Ramune: Japanese for...Lemonade?
There are many things that mark the passage of the seasons into summer in Japan. Kakigori piled high, cool and savory hiyashi chuka, nagashi somen dipped in chilled ponzu, and of course, ramune. Like many things in Japan that have, over the years, become milestones in the cultural landscape, ramune was first introduced at the end of the 19th century by a foreigner-- in this case a British pharmacist living in Kobe. The name “ramune” resulted from a japonification of the english word “lemonade” and the first ramune was lemon-lime flavored. In contrast to American lemonade, European lemonade is traditionally carbonated. Additionally, carbonated soft drinks as a form of medicine were very popular in the west during that time, and initially ramune was marketed as a cure for cholera-- something that went on to significantly bolster it’s ubiquity and popularity as a drink.
Today’s ramune doesn’t particularly taste like lemons at all. It's quite sweet, and the “original” flavor somewhat resembles a mildly citrus-tasting bubble gum. Modern ramune comes in a very wide variety of flavors, including yuzu, watermelon, cantaloupe, grape, strawberry, orange and kiwi just to name a few. Perhaps one of the most distinct aspects of ramune is the bottle. Notoriously difficult to open in comparison to most bottles, ramune is housed in an old-fashioned style of bottle called the codd-neck bottle. Codd-neck bottles are stoppered with a marble held in place by the pressure of carbonation inside. To open, the marble must be pushed into a reservoir in the neck of the bottle with a plastic (originally glass) plunger attached to the top. After, the soda must be drunk slowly to prevent the marble from rolling back into the opening. While this style of bottle was very widespread in the late 19th century, only ramune along with the Asian soda Banta, continue to use them today.
amune’s popularity as a summer drink has led to a number of ramune flavored candies, popsicles, and other sweets to arise in Japan. The Ramune Gari Gari popsicle has a crunchy ice interior that adds a fun texture to the ramune flavor, and Ramune Hi-Chew actually contains a fizzy center that mimics the feeling of the drink. Additionally just this year, McDonald’s in Japan has released a ramune McFlurry, with a flavor modeled after the candy. Ramune’s distinct flavor has made it a cultural touchstone to the point where it was named the “national soda” of Japan. Between the distinctive bottle shape, clinking marble sound, and unique flavor, one sip of the sweet, crisp drink on a hot day is all that’s needed to see why.