First thing first – what do you call a carbonated beverage?
The answer varies depending on which part of the US you live in. Most people in New England and the West Coast say soda, while Midwesterners are more apt to call it pop.
Then you have your Southerners who typically think of all carbonated drinks as different flavors of Coke. Except in North Carolina – that’s Pepsi country.
No matter what you call them, carbonated beverages have been an American staple for over 100 years. Most early sodas were concocted by pharmacists and marketed as medicine for indigestion and mood disorders – and featured ingredients like cocaine and lithium.
Modern soft drinks have lost their drugs and medicinal properties over time but are no less popular because of it.
Most Popular Soda
Americans love their soda, and these brands are the favorite of the bunch.
Coca-Cola has come a long way since Dr. John Pemberton sold the first glass in a downtown Atlanta pharmacy in 1886.
This famous soda isn’t just the most popular soft drink in the US but has dominated the global market for decades.
The Coca-Cola brand has been featured in numerous iconic advertisements, such as 1971’s Hilltop and the decades-long Polar Bear campaign.
Red cans of this crisp caramel-colored soda are the go-to for anyone packing a cooler for a summer outing. Coke is also popular as a mixer for rum and whiskey, with “Crown and Coke” and “Captain and Coke” being common orders in bars.
You can’t go wrong order a good drink with good alliteration!
Dr. Pepper may not be as popular as Coca-Cola, but it was first served a year earlier in 1885 by pharmacist Charles Alderton in Waco, Texas.
Initially, the soft drink was served more as a medicine than a simple drink, with early advertisements claiming the drink aided digestion and restored vigor and vitality.
Those claims have been renounced today, but the drink is still popular due to its taste.
That unique taste is due to the soda’s combination of 23 flavors. The official recipe is proprietary, but most sources include cola, amaretto, and cherry flavors.
The spiciness of Dr. Pepper makes it a popular cocktail mixer, but you can enjoy your soda alcohol-free by adding a bit of coconut syrup and lime juice for a delicious tropical pop of flavor.
Fanta was created in Germany in 1940 as a Coca-Cola substitute when Coke syrup became scarce during WWII.
Fanta became popular in Germany, and when The Coca-Cola Company regained control after the war, they began marketing the drink to other countries.
Fanta is unique in that many countries have exclusive flavors, and even flavors shared by countries can have significant recipe differences.
For example, Orange Fanta in most countries contains orange juice, while the US version does not.
Some flavors are highly-localized, such as Shikuwasa Fanta, which is sold exclusively on the small Japanese island of Okinawa.
Diet Coke was the first new product to use the Coca-Cola trademark in nearly 100 years when it was released in 1982.
Despite competition from in-house brand Coke Zero and diet soda from other major manufacturers, Diet Coke is by far the most sold diet soda brand in the US.
In fact, it has maintained the overall number two spot behind Coca-Cola for most of the last decade.
Diet Coke is a great low-calorie sugarless alternative to regular Coca-Cola in any mixed drink and refreshing soda on its own.
In addition to being such a popular soda for consumption, the beverage is also known for its use in making soda geysers.
Studies have shown that dropping Mentos inside a bottle of Diet Coke will give you a higher geyser than any other soda brand.
Pharmacist Caleb Bradham created Pepsi in New Bern, North Carolina in 1893.
He originally called it Brad’s Drink but later renamed it Pepsi-Cola and advertised that it relieved dyspepsia – better known as indigestion.
Pepsi had a long reign as the sole number two soda in the US but has largely lost the spot to Diet Coke since 2011 when diet soda slipped ahead.
A popular gas station treat in the American South is made by purchasing a bottle of Pepsi and a sleeve of salted peanuts.
You then drink a bit of the Pepsi to make room, open your peanuts, dump them in, and enjoy. I admit it sounds strange and is by no means a healthy snack, but it’s worth trying to see if you like it.
Coca-Cola acquired the Sprite brand in 1960, but the lemon-lime flavor we know and love today was developed in West Germany as a Fanta flavor before being sold as Sprite in 1961.
This popular citrus soda has long been known for its green bottles, but Coca-Cola announced in Summer 2022 that Sprite will only be sold in clear bottles in North America as a measure to be more environmentally conscious.
Nearly everyone reading this has been to a party that’s served a delicious and fruity punch featuring colorful sherbet.
Ever wonder what carbonated drink was the foundation for that tasty treat? Sprite, of course. Go to the store, grab some sprite and sherbet, and toss them together to enjoy the party punch at home.
Charles Leiper Grigg concocted 7 Up in 1929. The soda contained the mood-stabilizing drug lithium citrate until its removal in 1948.
The soda’s original name was Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda, which eventually became 7 Up Lithiated Lemon Soda before settling on 7 Up.
Alliteration is fun, but I prefer my soda with a lemon-lime twist rather than a tongue twister for a name!
7 Up may no longer be the only or most popular lemon-lime soda on the market, but it’ll always be known as the non-alcohol part of a Seven and Seven.
You make this highball cocktail by mixing 7 Up and Seagram’s 7 Crown and serving over ice.
The original Mountain Dew formula was created in 1940 by Barney and Ally Hartman in Tennessee.
After a few updates, the drink formula in use today was first sold in 1961. The green citrus flavor reigned as the sole Mountain Dew flavor until Code Red’s release in 2001.
There have been many new and limited-edition flavors since then.
Baja Blast is easily one of the most popular specialty Mountain Dew flavors. It was first sold in 2004 exclusively in Taco Bell restaurants.
The drink was incredibly-popular, and as soon as Mountain Dew was contractually allowed, they began selling the flavor to a broader market in 2014.
Mountain Dew is a popular drink among teenagers and young adults, with the brand commonly involved in partnerships with gaming and extreme sports organizations.
Diet Pepsi was the first diet cola distributed nationally in the US in 1964, beating out Diet Coke by nearly 20 years.
Coca-Cola’s diet soda in the 60s and 70s was called Tab and was a Diet Pepsi competitor along with Diet Rite. Diet Pepsi comes in regular, Wild Cherry, and Caffeine Free.
Like Coca-Cola, Pepsi also has direct in-brand competitors with its Zero Sugar brand.
Cola cocktail lovers can mix Diet Pepsi with cherry juice and vanilla-flavored vodka for a delicious drink.
You can also use Diet Pepsi instead of regular Pepsi for the cola and peanut snack mentioned earlier.
Sierra Mist was released as Pepsi’s competitor in the lemon-lime soda market in 1999.
Health-conscious soda fans will be happy to know this clear soda ditched high fructose corn syrup back in 2010 for cane sugar.
They also experimented with stevia for a while, but public uproar caused them to go back to plain sugar.
This lemon-lime soda has had many temporary variations, but its only two staples are Sierra Mist and Sierra Mist Zero Sugar.
Either variety works well in any cocktail or non-alcoholic beverage you’d use Sprite or 7 Up in.
Using cane sugar adds a significant taste difference you’ll either love or hate. Pop a top and find out!
Sunkist began distribution in 1978 after extensive work to get the orange flavor and carbonation just right.
This orange soda was the number one orange-flavored soda in the US by 1980.
Sunkist is unique among orange sodas in that it contains caffeine and a small amount of actual orange juice.
Sunkist was invented by employees of the Sunkist Growers citrus co-op in case you were wondering why you see stickers with the same name on oranges.
Orange is by far the most popular flavor of Sunkist, but you can also get it in Berry Lemonade and Strawberry Lemonade – both of which are delicious.
Its “Red Bull Gives You Wings” slogan is an all-time popular advertising slogan, spawning a series of animated cupid-esque commercials that helped drive the brand to new heights in the early 2000s.
The energy drink wasn’t officially launched and marketed until the late 80s, but began making rounds in 1976 in Thailand as a pick-me-up for laborers and drivers.
As it has grown in popularity, the energy drink continues to be the go-to for energy, with the brand sponsoring a variety of extreme sports, from BMX to Felix Baumgartner’s BASE jump from the stratosphere.
Check out our favorite Red Bull flavors!
Jarritos is a soda developed in Mexico in 1950 by chemist Don Francisco Hill.
It is unique among sodas due to being less carbonated and more smooth than most soft drinks.
The original soda was coffee-flavored, but today it comes in a variety of fruit flavors, with most naturally flavored.
You can enjoy this soda in pineapple, mandarin, lime, guava, passion fruit, strawberry, tamarind, grapefruit, watermelon, mango, fruit punch, and Mexican cola.
Fun fact: The original bottles didn’t have labels. People were just supposed to know the flavors based on their color.
A&W Root Beer
Roy Allen created A&W Root Beer in 1919, making it one of the first commercially produced root beers.
The brand is also featured in a chain of restaurants across North America.
Root beer can make a case for being the first soda.
The beverage was made with sassafras root by North American indigenous peoples as early as the 16th century, who achieved carbonation for the drink through fermentation.
Modern root beer uses carbonated water.
You can’t talk about A&W Root Beer and not mention a root beer float.
I recommend heading to the store and buying some A&W and vanilla ice cream after reading this article!
Most Popular Soda
- Coca Cola
- Dr. Pepper
- Diet Coke
- Mountain Dew
- Diet Pepsi
- Sierra Mist
- Red Bull
- Jarritos Soda
- A&W Root Beer
There is a soda for everyone. You can get one full of sugar or completely sugar-free. You can get cola flavor or something extremely fruity.
You can mix your soda with alcohol, ice cream, or even different sodas. There is no lack of ways to enjoy these popular carbonated beverages.
I hope you’ve had as much fun learning about America’s most popular soft drinks as I did drinking and writing about them!
If you’re cutting back on sugar, check out sparkling water brands instead, like the best LaCroix flavors.
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