I admit to drinking a lot of soda in my younger days. I never really picked up the coffee-drinking habit in college, so I would rely on the enamel-eating scourge of Appalachia Mountain Dew for my late-night caffeine fixes. Thankfully my mainstream soda days are mostly over, though I still enjoy a Reed's Ginger Beer or a local Maine Root soda every now and then.

A friend turned me on to the Sodastream home soda machine, and I sent them an e-mail asking for a review unit. My biggest gripe with the soda most of us drink is the high-fructose corn syrups and other preservatives they contain, so I thought a Sodastream might be a good way to get my occasional soda fix without having to spend $2 on a natural soda at Whole Foods or having to ingest a bunch of yellow #5 or sodium benzoate.

The Sodastream PR people got back to me quickly and arranged for a review unit to be shipped to me along with a full selection of their soda syrups. I received the package last week and have been having a blast (of CO2) making my own fizzy sugar waters.

Carbon dioxide is amazingly tasty stuff.

Unfortunately, the Sodastream soda syrups are not. In fact I have a hard time even drinking a soda made with the official Sodastream syrups. Why? Blame Splenda, or to be more specific, blame the Sodastream taste engineers who decided to use the artificial sweetener in the entire line of syrups. This obviously comes down to personal preferences, but I find that Splenda, along with all the other artificial sweeteners, taste terrible. There's just something wrong about how they taste.

Look, soda is not healthy and never will be. It's just fizzy sugar water. Even the most all-natural soda found in the crunchiest natural foods store is a big bottle of empty calories. Yeah, it tastes great, but it will never be anything other than a diversion from the Healthy Eating Express. I really wish Sodastream would just embrace that fact and cut out the Splenda. Give us real soda syrups made with real sugar. Maybe keep the Splenda line for the people who don't mind its chemically cloying flavor, but give the rest of us some good old-fashioned sugared syrup.

Luckily, it's really easy to make your own syrups. You can follow any number of recipes for old-fashioned soda syrups or just simply mix lemon or lime juice with some maple syrup right before adding the freshly carbonated water. Orange juice is a nice additive, too; the right ratio of water to juice will make you swear that you're drinking an Orangina.

The Penguin soda machine itself is a beautifully engineered piece of kitchenware. It's easy to use, requires no cleanup, and looks stylish on the countertop. It's fun to operate and gives you store-quality soda in well under a minute. The Penguin is Sodastream's only model with glass carafes; the others use BPA-free plastic. Some of the company's other models allow you to see the CO2 being injected into the water, but the Penguin, by dint of its design, keeps that process hidden away.

All Sodastream makers use a standard CO2 bottle that's available online and at select kitchen stores. (10/28/12 Update: Read about how to save money refilling your CO2 tanks using the SodaMod).

If you drink soda, you should look into getting a Penguin. Sodastream says it costs about $.20 to gas up a liter of water, the same bottle bought at the store can costs five to 10 times that much. The cost of buying those bottles of soda adds up over the course of a year, and for some soda drinkers it wouldn't take terribly long for their savings to offset the ~$200 price for a Penguin Starter Kit. When you factor in all the plastic bottles you'd be saving, you start to see how, if you do drink soda, a Sodastream is the greenest choice available. It's not green, but it definitely is greener.

If you don't want to drop $200 on a soda maker, you can find other Sodastream models for less than half that price. They also make a version designed specifically for the green market — their Eco model is made using recycled plastic and packaged with greener packaging.

Which just makes me wonder: why don't they do the same with all their models? Why not package everything they sell in more eco-friendly packaging? Why not use recycled plastic whenever possible in all their products?

You can follow Sodastream USA on Twitter and read the corporate blog, Ms. Fizz.

UPDATE: I've been told by Sodastream that they have an "all-natural" line of syrups coming out that will be sweetened with simple sugar (no high-fructose corn syrup). I'm looking forward to trying them.

Again, in full disclosure, Sodastream sent me a free Penguin and a collection of flavors for review.

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Shea Gunther is a podcaster, writer, and entrepreneur living in Portland, Maine. He hosts the popular podcast "Marijuana Today Daily" and was a founder of Renewable Choice Energy, the country's leading provider of wind credits and Green Options. He plays a lot of ultimate frisbee and loves bad jokes.

Sodastream: Fantastic soda maker, terrible syrups
The Sodastream home soda maker will save you money and help keep plastic bottles out of the waste stream — just stay away from the company's Splenda-infused s