrup instead. HFCS is cheaper to produce than regular sugar and also mixes easier into beverages.

On average, a 12 ounce can of cream soda contains about 39-40 grams of added sugars. This is around 10 teaspoons worth of sugar in just one serving!

Sugar Content of Popular Cream Sodas

Cream Soda Brand Serving Size Total Sugars (g)
A&W Cream Soda 12 fl oz 39g
IBC Cream Soda 12 fl oz 40g
Stewart’s Cream Soda 12 fl oz 39g

As you can see, most mainstream cream sodas contain right around 40 grams of added sugar per serving. That’s a hefty dose of sweetness! Going with smaller serving sizes or diluting with seltzer water can help reduce the amount of sugars consumed.

Natural and Artificial Flavors

This is what gives cream soda its distinctive flavor profile. Traditional cream sodas were flavored with vanilla from vanilla beans or vanilla extracts. However, most large scale producers now use artificial vanilla and other flavorings instead.

According to food regulations, artificial flavors are chemically formulated substances that mimic natural flavors. For cream sodas, the key artificial flavoring used is vanillin. This replicates the taste of natural vanilla at a lower cost.

Artificial cream soda flavors may also contain touches of other flavor elements like caramel, cinnamon, and nutmeg. This helps create a more complex, creamy taste.

A few specialty cream soda brands do still make their drinks with real vanilla and other natural flavors. For example, Virgil’s Cream Soda advertises using aged vanilla imported from Madagascar. However, natural vanilla flavored creams sodas are more expensive to produce.

Natural vs. Artificial Cream Soda Flavors

Type Source Flavor Profile Cost
Natural Flavors Vanilla beans, extracts, oils Smooth, robust vanilla taste Higher
Artificial Flavors Chemically derived compounds Accurate but less complex vanilla taste Lower

Purists insist that cream sodas made with real vanilla have a depth of flavor that artificial vanilla lacks. But artificial flavors have allowed cream sodas to be mass produced and made affordable.

Caramel Color

Caramel color is added to give cream sodas their distinctive caramel hue. Without it, the sodas would be clear like lemon-lime sodas.

The caramel color used in cream sodas is made from heated carbohydrates like corn, sugar beets, molasses, or wheat. The controlled heating gives the finished caramel color a rich brown tone.

This caramel color has properties that help stabilize the beverage’s texture and appearance. It ensures that the ingredients stay evenly dispersed while giving the drink its opaque, creamy look.

A tiny amount of caramel coloring goes a long way. Cream sodas only get their caramel tint from 15-20 parts per million of caramel coloring. Such a small amount does not add any distinct caramel flavor.

Other Possible Ingredients

In addition to the core ingredients, some cream sodas may also contain:

  • Citric acid – Adds some tartness and helps preserve and stabilize the soda.
  • Phosphoric acid – Sharpens flavors and prevents mold growth.
  • Potassium benzoate – Another preservative that inhibits bacteria growth.
  • Caffeine – Not typical, but some contain caffeine for an extra kick.

However, amounts of these other additives are generally very small. The main components in cream soda remain carbonated water, sweeteners, flavors, and caramel color.

The Cream Soda Making Process

So how exactly are the ingredients turned into the finished fizzy drink? Here is a quick rundown of the main steps:

  1. The sweetener, caramel color, and water are blended together into a syrup mixture.
  2. The flavorings are added to the syrup mixture and thoroughly incorporated.
  3. The syrup is cooled, filtered, and run through quality control checks.
  4. The finished syrup is combined with carbonated water and bottled.
  5. The filled bottles are sealed and pasteurized to kill any microbial contaminants.
  6. The carbonated cream soda bottles are packaged and shipped out for enjoyment!

This multi-step process allows large batches of cream soda to be produced efficiently. Automated machinery streamlines much of the mixing, bottling, and packaging stages as well.

The History of Cream Soda

Cream soda has a very long history dating back to the 1800s. Here are some key events in the origins and rise of this classic beverage:

  • 1800s – Homemade cream sodas first became popular in America and Britain. Early recipes used bicarbonate of soda and tartaric acid to achieve carbonation.
  • 1850s – Manufacturers started artificially carbonating water, allowing soda water to be mass produced.
  • 1876 – Hires Root Beer introduced the first commercially made cream soda in Philadelphia, PA.
  • 1885 – Charles Alderton invented Dr Pepper in Waco, TX, one of the first nationally popular cream sodas.
  • 1916 – The Patent Office recognized cream soda as the name of a distinct flavored carbonated beverage.
  • 1930s – Improved technology and infrastructure allowed cream sodas to be bottled and shipped across the country.

Cream soda grew from a homemade treat to a beloved mass produced beverage over the course of 100+ years. Generations have enjoyed this sweet, creamy drink to this day.

Cream Soda vs. Root Beer

Cream soda is sometimes confused with root beer, since both drinks have a similarly thick, creamy texture. But cream soda and root beer are distinctly different drinks!

Here’s how cream sodas and root beers differ:

Cream Soda Root Beer
Sweet vanilla flavor Savory spice and wintergreen flavors
Caramel colored Dark brown colored
No caffeine Can contain caffeine
Smooth, creamy mouthfeel Foamy, frothy texture

So in summary, cream sodas focus on vanilla flavors and sweetness, while root beers pack spicy, earthy flavors. Both make tasty options though!

Where to Buy Cream Soda

Wondering where you can pick up a nice cold cream soda? Here are some of the best places to buy bottles and cans of this delicious beverage:

  • Grocery stores – Check the soda aisle for brands like A&W, IBC, and Stewart’s.
  • Convenience stores – Many c-stores carry individual cream soda bottles and cans in their refrigerated cases.
  • Specialty soda shops – These stores offer unique craft cream sodas you won’t find in mainstream markets.
  • Online retailers – Several websites sell a huge variety of cream sodas that can be shipped to your door.
  • Restaurants and diners – Fountain cream soda is still available at many old-fashioned ice cream parlors and burger joints.

You can’t go wrong picking up a cream soda from any of these sources to enjoy the familiar sweet taste!

How to Make Homemade Cream Soda

You can also easily whip up homemade cream soda if you want to control the ingredients. Here is an easy DIY cream soda recipe to try:

Homemade Cream Soda Recipe


  • 3 cups chilled seltzer or club soda
  • 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Whipped cream (optional)


  1. In a tall glass, mix together the seltzer and sweetened condensed milk until fully combined.
  2. Add in the vanilla extract and stir gently to distribute throughout.
  3. Top with whipped cream if desired.
  4. Add ice cubes and enjoy!

This easy 3-ingredient recipe lets you create old-fashioned cream soda at home using ingredients you likely have on hand. Feel free to play around with the proportions to get the flavor you prefer.

Cream Soda Variations

Traditional cream sodas may have vanilla as the star flavor, but many fun spin-offs exist as well. Some popular cream soda varieties include:

Caramel Cream Soda

Adds extra caramel flavoring for a candy-like taste.

Chocolate Cream Soda

Combines cream soda with chocolate syrup for a creamy dessert-inspired beverage.

Strawberry Cream Soda

Infuses fruity strawberry flavor into the classic cream soda taste.

Orange Cream Soda

Blends vanilla cream soda with fresh orange citrus notes.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to inventive new cream soda flavors. Part of the fun is trying unique variations and flavors from new cream soda producers.

Benefits and Downsides of Cream Soda

Like most sodas, cream soda comes with both some potential perks and drawbacks. Let’s break down the key pros and cons of drinking cream soda:

Potential Benefits

  • Nostalgic taste – Cream soda has a delicious old-fashioned flavor.
  • Caffeine-free – Most creams sodas don’t have caffeine, so they won’t affect sleep.
  • Variety – Many unique cream soda flavors exist beyond just vanilla.
  • Smooth mouthfeel – The creamy texture goes down easily.

Potential Drawbacks

  • High in sugar – Contains around 40g of added sugar per serving.
  • Calorie-dense – A 12oz can packs 170+ calories, mostly from sugar.
  • Acidity – The acidity from carbonation can bother sensitive teeth and stomachs.
  • Artificial colors & flavors – Most mainstream brands use chemical additives.

Moderating intake and choosing smaller serving sizes can help maximize cream soda’s nostalgic flavor while limiting its less healthy qualities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is cream soda bad for you?

Like most sodas, cream soda is high in added sugars and provides empty calories and carbs. However, consumed occasionally in moderation, it can be enjoyed as part of an overall healthy diet.

Does cream soda have caffeine?

Most traditional cream sodas do not contain any caffeine. However, some varieties like cream soda flavored energy drinks or custom versions may include added caffeine.

Is cream soda gluten-free?

Most mainstream cream sodas are gluten-free, since they are made without wheat, barley, rye, or other gluten-containing ingredients. But specialty cream sodas may not always be gluten-free, so check labels if avoiding gluten.

What soda tastes most like cream soda?

The soda that comes closest to a true cream soda’s flavor is root beer, since it shares a similar vanilla, caramelized, and creamy flavor profile. The two drinks are still distinct, but root beer drinkers often also enjoy cream soda.

Why is it called cream soda?

Cream soda gets its name from its creamy, milky, and smooth mouthfeel and appearance. Early recipes used milk or cream to get this texture, but modern versions recreate it using carbonation, caramel coloring, and vanilla flavors.


Cream soda has been a cherished sweet treat since the 19th century. Its signature blend of flavors creates a uniquely refreshing drinking experience. While too much cream soda isn’t healthy, enjoying one occasionally can be a tasty treat when you want something flavorful but caffeine-free. With its nostalgic taste and endless variety, cream soda is sure to remain popular for generations to come.