The Soda You Should Start Adding To Your Boxed Brownies

We'll be the first to admit that more often than not, our cravings for baked goods don't line up with our desire to bake. After all, baking can be a messy affair if you're doing it from scratch, scattering powders and spilling liquids all over the counter for a recipe that might not even turn out. That's why we always have a few boxed mixes in the pantry. Most of the time, boxed brownies, cookies, and cake mixes are reliably tasty without requiring a lot of measuring or manual labor.

But there are some easy ways to make even a humble box of brownies stand out, from adding salt or using melted butter instead of oil, to throwing in espresso powder or chocolate chunks to deepen the flavor. Oh, and adding Dr. Pepper. It might sound strange, but some cooks swear by adding the soda to their boxed brownie mix. Some recipes only call for the bag of brownie mix and a can of Dr. Pepper (emitting any other ingredients like eggs or oil) while others just add a bit of soda to the standard ingredients called for on the box. 

While you can use a cola for this trick, Dr. Pepper provides the same spiced caramel flavor of a standard cola plus some additional notes of vanilla and cherry. In one TikTok recipe for Dr. Pepper brownies, a commenter gave this glowing review: "I made these and it was the best thing ever." However you mix it up, adding soda to brownie mix can result in tender, moist, cakier brownies. But why does it work, and how did adding soda to baked goods even become a thing?

The history and benefits of baking with soda

Adding Dr. Pepper to your boxed brownies might sound like a weird new food trend, but it turns out that baking with cola has a long history, according to Food & Wine. It was popular during the Great Depression and World War II, when other ingredients (like dairy products and cooking oil) were hard to come by or were prohibitively expensive, and some recipes called for soda instead of alcohol — for instance, in rum cakes — in more conservative areas where including a recipe with alcohol in the newspaper could cause local outrage.

There are a few reasons why adding soda to a boxed mix can help improve whatever you're baking. For one thing, soda will bring new flavors to your boxed mix depending on what you're making. A dark cola can add spiced and caramelized notes that work particularly well with chocolatey sweets like brownies and cake, while a lemon-lime soda adds some citrusy flavors and acidity to baked goods. The acidity found in soda also helps leaven baked goods, giving them a more tender crumb and lift. That also means that if you prefer dense, fudgy brownies, adding cola might not be the hack for you, because it will make them a little cakier.

More ways to cook with soda

There are more ways to cook with soda than just adding it to boxed baking mixes. Soda brand 7UP even has a recipe section on its website, featuring everything from biscuits to pork chops made with 7UP. There are recipes for short ribs braised in cola, and Coca-Cola is the secret ingredient in a vegetable soup recipe the Southern Foodways Alliance cookbook calls "flavorful and intricate." Lemon-lime soda is also often used in Korean bulgogi marinade, both for the citrusy sweetness it brings to the recipe, and because the soda helps tenderize the meat. 

Adding cola or Dr. Pepper to boxed brownies and cake mixes is a pretty safe way to try cooking with soda. You can search for many recipes online or try it out on your own, either by replacing the liquid called for on the back of the box of mix (for instance, water or milk) with soda, or by including a quarter cup or so of your favorite soda with the other standard ingredients you add to the mix. 

If you're looking to have a bit of fun experimenting with your baked goods, this trick gives you tons of combinations to try — think yellow cake with a flavor boost from cream soda or cherry cola brownies — and it's much more affordable to crack open a can of soda than it is to splurge on fancy extracts and gourmet ingredients. The only question about your boxed mix brownies becomes, as one TikTok user asked, "Do you drink milk or Dr. Pepper to wash it all down?"