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What is Lemonade?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Lemonade is a sugared citrus drink thought to have first been made in France in the 16th century. At the time, it was a simple mixture of lemon juice, water, and sugar, or usually other sweeteners since cane sugar is a New World food. Today in Europe and in other continents, you’ll find many lemonades differing from the American version. If you’re in New Zealand or Ireland and you order a lemonade, you might just get a drink like Sprite®.

In the US, lemonade is thought of as a yellow or pink drink made much as 16th century lemonade was made. However, many large drink manufacturers substitute high fructose corn syrup for sugar. The classic version has three ingredients: sugar, water, and lemon juice. A fourth ingredient, lemon slices, may be added for extra flair. Commercial lemonades tend to be colored yellow or pink with either artificial or natural food coloring. The homemade drink is usually a pale yellow in color.

In most of the UK, much of Europe and in Australia, lemon drinks are carbonated and may or may not contain real lemon juice. It is usually not colored, and it’s favored as a refreshing drink by many. Sprite® and other drinks like it of various brands are called lemonade in New Zealand and Australia. In the UK if you’re looking for the flat version you might want to ask for lemon crush instead.

Indians also have lemon drinks, which since it contains sugar was likely an import from England and created during English occupation of India. Unlike English carbonated versions, limbu paani is much closer to the American version and is not carbonated. The main difference is that it can contain rock salt, either in the glass or surrounding it, similar to the way margaritas are served. The rock salt appears to be a preference, which not all Indians share.

Perhaps American lemonade is best known for its pink version, often colored with beet juice. A happy accident according to legend created this type in 1873. Henry Griffith, also called Billie, supposedly discovered it when a dye from the tights of a circus performer leaked into the drink he was preparing. More often, Henry E. A lot gets the credit for the invention when he accidentally dropped cinnamon candy into the lemon drink he was making. Either way, the pink color was attractive to many, and pink lemonade remains very popular.

Today many people prefer to buy premade lemonades or to use powder formulas to make their own at home. Purists insist on the real deal; lemon juice, sugar and water garnished with slices of lemon. This homemade type does tend to be superior in taste, whereas powdered versions sometimes have a chemical taste that true lemonade connoisseurs eschew.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By WGwriter — On Jun 27, 2008

Laluna, Nothing like homemade lemonade! It's the best. My dad used to make us a combination of lemonade and grape juice from concentrate. I know that may sound awful to some, but I loved the taste combination when I was a kid. I think now, though, it would probably make my stomach very unhappy. Love lemonade freshly made, and limeade! oooh! even better! Tricia

By laluna — On Jun 18, 2008

There is a wide variety of lemonade on the market. I prefer to make my own, but when buying lemonade, read the label, the fewer ingredients the better.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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