Thursday, April 06, 2006

What's A Fan To Do?

It seems as if someone is always trying to suck all the joy and livability out of life and the things we love and today is no different, my friends. Many of you may have already seen the headlines in numerous news outlets concerning the presence of benzene in Soft Drinks. As usual there will be many different versions of the tale, as the spinmeisters and their news organisations take the information and rewrite it to suit their particular agenda.

So, what is a fan of Root Beer and Soda to do? Well, first things first....

That's the key now, isn't it? That and wait for some seriously solid numbers and data, which are sorely lacking in this matter. The Environmental Working Group, the folks who are doing the loudest yelling on this issue have some data available that tends to support their claim that benzene could form in drinks under certain conditions. They cite studies from the UK that tend to point towards the formation of benzene in some drinks towards the end of shelf life. Without seeing the data from which they drew their numbers I am unwilling to say whether they have a case or not.

Here's what I do know from reading up on this matter. Benzene may form in some drinks under certain conditions. If a drink contains ascorbic acid and a benzoate (Sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate) and is stored at warm temperatures for long periods of time then benzene MAY form due to the combination of chemicals, time and heat. I also know that this story is being spun. The headlines from all over are saying the benzene is to be found in "soft drinks" and, judging from what I have managed to read on this, the drinks with the highest levels appear to be Juice Drinks, not Sodas and the like.

After taking a look through my treasure trove of Sodas and Root Beers, I can rest easy. Most contain a benzoate, but none contained ascorbic acid. Do not confuse citric acid and phosphoric acid for ascorbic acid...they are different and there is no evidence that either of those two acids add any risk for benzene formation. It's all good!

The British have managed to do as they often do and they gave in to panic and yanked products from store shelves. I would say you should take note of their list of items removed. See a commonality amongst them? Yep. They are, by and large drinks containing ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), mostly in the form of juices. Not Sodas, folks...Fruit Juices and Fruit based drinks. Once again we are seeing panic mongering, agenda driven people maligning Sodas. All I can see from this is that Fruit Drinks may well be hazardous to your health, (I never did trust that Sunny-D stuff).

The industry went out of their way years ago and did a good deal of reformulation to specifically address this issue when it first reared its ugly head in the early 90's. While I have little trust in the FDA and question their motives on almost any given issue this is one time when I will look at the available data and lean towards trusting them and the beverage companies.

So, don't run out and throw your Root Beers, Sodas and the like in the garbage. Refrigerate them, keep them from prolonged exposure to heat and enjoy them at the peak of freshness. Oh, and avoid Fruit Juices....they're apparently really bad for you according to these folks. I think I need a Root Beer and maybe a Soda, too.

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sunni said...

Not to undermine your excellent points regarding the fear-mongering, but isn't it a fairly straightforward process to make one's own soda at home?

Michael said...

It doesn't undermine them at all. Many of us Rooties make our own Brews. It's not quite as straightforward as you might think, tho. You have a number of different avenues to go down. Root and Herb brewed drinks, extract flavoured, natural carbonation vs. forced...and finding the right recipe for you is really difficult. Then there's glass bottle vs. PET bottles, (I prefer PET, personally due to safety issues and the ease of determining carbonation levels).
Making a soda based on a single flavour, say orange or cherry isn't as hard as doing a Root Beer. That's just a matter of adding a good flavouring agent, the proper sweetner(s) and carbonating.
Brewing your own sodas is akin to brewing beers. It's not necessarily cheaper or easier but it is a labour of love.

sunni said...

Sounds fun. I might try it as an educational opportunity for myself and the snolfs. Thanks, Michael!

Michael said...

Let ne know if you decide to do it. I have a couple of good recipes.