What is Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray&Reg; Soda?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray® soda has its admirers and detractors. Much speculation surrounds the invention of this soda, which in its infancy was a mix of sugar, carbonated water, celery seed extract, and a few other flavors. Today the drink has gone the way of most sodas by adding the inferior high fructose corn syrup instead of sugar, and caramel coloring. It’s still an admired drink by many who grew up with it, especially those who would order it in Kosher or Jewish delicatessens. In fact Cel-Ray® soda has been dubbed the Jewish champagne, since many considered it the perfect accompaniments to salty meats like pastrami.

Cel-Ray® soda is often served with pastrami sandwiches.
Cel-Ray® soda is often served with pastrami sandwiches.

Today, Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray® soda is made by Canada Dry®. Initially the drink was developed in the late 1860s, and may have been sold as celery tonic instead of Cel-Ray® soda. The world questions the existence of a Dr. Brown who supposedly invented the drink. There is suggestion that a true Dr. Brown may have been a doctor in Brooklyn who invented the drink and who had a friend in the bottling business. No matter who the inventor was, Cel-Ray® soda soon became popular, especially in delicatessens as a nice light drink, rather than as a health tonic.

Like most sodas, Cel-Ray Soda adds ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and caramel coloring.
Like most sodas, Cel-Ray Soda adds ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and caramel coloring.

Unlike most soft drinks, Cel-Ray® soda has more bitterness, and you’ll probably want to be a fan of celery prior to trying it. Most early soft drinks were considered healthful, but this is dubious, especially today, given the high fructose corn syrup the drink contains. It’s certainly not a health tonic, but instead a light, greenish tasting accompaniment best served with savory, salty or heavily spiced foods. People praise it as a fantastic drink on hot days when serving deli sandwiches.

Many suggest the drink is an acquired taste, and others assert they could never acquire a liking for it. Supporters generally are used to it and have enjoy Cel-Ray® soda since childhood. Detractors tend to try it as adults and find it absolutely wretched. Some can’t get past the overt celery smell when a bottle or can is opened. If you’re a traditionalist who likes your soda sweet, you might try a few other Dr. Brown sodas. The cream soda is considered one of the finest on the market, though it too has diverged from its original recipe by being made with high fructose corn syrup.

On the other hand, if you’re out having a big pastrami sandwich, you might want to pick up a can of Cel-Ray® soda and give it a try. Many people swear by the fantastic flavor which offsets salty meats. If you’re lucky enough to be in a Jewish delicatessen, you’ll likely find the drink available.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I've been drinking CelRay since I was a kid about 60 years ago. I believe it used to be much less sweet than it is now. I felt there was very little actual taste, but a very refreshing smell.


They actually do make it in diet but its hard to find. I love it too!


Actually, they did make diet Cel-Ray for a while, but it didn't sell well.

Per the article, I have to say that, as someone who A) doesn't like celery and B) never tried it as a child, I'm the last person you'd expect to like this stuff, but I love it. I never make a trip to St Louis (a three hour drive) without swinging by the local kosher deli and picking up a 6-pack. And yes, it is excellent with a sandwich. Definitely not for everyone, but if you like it, you love it.


I guess they don't make Celray in diet. I always loved regular Celray but I'm diabetic. why no sugar free?

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