Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Great Coke vs. Coke Debate

There has been a lot of discussion recently (here and elsewhere) about the sweet, fizzy nectar that is "soda." Much of it bores me. I don't care if schools sell soda. I don't care if people, kids or adults, drink too much of it. Sure, it's probably not the healthiest thing you can drink, but it is certainly not the least healthy.

In fact, the only thing about this issue that has interested me at all is the difference between Coke Classic and "Real" Coke. Apparently, there was a time when Coca-Cola Classic was sweetened using sugar, but in the 1980s, it was replaced by high fructose corn syrup either because of costs or conspiracies involving New Coke. Regardless of what you believe, the switch was made, and following it, many connoisseurs say the World's Most Popular Soft Drink just ain't the same.

Unless you go to Mexico.

You see, Mexican Coke never changed to high fructose corn syrup. Instead, bottlers south of the border continue to use cane sugar, and many say their product is that much better for it.

As one who has had a long, loving, but sometimes torturous relationship with soda, I'm intrigued by the possibility that there could be an even better variety of my beverage of choice. Since sugar-sweetened Coke was only around during my early years (before my taste buds became sufficiently discerning), I don't really remember Coke ever tasting any different than it does now, leaving me to wonder what the "real" thing tastes like and if it really is the best variety.

Well, I wonder no more.

On a trip this morning to the local corner store -- the first time I have visited since moving to the new place -- I stumbled upon Sam's wide selection of "imports," which included a trove of 355 ml bottles of Mexican Coke and, by extension, the answer to the pressing question: Is the Coca-Cola Company depriving American consumers of the best product available?


My culinary tastes are often the subject of jokes among friends and family members. I'm what you would call a "Meat and Potatoes" vegetarian. For the most part, I like bland food, though with lots of salt and pepper.

However, while I might not have the most refined taste for food, my taste for soda, particularly classic Coke, is unmatched and when coupled with my unrelenting quest for knowledge, it created a perfect scenario for answering the long-standing, if somewhat arcane, question.

To perform my test, I came home with two bottles: a glass one containing Mexican Coke and a plastic one containing American Coke. Of course, you can rightly argue that the flavor of soda is greatly dependent on its packaging material. I know these differences well, and would have purchased a can of American Coke -- by far the best tasting variety -- but finding cans in most convenience stores is impossible, as it was at Sam's. After conducting the test, however, I can say that the difference in bottles had zero effect on the outcome.

I placed the bottles in the freezer for about ten minutes to make sure they were both roughly the same temperature (also because Coke is best when it is super cold). After their time in the freezer, Abbzug poured an equal amount of each into identical glasses while I started writing this post. She called me into the "lab" and had me taste each one.

The first one was definitely good, as Coke always is. It had the right amount of fizz, tasted sweet but crisp (not syrupy), and, most importantly, induced the proper Coke burn as it traveled down my throat. The second one, meanwhile, tasted like water.

There was no question which was which and which I preferred. Although she knew what she was drinking, Abbzug tried both and noted how bland the American version tasted in comparison. The difference is quite striking.

Is this definitive proof that high fructose corn syrup-sweetened Coke is worse than it's sugar-sweetened brother, despite contrary claims made by Coke officials? Perhaps, but probably not. There is, after all, no accounting for taste.

So, try it for yourself. Go to Sam's (or an online retailer), get a bottle of each, conduct a blind taste test, and let me know what you think. Just be sure to leave enough of the good stuff for me.

UPDATE: Yum...


Anonymous said...

By Sams, do you means Sam's club, ala Walmart? Or is there a little local store near you called Sams? I'm interested in trying it out for myself because I don't think Coke has ever recovered from the New Coke experiment.

Hayduke said...

No sir, no Mexican Coke at a Walton-owned enterprise. I'm talking about Sam's 1-Stop (or whatever) in the Oakland Mills Village Center. I haven't seen it anywhere else in the area, and I've hit almost all the local quickie marts.

I went back today, actually, to pick up some more. This time, the bottles actually came with a sticker containing the nutrional information and ingredients attached. Interestingly, the label says "high fructose corn syrup and/or sucrose." All that I have read, however, states that the Coke is made with sugar, meaning the "or" and the latter are correct. The labels are definitely generic and put on after the fact for compliance with US health laws.

Also, the Coke is pricey -- $1.25 for a 355 ml bottle (12 oz). It's a small price to pay, in my mind.

Anonymous said...

Great site lots of usefull infomation here.

Anonymous said...

If you want cane-sugar coke without the markup, buy Kosher for Passover Coke (in February or so)--no corn products allowed...

Karsun said...

I just tried my first one tonight and really enjoyed it. Now if we can only get more here.