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!
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • 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.