}

Monday, June 26, 2017

Taste Test: Substitute naughtiness

Like a lot of people, I may try new food and drink products as they’re released, if it’s something I might be interested in, anyway, but I don’t normally blog about it. Truth is, I have no idea why I don’t, so it’s time to change that with a new product from Coca-Cola.

Today I tried Coca-Cola No Sugar, yet another sugar-free version of Coke, this one, the company thinks, being the closest yet to the sugar-full version. New Zealand is the third country to get the new product, after Mexico and Spain.

The company was so eager for people to try the new product that they decided to give out some 200,000 free samples around New Zealand, according to Newshub. I have no idea whether that’s a lot or not, but I can say this: I bought my own drink at a store—it wasn’t free.

This is actually the second time I tested the product. The first time, I compared it to Coke Zero, because it’s the version I normally drink, and because I don’t drink “real” coke. At the time, I reasoned that since that’s the case, it didn’t really matter much to me whether it tastes a lot like the original. But the company’s whole focus was on its comparison to—ahem—the real thing, so I realised it was unfair to not include that. But, to be totally fair, I’d have to add Diet Coke, too. This became way more complicated than I’d planned.

So today I went and bought a 300ml bottle of each Coke variant and, after taking the photo above, set about the comparison.

For each bottle, I opened it, let the gas out, then sniffed it to see if it had a smell (“bouquet”?). I tried a sip as I’d normally have one—I didn't leave it in my mouth because that can irritate my tongue, and I didn’t slurp it like wine. Instead, I treated it as if I was drinking it normally.

Between each bottle, I had some water, rinsed my mouth, ate a couple plain salty but otherwise unflavoured potato chips, and rinsed with water again. I chose potato chips because they’re relatively bland, and because I often drink cola when I’m having a meal with potato chips or fries. I also felt the saltiness would make sure I wasn’t desensitised to sweetness in the various drinks.

I sampled each drink in the order they were originally released (left to right in the photo), and sampled them each three times. This is from my notes (energy content per 300ml is what was printed on the label of each bottle):

Coca-Cola Original (540kj per 300ml): Smells like Coke, tastes like what Coke should be. After one sip, there’s a hit of very sugary sweetness and a mouthfeel of syrupiness. The carbonation was the gentlest of the three.

Diet Coke (4.5kj per 300ml): Little to no smell, a sharp sweetness mixed with strong carbonation. The taste seemed slightly bitter and metallic—“fake”, if you like—but was definitely lighter mouthfeel than original Coke.

Coke Zero (4.2kj per 300ml): I’ll admit upfront that I’d always assumed that this and Diet Coke were just different packages of the exact same thing, but, maybe not: Coke Zero had a very slight/light citrus smell. While it doesn’t seem as sharply sweet as Diet Coke, it did also taste slightly metallic. However, it was not as metallic/bitter as Diet Coke—not as “fake”, I suppose. The carbonation was not as strong as in Diet Coke, and that may be why it had a lighter mouthfeel than Diet Coke.

Coca-Cola No Sugar (4.2kj per 300ml): The guest of honour at today’s test kitchen had a slightly bitter smell, but that wasn’t reflected in the taste. It had very strong carbonation and a slightly acidic mouth feel, possibly due in whole or in part to that carbonation. To me, it basically tastes the same as Coke Zero, but less sweet and less bitter than Diet Coke.

My conclusion is that, no, Coke No Sugar is not like the original sugar-full version, but is more like Coke Zero than it is like either the original or Diet Coke versions.

All three Cokes without sugar use aspartame (sweetener 951) and Acesulfame K (sweetener 950). Like saccharin, Acesulfame K can be somewhat bitter. It could be that the specific balance of sweeteners accounts for the flavour variations, especially the relative bitterness, or maybe not. I should add, too, that original coke in New Zealand uses cane sugar alone, and always has.

While I only drink sugar-free fizzy drinks, I don’t drink any kind very frequently. In fact, I’m far more likely to have soda water with a bit of fresh lemon rather than any commercial product. Nevertheless, if I’m going to have a cola product, I’d definitely consider Coke No Sugar as a choice, but, to be honest, I’d probably choose Coke Zero first: There are reasons I prefer it over Diet Coke and the original version, after all.

Finally, it’s important to point out the bleedin’ obvious: The non-science here. I’m not any sort of professional taster, nor did I use double blind sampling nor any controls. This is not intended as an objective or even remotely scientific evaluation: It’s just me taste-testing the latest variety of one of my favourite treat foods and reporting what I found. Your determination, gentle Coke-sipping reader, may be completely different from mine, and that’s okay: I don’t see why Arthur’s Law can’t apply to food tastes, too.

This was all a bit of fun, really—and a good excuse to try the new Coke product. As luck would have it, this also gave me a topic for a blog post—wins abound. Now pardon me while I go and finish some of my Coke products: They won’t stay fresh forever once the bottle has been opened, and I don’t want to waste any!

The products tested, their names, and their bottle shapes, are all registered trademarks of The Coca-Cola Company, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me for this taste test. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturer, or the retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

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