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This week on The Sporkful, we're going on a soda pop odyssey.
Our journey starts in Utah with Sporkful listener Ben Abbott, who has a serious beverage problem. Ben loves good food and longs to pair his meals with equally good drinks -- but he's a Mormon so he doesn't drink alcohol. He came to me for help:
"I am wondering if you have any advice as far as good tasty adult drinks that aren't alcoholic but can really pair well with different foods?" Ben asks.
Around the time Ben came to me, I was at Galco's Soda Pop Stop, a legendary store in Los Angeles.
Owner John Nese stocks 750 varieties of soda -- all made by small, independent bottlers. John introduced me to a few of his favorite sodas -- flavored with everything from Greek ouzo to mint julep and even rose petals.
"When you're getting someone who's using really good ingredients, you will know," John says. "You will taste the flavor. It will go pop."
Check out some of the awesome old school soda labels in John's store...
Flavor is important, but when John introduces me to an almond cream soda carbonated with dry ice, there's no going back. The bubbles are incredibly fine -- far less abrasive than carbonation in many mass-produced sodas. Just look at how delicate they are:
"Most people today don't even know...that sodas are still made [with dry ice]," John says. "Today most sodas are very high-carbonated because it saves syrup and plastic and aluminum cans leak [gas]."
It's a brave old world of soda pop, and I'm so overcome with the wonder of butterscotch root beer and dry ice carbonation that I almost lose track of Ben's mission. But not for long.
In the end we get John and Ben on the phone together, and John helps Ben pair his three favorite dishes with some exceptional soft drinks -- like this sangria soda and a rare extra-dry non-alcoholic champagne soda.
Listen in to hear all of John's soda-food pairings and Ben's reaction.
Plus, you may have noticed that I call these carbonated beverages "soda." I'm from New Jersey -- but if you live in the Midwest or the South, you may call them pop, coke, or even belly wash. (Wait, belly what?!)
Why do Americans have so many names for the same drink? Back in New York we asked Columbia University linguistics professor John McWhorter to school us in soda pop nomenclature.
This map, created by statistician Josh Katz, shows the geographical boundaries of these terms.
Belly wash, tonic, and other less common names didn't make it on to Josh's map. But Professor McWhorter filled me in on how they came to be, as English evolved over the centuries since the invention of soda pop.
"There was a certain notion that this stuff wasn't very good for you, so it will wash out your belly and maybe have some sort of effect on the other end," he says. "After awhile, people are calling it belly wash casually."
Photos: Dan Pashman / The Sporkful
Figure: Josh Katz / "Beyond Soda, Pop, or Coke" Project