Alternatives to SodaStream or Primo Flavorstation Flavorings

by Rod Smith,

Web page created: 1/2012; last update: 3/27/2013

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The makers of the SodaStream and Primo Flavorstation devices would love for their customers to use nothing but their own flavor syrups. By the very nature of these devices, though, it's easy to use other flavorings. The major obstacle is simply finding suitable products—supermarkets don't exactly abound with soft drink syrups. This Web page describes one approach to finding and using alternative carbonated beverage flavorings.

The Motivation

SodaStream Fountain Jet A200

A SodaStream Jet, flanked by supplies: 4-ounce, 1-pint, and 1-quart bottles of snow cone concentrate (left) and a 4-ounce bottle of 25% sucralose solution (right)

After seeing a SodaStream carbonated beverage maker, I became intrigued and bought one myself. Although I'm pleased with the device overall, some of the claimed advantages of the SodaStream don't really pan out:

Of course, other advantages that SodaStream claims are real—there's less lugging of bottles or cans involved, fewer bottles or cans to recycle or ship to landfills, and most of their flavors have less sodium and/or caffeine than other brands. For non-diet drinkers, most non-diet flavors have fewer calories, thanks to the mix of sugar and sucralose SodaStream uses in them. These factors, along with the "fun" aspect of it, were enough to convince me to buy my SodaStream; but I also hoped to find a way to improve on those two more suspect items. That's what this page is about, with an emphasis on the flavor syrups.

Reviewing the Alternatives

The SodaStream CO2 canisters offer the most dramatic opportunity for cost savings. A Web search turned up the CO2 Doctor site, the SodaMod adapter, and similar products. I won't go into these products in detail, since their own Web sites do that. In brief, you can refill your SodaStream tanks or use non-SodaStream tanks (via an adapter) that you refill locally from the same CO2 suppliers that deliver CO2 to restaurants. Be cautious, though; you don't want to buy a product that will introduce contaminants into your CO2, or buy your CO2 from an iffy source! Using one of these options can reduce the SodaStream's CO2 cost from $0.25/liter to between $0.02/liter and $0.10/liter, depending on the option chosen and the CO2 source; however, the up-front costs range from about $100 to about $350, depending on the option chosen. The payback period ranges from a few months to two or three years, depending on the level of soda consumption. In my opinion, it's not worth bothering with a CO2 source swap if your household consumes less than 2 liters a day; that value puts the payback period in the 12–18 month range.

Since the syrup is costlier than the CO2, it might seem that there's greater potential for cost savings there. The SodaStream syrups, though, are not as badly overpriced as the CO2. Some options I've considered, and in some cases tried, include the following:

If you've got a Primo Flavorstation, you can follow exactly the procedure described here, except that the Primo uses a 500 ml carbonating bottle, rather than the 1 liter size that's common with the SodaStream, so you'll need to halve the quantity of syrup you use to make your sodas.

Choosing Ingredients

If you do a Web search on "snow cone supplies" or a similar phrase, you'll find numerous suppliers, each of whom sells a dizzying number of products, mostly aimed at street-corner snow cone vendors. When you review these sites, you'll find you must choose between buying syrups vs. concentrates; and if you go with concentrates, you'll have to purchase sweetener separately. For citrus flavors, adding citric acid may be desirable.

Syrups vs. Concentrates

You can buy either syrups, which include sweeteners and must be diluted to about 1:6 for use in sodas, or concentrates, which are unsweetened and must be diluted to about 1:192 (typically in two steps, the first of which also adds a sweetener) to make sodas. For various reasons, I've opted to use concentrates:

If you check the snow cone sites, they provide instructions for creating a "simple syrup" using a flavor concentrate, sugar, and water. If you were to follow these instructions, you'd have to dilute the result by about 1:6 with carbonated water to make a soda. Making a more concentrated syrup using any of several 0-calorie sweeteners is possible, but this is not easily done with sugar—it's just not possible to cram enough sugar into the 42 milliliter (ml) measure that SodaStream uses for its syrups. Since I drink 0-calorie sodas, this issue doesn't concern me, but if you want to make sodas with nothing but sugar as the sweetener, you'll have to abandon the SodaStream 1:24 dilution ratio, even if you buy concentrates.

Choosing a Sweetener

In the past couple of decades, the number of available sweeteners has exploaded. For purposes of this Web page, they fall into two categories:

Many sweeteners you buy in grocery stores mix ingredients from both categories. For instance, Truvia contains both erythritol and rebaudioside A (a powerful sweetener in stevia). Other grocery-store products based on high-intensity sweeteners include inactive ingredients. Such bulking-out is useful for people who want to use the sweetener for baking or even adding it to coffee or tea, but it is a detriment to soda-making, since it adds cost and makes it harder to fit the sweetener into the desired volume. For these reasons, I've focused on high-intensity sweeteners in pure or highly refined forms. Several bear mentioning:

With the exception of stevia, all of these products carry the US FDA's approval for use as sweeteners, and stevia is approved as a dietary supplement. (Regulatory approval varies by country, of course.) Table 1 summarizes the relative sweetness and prices of these high-intensity sweeteners, along with sugar for comparison. Because most products you buy in grocery stores are bulked out with inactive ingredients or low-intensity sweeteners, I've gone to eBay and other Internet sources to locate purer forms of these products. The Sweet 'n Low liquid is an exception to this rule; although a bit pricier than most, it's not unreasonable for use in sodas, if you can accept saccharin as a sweetener. Most prices in Table 1 are sampled from eBay in January of 2012. For all except sugar and the Sweet 'n Low liquid, I chose quantities equivalent to about 50–100 sugar-pounds for determining the purchase size, and therefore the price. Read the product description carefully before buying. Many sellers deliver bulked-out, mixed, or partially refined products, which won't be as sweet as noted in Table 1. Liquids are another matter, though; a 25% sucralose solution, for instance, is as concentrated as possible for a solution of this product.

Table 1: Pricing and Sweetening Data
Sweetener Sweetness Approximate Price per Ounce Approximate Price per Sugar-Pound Approximate Price per Liter of Soda Comments
acesulfame-K 200 unknown unknown unknown I know of no consumer-level supplier for this sweetener in pure form.
aspartame (powder) 160 $4.43 $0.44 $0.10 Moderately common on eBay. Price is based on an 8-ounce quantity.
saccharin (tablets) 300 $8.46 $0.45 $0.10 Saccharin tablets are common on eBay. Price is based on a 6-pack of 1000-count 1/4-grain (16.2 mg per tablet) bottles. I don't know how much filler each tablet contains.
saccharin (2.67% solution) 8 $0.37 $0.75 $0.16 Price is based on Sweet 'n Low brand liquid sweetener from a local grocery store.
stevia (refined powder) 250 $5.71 $0.37 $0.08 Common on eBay and in health food stores. Price is based on a 3.5-ounce quantity of the highly purified powder (KAL brand).
sucralose (25% solution) 150 $4.50 $0.48 $0.11 Common on eBay. Price is based on an 8-ounce quantity.
sucralose (powder) 600 $19.45 $0.52 $0.11 Common on eBay. Price is based on a 2-ounce quantity.
sugar 1 $0.04 $0.64 $0.14 Readily available in supermarkets. Price is based on a 5-pound bag.

Most of these high-intensity sweeteners are so sweet that measuring quantities for a small test batch (say, 1 liter of soda) is awkward—for instance, you need just 0.17 g (0.0060 oz) of sucralose powder to make 1 liter of soda. This is too small to measure with most kitchen scales. A 25% solution is still difficult to measure, but it can be done with a needleless syringe, available from most pharmacies for dispensing medicines to children. You can buy other sweeteners in liquid solution, too. You can make your own solution from any of these sweeteners, of course, but I don't know how long they'll keep in that form.

The sweetness values given in Table 1 are approximate, and different sources provide slightly different estimates. I've used the values in this table for subsequent cost computations on this page, but you might want to adjust quantities to your own taste. The Approximate Price per Sugar-Pound column gives the cost of the sweetener that's equivalent to a pound of sugar bought at a supermarket. If you're looking for the best deal, this is the column to watch.

Some snow cone suppliers offer a sugar-free sweetening mix. I tried one, which was a combination of acesulfame-K, aspartame, and fillers. It produced a geyser of foam when added to carbonated water and the resulting soda wasn't as sweet as I'd expected. The price was also relatively high—about $0.27 per liter of soda.

Choosing Snow Cone Flavorings

Turning attention to the flavor concentrates, a number of outfits sell these, in bottles ranging in size from 4 ounces to 1 gallon. Given the dilution ratio of 1:192, one quart of concentrate produces 182 liters of soda. Thus, if you're like me, quart bottles (which usually sell for $8–$10) are about as big as you'll want. Fortunately, the concentrate lasts a long time—one seller claims a 2-year shelf life, although the bottles I got from another are marked with an expiration date less than a year from the purchase date. (Ask about this detail before ordering if it's important to you!) Those that mention it say their concentrates do not require refrigeration.

I've checked product offerings from several suppliers (some of which also seem to be manufacturers, although some clearly aren't), and ordered from five. The eight I've researched are:

Judging the flavor of a snow cone syrup from its name can be tricky. Some are obvious, but some aren't—what's "Batman" or "Shrek?" You can find descriptions for some brands' flavors online: Hawaii's Finest here, Ralph's here, and Snow Wizard's here (move your mouse pointer over a flavor name to see its description).

Of course, descriptions can sometimes be imperfect. I have by no means tested all the available flavors, but some I have tried, including my ratings on a 10-point scale and, when applicable, comparison to SodaStream flavors, are:

Every supplier I checked carries various traditional soda flavors, including cola, orange, lemon-lime (universally colored green), and grape. Most carry root beer and cream soda. One (Ralph's) carries a flavor they claim resembles Dr. Pepper. None that I found carries anything they claimed resembles Mountain Dew, although all have a few citrus flavors, and perhaps a mix starting with lemon could get close to the right taste. All have numerous flavors that are rare in sodas, such as apple, banana, spearmint, and watermelon. Some, such as cake, bubble gum, and chocolate flavors, are very far off the carbonated beverage flavor mainstream—but you can always try them if you're curious!

Adding Citric Acid

Citric acid is a naturally-occurring substance that produces a sour flavor. It's common in citrus fruits, among other foods. I've found that many of the snow cone concentrates for citrus flavors (lemon-lime and orange) typically lack the sour citrus flavor, tasting more like citrus-flavored candy than citrus-flavored sodas. Adding a small amount of citric acid can modify the taste and feel of the soda. There may also be a benefit to using it in at least some non-citrus-fruit flavors, such as cola.

In my tests, the amount of citric acid required to produce the desired results is quite small—about 0.5 g (1/12 tsp) per liter of soda. My initial test batch of citric acid was 8 ounces (227 g) and cost $6.75 shipped. Costs per gram go down for larger quantities, of course. Thus, the cost to add citric acid works out to just $0.01 or $0.02 per liter.

As with sweeteners, eBay is a convenient way to find sellers of citric acid, although I'm sure other sources are available. I've seen reports that some grocery stores sell it as "sour salt," often in the kosher or canning supplies aisle, but my local grocery stores don't have it. I've also been told that it's used in Middle Eastern cooking, and so can be found in markets catering to such cuisine. Some snow cone vendors sell citric acid, with the intent that it be combined with sodium benzoate for a preservative effect on sugar-based syrups. Wherever you buy it, be sure it's food grade.

Citric acid produces a bit of foaming action when added to carbonated water, so if you add more than 0.5 g per liter, be prepared to cap your carbonating bottle quickly.

Computing Costs

Before placing an order, you might want to know what it will cost to go this route. Typical prices for concentrate are $8 to $14 per quart, $7 to $10 for pints, and $3 to $4 for 4-ounce bottles. Shipping will be expensive—count on an additional 30% to 70%, depending on how much you order and the distance. Depending on these factors, flavoring costs are likely to range from $0.05 to $0.30 per liter. Obviously, at the high end you won't be saving much if any money over SodaStream's flavors, once you add in the cost of sweetener; but if you can buy a few pints or quarts at a time, the total cost (concentrate plus sweetener) will fall in the $0.20-$0.30 range. Most or all of the ingredients will also travel less than the SodaStream bottles, and what does travel will mass less, which all adds up to being better for the environment.

If you want to check the prices yourself, here's a formula to compute the price per liter of soda, given the prices of the flavoring and sweetener and the sweetness of the sweetener:

C = (Sc ÷ Sq ÷ Ss × 3.523) + (Fc ÷ Fq ÷ 5.675)


C, the result, is the cost of enough syrup to make one liter of soda, which you can compare to $0.42 for SodaStream's syrup. (You'll have to add your carbonation costs, such as $0.25/liter for SodaStream's CO2, to get your total soda cost.) This formula assumes you use the quantities listed in the next section, "Using Snow Cone Flavorings." If you expect to want "thicker" or "thinner" sodas, you can adjust the cost up or down appropriately.

Table 2 presents three example scenarios, each corresponding to purchases of various sizes—enough to make approximately 1000 liters, 340 liters, and 135 liters of soda, respectively. Costs are estimates that include shipping—but shipping costs vary depending on your and the seller's location, particularly for the snow cone concentrates. Each ounce of sucralose solution makes about 43 liters of soda and each ounce of concentrate makes about 5.69 liters of soda. I recommend estimating your needs based on a year or so. If the Table 2 quantities were for one year's consumption, this would work out to 2.7 liters per day, 0.9 liters per day, and 0.4 liters per day for the 1000-, 340-, and 135-liter orders, respectively.

Table 2: Order Size and Cost Estimates
Cost Component 1000-liter Order 340-liter Order 135-liter Order
Sucralose solution quantity and cost 32 ounces, $140 8 ounces, $36 4 ounces, $21
Sucralose cost per liter $0.103 $0.106 $0.123
Concentrate quantity and cost 6 quarts, $70 4 pints, $40 6 4-ounce bottles, $32
Concentrate cost per liter $0.064 $0.110 $0.235
Total cost per liter $0.17 $0.22 $0.36

As you can see, most of the price increase for buying in smaller quantities is from the snow cone concentrate; the price of the sucralose is fairly stable, particularly above the level of an 8-ounce bottle of liquid. Go ahead and research prices for the quantities you feel comfortable buying.

For flavors that might benefit from citric acid, add another $0.01–$0.02 per liter of soda, depending on your cost for the citric acid and the amount you decide to add.

Using Snow Cone Flavorings

Once you've received your ingredients, you can make sodas in several ways. To start, consider making 500 ml of a syrup that can be diluted using the same 1:24 ratio that SodaStream uses. You could put the resulting syrup in an empty SodaStream bottle and use it exactly as you'd use the SodaStream syrup. To do so, follow these steps, stirring to thoroughly mix or dissolve each item:

  1. Start with about 350 ml (roughly 1.5 cups) water; the precise amount isn't important, but be sure to start at a small enough quantity that adding the sweetener and concentrate won't put you over 500 ml.
  2. Optional: Add 6 g (roughly 1 tsp) citric acid. This is most likely to be beneficial for citrus flavors, and perhaps some others such as cola.
  3. Add sweetener—one of the following:
  4. Add 62.5 ml (2.11 fl. oz.; 1/4 cup) snow cone flavoring
  5. Add water to make a total volume of 500 ml (2.1 cups)

You can use this syrup in the same proportions you'd use your SodaStream mixes—use a SodaStream bottle cap to measure it or measure out 42 ml (1.42 fl. oz., or just under 3 Tbsp) of syrup per liter of soda.

If you want to do a test run with a smaller quantity to start with, you can adjust these values down. For instance, you can divide all the values by 12 to make 1 liter of soda. Note, however, that the sweeteners (except for sugar and xylitol) are used in such small quantities that they'll be difficult to measure for a 1-liter batch of soda. You can use a jeweller's scale (with precision of 0.1 g or better) to do the job. (You can find these on eBay for $10 or so.) Alternatively, you could mix up a solution of sweetener only—say, just as above, but omitting the snow cone flavoring—and then add 42 ml of it and 5.2 ml (1.1 tsp) of flavoring concentrate to the carbonated water.

I'm not sure of the shelf life of a solution like the one described here or how it could be extended with preservatives. If you mix such a solution, I recommend keeping it refrigerated, and mixing no more than you'd use in a month or so, just to be safe. (My 25% sucralose solution indicates that it includes preservatives, FWIW.)

Another option is to add the sweetener directly to the snow cone concentrate—essentially omitting the water from the above recipe and scaling up the sweetener based on your concentrate volume. You could then add about 5.2 ml (1.1 tsp) of sweetened concentrate to each liter of carbonated water.

The quantities specified are equivalent to making the "simple syrup" described on the snow cone Web sites and then diluting it 1:6 to make soda. You can adjust the quantities, or the dilution of the final product, to make a "thinner" or "thicker" soda, as you see fit. You can also, of course, independently adjust the amounts of sweetener and concentrate to suit your tastes. You can even use a blend of two or more sweeteners, if you like.

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, I'm happy with my experiments using snow cone concentrates to make sodas with my SodaStream. Costs are lower than for SodaStream's syrups and I can choose some exotic (but often good!) flavors. At their best, the snow cone flavors can taste slightly better than the SodaStream flavors, but at their worst, they can be pretty dreadful. The cost to try a flavor is relatively high—about $4 for a 4-ounce sample, if the vendor even offers one. Thus, there's some gambling involved in trying new flavors.

Of course, there's also the time involved in all of this—checking out Web sites, placing orders, mixing everything together, and cleaning up aftewards. The initial research is the biggest of these time costs, though, and if you're thinking of going this route, it's my hope that this Web page will help you minimize that investment in time.

If you have problems with or comments about this Web page, please e-mail me at Thanks.

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