Depending on how old you are, you might not even remember the actual taste of the Real Thing. I am not talking about differences between Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Coca Cola Classic or any other obvious variations on the popular beverage. I am referring to the original Coca Cola formula—the non-diet, classic drink that is known throughout the world. You may think you know Coke, but if you are basing that knowledge on the past 25 years of drinking experience in the US, you might be surprised to find out that your Coke is not the same as mine.
It’s Coca Cola Classic, Right?
Wrong. Classic Coke isn’t even the original formula. It’s close, and if you asked the manufacturer they’d tell you it’s the same, but when you have tasted Coke made and bottled in Mexico and other locations outside of the US, you understand. That’s because Coke made in the US is sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. HFCS has been a part of the “classic” formula ever since the New Coke debacle of 1985.
A Little History
The very first Coca Cola recipe was invented in a drugstore in Columbus, Georgia by John Pemberton in 1885. It was first sold in bottles in 1894 and it appeared in cans in 1955. As the decades rolled by, competition with Pepsi grew, and many Coke drinkers were surprised by their selection after taking “The Pepsi Challenge”. Pepsi had successfully promoted their reputation as a superior-tasting product until, in 1985, Coke responded by changing their formula using High Fructose Corn Syrup as sweetener. What followed goes down in history as one of the most unusual and unpredictable consumer backlashes in history.
Those of you that remember Max Headroom probably recall him asking you to “C-c-c-catch the Wave” as New Coke was unveiled. Every piece of market research showed that consumers wanted a sweeter product, but when Coke delivered, some of us felt betrayed. Let’s be honest. Nobody ever asks for a rum and Pepsi. Dedicated Coke drinkers could no longer enjoy the old flavor with which they had grown up. Fierce public reaction to the change prompted the company to announce a reversal less than three months after introducing new Coke, and Coca Cola Classic was born.
What many people don’t realize is that when Classic Coke was resurrected, it too was a new formula. Although Classic marked a return to the previous flavor, it continued to use high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener. There are many explanations for this decision but most are related to costs associated with sugar versus corn syrup. However, Coca Cola produced in Mexico and other places still includes cane sugar. This is likely due to government corn subsidies here that make it cheaper to use HFCS. You may have noticed recent advertising trends listing ingredients like natural cane sugar in some products. Much of this is in response to the belief that HFCS poses certain health risks and is a contributor to diabetes. While such studies are alarming and may or may not be conclusive in their findings, you should draw your own conclusions.
While the manufacturer maintains that there is no discernible difference in the flavor of the sweeteners, I disagree, and I am not alone. Coke made with cane sugar tastes crisp and refreshing, while the HFCS variety seems to carry an aftertaste that lingers in the mouth. Even Consumer Reports recently took notice of the import buying trend and did a taste test. I must say that when I was walking through Costco yesterday and I found 24-packs of Coke bottled in Mexico, it made me think of that kid catching the Mean Joe Greene jersey. Excited as I was, I am the first to admit that I am not really much of a soda drinker to begin with. So, when I do, it might as well be the good stuff.
The Real Thing
It’s not what you have been drinking. The real Real Thing is more expensive and harder to find. Until I spotted it yesterday, previous options included traveling to Mexico, shopping at Mexican markets in town, and Cub Foods. Yes, at least in St. Paul, the Cub Foods nearest to me has devoted a large section to international items including a selection of unusual beverages where tall bottles of Mexican Coke sell for more than two bucks. It also turns out that Coke does make a cane sugar variation domestically, but only for a short production run before Passover when they produce a fully kosher version. I have been unsuccessful finding this due to bad timing on my part.
So, Whether you prefer “the right one baby” or would rather “have a Coke and a smile”, the sugar options are beginning to open. Even Pepsi recently released a cane sugar version of their flagship product as well as Mountain Dew. If the buying public pays attention and continues to buy products according to their desires, perhaps the big soft drink manufactures will recognize the appeal of traditional ingredients. In the mean time, check out sugar Coke from Mexico. You don’t know what you are missing, amigo!