Big Red: The Soda With A Flavor That You Can’t Quite Put Your Finger On

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Tony Maples Photography


Anyone who’s lived in Texas for any amount of time has surely enjoyed an ice-cold Big Red soda. This cream-soda/strawberry/cotton candy-hybrid drink is as iconic as The Alamo itself and is famous for its local food pairings. So, for all of you non-Texans and for some of you curious Texans, here’s a quick rundown of what makes Big Red so different from other sodas.

Born in Waco in 1937

Big Red

Photo: Facebook/BigRed

Big Red was invented in 1937 in Waco, Texas by Grover C. Thomsen and R.H. Roark, who were working at Waco’s Perfection Barber and Beauty Supply when they mixed orange and lemon oils with the traditional vanilla used in other cream sodas. According to the Waco Tribune, the beverage was originally called “Sun Tang Red Cream Soda.” Then, one summer day when Harold Jansing, then president of the San Antonio bottling plant, was playing golf, he overheard a few caddies call it “Big Red,” and he liked the name so much that in 1969 he officially changed the name to “Big Red.”

The Most Unique Flavor on the Market

Big Red

Photo: Facebook/BigRed

Bill Tilghman, who worked in Waco as a Big Red senior vice president from 1979 until his retirement, oversaw the quality control of the syrup as one of his many duties at Big Red. He agreed that the taste is unique. But, he added that its mixture of lemon and orange oils with vanilla and other flavorings “is what gives it a bubble gummy taste, so some people call it red bubble gum liquid.” Another former Big Red executive, past president Mark Fowler, was quoted in a 2007 interview on National Public Radio as saying, “To me, the beverage tastes like carbonated Juicy Fruit chewing gum.”

Coincidentally, Waco was also the birthplace of Dr Pepper some 52 years prior, so if you want to experience a treat enjoyed by Big Red drinkers of the past, visit the Dr Pepper museum’s soda fountain, in Waco. It is always stocked with Big Red syrup, allowing visitors to taste a fountain version of the drink mixed up on the spot.

We Go Together Like Big Red and Barbacoa

Big Red Barbacoa

Photo: Facebook/BigRed

As for food pairings, people swear by the delicious, truly Texas combination of Big Red and Barbacoa. The tender, spicy meat is put into a taco and then cooled down by the red, creamy, and sweet soda. The combo was immortalized in a song by the late Randy Garibay from San Antonio, called, “Barbacoa Blues,” in which he longingly sings “I went down Nogalitos, (in San Antonio) looking for some barbacoa and Big Red.”

Big Red has an active presence on social media, so follow them on Facebook to keep up with all of the goings-on at Big Red. You can also read more about this unique soda with a cult-like following on the Big Red website.