Italian Soda Doesn't Have Italian Origins

CORRECTION 6/5/23: A previously published version of this article claimed Trader Joe's Villa Italia Italian Blood Orange Soda is not from Italy; the soda is produced in Italy.

Centuries ago, Shakespeare asked, "What's in a name?" And if you find yourself strolling down the aisles of your local grocery store, you might ask yourself the same question. Because, when it comes to the world of Italian soda, a name can be deceiving. After all, who would have thought something with "Italian" in its name isn't actually from Italy? That's right, folks. While you may have believed otherwise, Italian soda, in a germane sense, wasn't birthed in the European country, it's actually a product of the brilliant minds at Torani, a San Francisco-based syrup company.

It all started in 1925, when Rinaldo and Ezilda Torre wanted to create something new and exciting for their customers. The pair combined flavored syrup with soda water and ice, creating a delicious concoction never seen before. The term "Italian soda" has been used ever since.

Real Italian sodas are aperitivos

Italy's post-World War II adoption of botanical-heavy sodas sparked the craze for bitter Italian aperitivos. Unlike the sugary syrups used in American Italian soda, these aromatic Italian drinks are infused with extracts of bitter botanicals. This gives them a complex flavor profile that's both sophisticated and refreshing.

One such Italian soda is Chinotto, a bittersweet soda made with extracts of orange trees found in places like Sicily and Liguria, Italy. Another is Crodino, a non-alcoholic aperitivo soda overflowing with bitter root-like notes and zesty citrus flavors. Meanwhile, as Talia Baiocchi, editor-in-chief at Punch, put it, St. Agrestis' Phony Negroni from New York City, "is the closest American expression of a classic Italian bitter soda."

These bitter aperitivo sodas offer a more complex and nuanced taste experience than the Italian soda you'll find in grocery stores across the U.S. They're often enjoyed in the evening as a way to unwind, socialize, and work up an appetite.