Canadians who feel overshadowed by American culture can find comfort in Canada’s unique culture. We have two official languages, the moose, the Group of Seven, the Queen – and, last but not least, pink cream soda.
Yes, Canadian cream soda’s vivid pink colour sets it apart from the American version. But why is it pink? And what is that flavour, anyway?
An unscientific Facebook survey yielded some creative answers, such as sarsaparilla (actually an ingredient in root beer) and flamingos, but in general no one seemed to know.
A popular explanation for the rosy hue is that Canadian cream soda was once flavored with grenadine, the fruity red syrup used in Tequila Sunrises and Shirley Temples. The theory goes that the drink’s color reflects its flavor, just as orange pop is, well, orange.
The grenadine theory certainly doesn’t hold true for all cream soda, however. In the United States, as well as parts of Canada, cream soda is crystal-clear or light brown and the dominant flavour is vanilla. South Africa has a bright green version, which has a floral taste and is nicknamed the “Green Ambulance” for its popularity as a hangover cure. Carribean cream sodas can be pink, orange, brown, or red and taste like vanilla, cocoa or bubble gum.
In short, there’s no consensus on what cream soda is in terms of colour or taste. Even the name is a minor mystery. In the United Kingdom the “cream” is ice cream, traditionally added by the spoonful just before serving. In other parts of Europe, real cream is blended with carbonated water and vanilla syrup to create a sweet milky drink. An American recipe from 1852 calls for baking soda and cream of tartar – an indication that the name refers to the foaming agent rather than the flavour.
In the end, cream soda’s colour is probably a marketing tactic. It’s a way to set the hard-to-describe flavour apart from colas and citrus drinks.
And for Canadians, it doesn’t hurt that our cream soda sets us apart from our neighbours to the south.