Tuesday, July 16, 2013

'Green' Coca-Cola

Credit: Soda stream USA
I really enjoyed hearing Bob Mondello's NPR blurb about the debut of "Coke Life" in Argentina. Apparently, this soda contains stevia and table sugar, and sells in a plant plastic derived bottle. It's not as calorie-laden as traditional Coke, and bills itself as "green" (renewable). Thus, the new logo Coca-Cola rolled out: a green background, in place of the traditional red known the world over.

I have a secret: I've often wanted to peer behind the scenes as a Coca-Cola chemist. Think about all the different stuff you'd get to play with! Considering sweeteners alone, you have Diet Coke, Coca-Cola, Coke Zero, and now "Coke Life," which use aspartame, high-fructose corn syrup, sucralose, and stevia, respectively. Not just those, but dyes, vitamins, stabilizers, emulsifiers, preservatives, and much, much more. Best part? If you invent something exciting, you get to see it used by billions of people - more than your average pharmaceutical (and a much shorter development cycle!).

It's interesting to speculate on why certain artificial sweeteners didn't make the Coke cut. Certainly, lead acetate didn't - ask the ancient Romans why not. But diner table stand-by saccharin didn't, either. Perhaps too much bad press on its tenuous ties to cancer? And why not go back to using a truly "natural" sweetener, like sugar or honey? Cost plays a role here, as does consumer preference.*

I look forward to trying "Coke Life" myself. If anyone from Argentina reads this, let's work out some shipping arrangements.

*To me, HFCS tastes overwhelmingly cloying, but I've heard dedicated Coke drinkers describe saccharin as "metallic," aspartame as "sharp" or "bitter," and stevia as "too sweet" (Ha!). 


  1. Personally, I prefer the taste of Coke with good, old-fashioned sugar. The artificial sweeteners leave a funky aftertaste (sometimes metallic, sometimes bitter as you mentioned) to me. I haven't tried stevia, so I'll be interested to hear you review if you manage to round up some Coke Life. Good luck!

  2. Of course, in the US there's the difference in taste between Passover coke (made with sugar) and regular coke (made with corn syrup)

  3. I'm not certain if it's a placebo effect or real, but the combination of aspartame with other sweeteners (either HFCS (as in 9:1 Diet MD/Code Red MD) or acesulfame potassium (as in Coke Zero/Pepsi Max) seems to neutralize much of aspartame's bitter aftertaste for me (contrast with Diet Coke - Diet Pepsi has one, but not as bad, probably due to the lemon taste added).

    When I was growing up, my dad drank lots of tea and diet soda with saccharin - don't need the (bogus) cancer hullabaloo to explain why it's not used anymore. No one liked it - they longed for cyclamates (from which acesulfame sodium is derived?) - it seemed kind of like replacing the Concorde with a 757.

    1. You bite your tongue. I'm a saccharin fan. I use Sweet'N Low for practically everything I drink that isn't pre-sweetened (coffee, tea, mixed drinks, etc). People have different reactions to sweeteners (and other tastes) that vary drastically. I think the real reason that saccharin isn't used as much as it used to be, in the US at least, isn't taste (all other low-cal sweeteners just don't do it for me, and I am not alone), but the fact that companies would have to make different products for Canada which still(?) bans saccharin due to that bogus cancer scare.

    2. "No one" = my parents, and family, I can't speak for anyone else (if the presumption of general dislike of saccharin was bothersome). I don't mind that saccharin exists, but the expansion of availability and tastes in diet drinks corresponded to the increased availability of aspartame and other diet sweeteners and the willingness to invest so much in the use of aspartame in those flavors suggest that saccharin wasn't either a sufficient or sufficiently general diet soda sweetener.

      I would ask "why doesn't a Diet Coke with saccharin exist in the US if there are so many people who would want it?" but if Canada and other countries won't buy it, well, that probably explains it well enough. Maybe the newer fountain machines that make various Coke flavors could include saccharin-sweetened flavors, if they separated the flavors from the sweetener base.

      Sweeteners are individual because tastes are, although "if there are lots of ways to do something, it's because none of them really work" - unlike with sugar, there isn't a perfect artifical sweetener, or even one good enough to dominate its competition. Aspartame is closest, but the inability to use it in cooking and its bitterness (supposedly from the minor diastereomer of aspartame generated in the hydrogenation to form the phenylalanine residue) kill that idea. Of course, none of the aspartame analogs that were supposed to be better came to anything (Neotame?) - I don't know why.

  4. You can get Coke made with sugar if you order Mexican Coke. It even comes in the old glass bottles, which makes drinking it fun as well.


  5. Late to the game here, but Coke isn't made with high-fructose chem syrup in many (every?) countries other than the US. American friends tell me this is due to intense lobbying by the US corn farming community.

  6. My brother is in Argentina at the moment. His review on it was that it tastes very much like Diet Coke.

    On a side note; I very much enjoyed my experience of regular Coca Cola in Argentina. Seems to taste more "nutty" and pleasantly sweet, like those expensive organic colas that cost an arm and a leg.