Cel-Ray Soda Grabs New Fans

Oldtime Soda Fave Adds Kick to Gazpacho

Cel-Ray of Hope: It’s fair to say Cel-Ray soda is an unusual, acquired taste. The deli favorite is enjoying a renaissance of sorts, even as an ingredient in recipes.
leah koenig
Cel-Ray of Hope: It’s fair to say Cel-Ray soda is an unusual, acquired taste. The deli favorite is enjoying a renaissance of sorts, even as an ingredient in recipes.

By Leah Koenig

Published July 18, 2012, issue of July 27, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Regardless of whether you have tried Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda, you likely have an opinion about it. With its grassy smell and vegetal flavor, it’s one of those foods — like licorice or Vegemite — that one either craves or despises with equal vigor. For some, it’s an essential part of the deli experience, with the elixir’s effervescent bubbles providing a refreshing counterpoint to meaty cuisine. Like an egg cream, Cel-Ray embodies nostalgia in a glass.

Now, thanks to the parallel food and drink trends of nouveau Jewish cuisine, retro soda fountains and artisanal cocktails, Cel-Ray is enjoying a modest culinary revival — as a soda, an element in creative cocktails and, perhaps most surprisingly, as a cooking ingredient.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg may have recently proposed a ban on the sale of sodas larger than 16 ounces, hoping to curb the city’s obesity problem. But back in 1869, when Dr. Brown’s Celery Tonic was first introduced, public opinion on the herbaceous fizzy water was largely favorable. Carbonated drinks called to mind the mineral water health spas favored by the era’s homeopaths. And celery in particular was viewed as a 19th-century “superfood,” thought to hold curative powers for a range of ailments, from anxiety to indigestion.

According to company legend at J & R Bottling, which took over production of Cel-Ray’s glass bottles in 1974 (but not cans; those are produced by Pepsi), there was indeed a real Dr. Brown — a New York City physician who doled out spoonfuls of concentrated celery tonic to patients suffering from stomach trouble. “Arthur Schwartz’s New York City Food” cookbook confirms that in the early years, Cel-Ray was considered “a real tonic, a health drink.” It was not the only one, either: Cel-Ray had dozens of 19th- and 20th-century contemporaries, including Dr. Carpenter’s Celery & Phosphate, from California, and Sedgwick & Smith Celery Tonic, from Iowa.

Yet only Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray would endure — following other sodas from pharmacy to soda fountain — and eventually become a staple in New York City delicatessens. Schwartz writes that, until the mid-1980s, Cel-Ray was sold exclusively in delis. Dr. Brown’s early kosher status (Coca-Cola, by comparison, did not receive kosher certification until the 1930s) helped solidify its identity as a Jewish soda.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.