Soda. Soft Drink. Pop. Depending on which state you live in, you may know this beverage by a different name. No matter what you call this little fizzy drink, it's one of the most popular sweet beverages Americans consume. But can vegans drink soda? Read more in our guide below.
What Is Soda?
Soda is a sweet, bubbly beverage containing carbonated water, a sweetening agent, and natural or artificial flavors.
The sweetener is often cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juices, or sugar substitutes like aspartame or stevia. Usually, a soft drink also contains some caffeine for a bit of a jolt, artificial and natural coloring agents, preservatives, and more.
We usually enjoy soda over ice or straight from the can or bottle at fast-food chains, movie theaters, and restaurants, though plenty of us drink soda at home too.
The Beginnings of a Health Tonic: Coke Original Ingredients
Like many origin stories of the past, the origins of soda are so hilariously misled it's almost too silly to be true when looking through our lens of modern knowledge.
A confederate colonel, John Pemberton, sustained wounds during the American Civil War and became addicted to morphine. He then got to work and created a beverage made from coca leaves, or what we know today as cocaine, along with the African kola nut, providing caffeine.
Producers marketed Coca-Cola as a health tonic to cure indigestion, nerve disorders, and morphine addiction. What better way to cure addiction than with a different addiction to an all-new drug?
By 1903, the cocaine was all but removed from the recipe and replaced with a technically cocaine-free extract of the coca leaf. Today, Coca-Cola maintains all of the original formula's great flavor, with none of the illegal street drugs!
Since then, soda makers continually branch out with plenty of unique flavor offerings, including fruity notes.
Some soda ingredients are unquestionably vegan, no matter the brand in question.
Expect to see these ingredients on the labels for vegan soda drinks:
- Carbonated water. Water, artificially infused with carbon dioxide gas under pressure, gives soda that fizzy pop.
- High fructose corn syrup. An inexpensive sweetener derived from corn syrup to add a sweet quality.
- Phosphoric acid. This acid provides a flavorful tang in your soft drink while preventing harmful mold and bacteria growth. In a way, it preserves your pop.
- Caramel color. Manufacturers add this ingredient purely to make an attractive color, especially in dark sodas.
- Sodium benzoate. Another preservative meant to prevent mold and bacteria growth, particularly in acidic foods.
- Caffeine. Though it offers energy, bitter caffeine primarily balances the sweetness of soda and enhances its flavor.
Now that we've run through all of the soda ingredients deemed safe for vegan consumption, let's take a look at the ones that aren't.
Here are the most common ingredients found in non-vegan soft drinks:
- Cochineal. This food dye comes from the shells of crushed bugs, producing a bright red color in certain sodas and juices.
- Ester gum. You can find ester gum vegan made in a lab, but this glycerin-based stabilizer usually comes from animal-based sources instead.
- Honey. This sweetener isn't the usual choice for most soda drinks, but some specialty beverages use this honeybee-based product in their recipes.
- Artificial flavors. Typically, artificial orange, cherry, blue raspberry, and vanilla flavors are inexplicably sourced from animal-based products, like the anal gland secretions of beavers – yikes!
- Natural flavors. Most soft drinks don't have natural flavorings, but if they do, look out – they can be animal-based.
- Vitamin D. For any of those mineral waters or sports drinks, watch for added vitamin D3, which comes from sheep's wool oil, lanolin.
- Yellow 5. This flavoring doesn't contain animal products, but is tested on animals, making it a no-go for most vegans.
Is Soda Vegan?
For the most part, we can add soda to our list of vegan drinks to enjoy, as most recipes don't include the non-vegan ingredients listed above.
Rarely, you'll run into some animal-based ingredients, so check our list of sodas that are vegan below and do some digging as needed to ensure your favorite brands are in the clear.
The White Sugar Debate
With the pushback from health authorities about consuming potentially harmful high-fructose corn syrup, many soda companies have switched to formulas sweetened with white sugar, aka cane sugar.
While white sugar is plant-based, many vegans choose not to consume it, as it's often filtered and bleached with animal bone char. Though this animal-based processing method seems to be on the outs, we often can't guarantee where our white sugar comes from, especially when it's an ingredient in a processed product, like soda.
Many vegans continue to enjoy white sugar, while others find it an unacceptable inclusion in their diet. If you fall into the latter vegan camp, stick to soda brands that use high-fructose corn syrup instead.
Which Sodas Are Vegan-friendly?
Going vegan doesn't need to mean giving up the sweet stuff. Read below for a big list of our favorite vegan soda brands.
The Coke Umbrella: Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, & More
Is Coca-Cola vegan?
Coca-cola is entirely vegan! Their website clearly states that the vast majority of their beverages are vegan-friendly.
Is Diet Coke vegan?
Yes! Another win.
Is Coke Zero vegan?
Coke Zero, like the other Coca-Cola brand beverages, is vegan. All current offerings of Coke are vegan.
Is Sprite vegan?
Generally, most Sprite variations are vegan, though their "natural flavors'' are a little vague. Some ingredients in Sprite Lymonade cause concern, mainly Yellow 5, which is tested on animals.
Is A&W root beer vegan?
As long as the natural and artificial flavors are plant-based, A&W root beer is just fine for vegan consumption!
The Pepsi Umbrella: Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, and More
While Coca-Cola is a little more forthcoming about its ingredients lists, Pepsi is very secretive about their formula, offering very little information to maintain the shroud of mystery around their recipe.
Is Pepsi vegan?
One thing the Pepsi Company will tell us is whether something is or isn't vegan – fortunately, classic Pepsi and Pepsi Max are both vegan-friendly. These are the only two Pepsi products officially confirmed by the company as plant-based.
Is Diet Pepsi vegan?
According to Pepsi, their Diet Pepsi product is only safe for vegetarian consumption, as it may contain traces of animal-based ingredients. As these ingredients are still vegetarian, we think it's safe to assume that they're likely dairy, egg, or honey-based.
Is 7Up vegan?
Though 7Up contains some "natural flavors," they're likely plant-based, and 7Up Free is known to have animal products.
Is Mountain Dew vegan?
Vegans should best avoid Mountain Dew. Although it contains no animal products, the Yellow 5 ingredient was tested on animals.
Is Dr. Pepper vegan?
Dr. Pepper contains both natural and artificial flavors, and while they're likely not animal-based, Pepsi won't confirm that their products are vegan, so we can't be 100% sure.
Final Note & Spicing Up Your Vegan Soda
Is soda vegan?
For the most part, yes. While Pepsi is uber secretive about many of the products in their line-up, our best guess is that most of these products don't contain animal products. If you don't want to risk it, stick to product lines and brands that you know don't contain animal-based ingredients for sure.
Why are soft drinks "soft?"
Soft drinks, or soda, are soft in terms of their alcoholic content – or more aptly, their lack of alcoholic ingredients, compared to "hard" drinks. If you're looking for a hard soda, simply mix your favorite from our vegan soda list below with an ounce or two of your favorite vegan alcohol.
Whether you're enjoying your plant-based soda "soft" or "hard," we hope you savor every sip of this bubbling beverage!