The dirty secret of restaurant ginger ale

Ginger ale is a refreshing soft drink that's good on its own or as a mixer for cocktails (and mocktails!). It's also often touted as a remedy for an upset stomach or sore throat. For some, ginger ale is their go-to soda beverage, whether they're ill or perfectly healthy.

You may have already known that most ginger ale brands don't actually contain any real ginger (in fact, a woman filed a lawsuit against Canada Dry in 2018 for this reason, via The Washington Post). They're usually made with high-fructose corn syrup, citric acid, and caramel coloring. But when you're eating out at a restaurant, the ginger ale you order may not be from a ginger ale brand. It might just be a mixture of two other sodas — lemon-lime with a splash or two of cola.

Food Network found that when restaurants, such as fast-casual joints, don't have ginger ale available at their fountain for customers who are looking for it, they just concoct a fake version of it with these two types of soda to keep people happy. These two soft drinks have similar ingredients to what's used for ginger ale, so it's easy to simply mix both of them together until they look like the real thing.

Do customers notice their restaurant ginger ale is fake?

Customers don't notice the difference because when they drink the "ginger ale," as the combination of the sugar and carbonation is enough to trick their brains into thinking it's the beverage they wanted. Also, most real ginger ales served from a beverage bar at restaurants are low-quality and don't have any ginger anyway, so people aren't expecting the characteristic kick of spice from the root (via Ginger Ale Authority).

One Yelper in Los Angeles complained about this in his review of a local bar. He had asked for ginger ale for a stomachache and the bartender just mixed Diet Coke and Sprite in a glass. Apparently, after the Yelp user mentioned the fake ginger ale in his review, the bar's manager reached out to him privately and said that mixing the two sodas to make ginger ale is the business' standard practice. The Yelper also wrote that based on what the manager said to him, it could be implied that "this is something that happens all the time everywhere."

According to The College Gourmand, because the taste of the fake ginger ale is so close to that of the real deal, many restaurants decide not to carry ginger ale at all. This trick is just too enticingly easy. If you're curious about the mixture and want to try making it yourself, the blog recommends a 70 percent Sprite and 30 percent Diet Coke blend for the "most authentic ginger ale flavor."