Thursday, August 09, 2018

Taste setting in New Zealand

New Zealand is leading the way yet again: This is the first country in the world to get a sugarless version of Coca-Cola sweetened with 100% stevia (pictured at right). Days of national celebration followed the announcement—well, not exactly that. More like national unawareness, to be honest.

The introduction comes about a year after the introduction of Coca-Cola No Sugar, which I taste-tested in June last year, and was much lower key. The new drink replaces the former Coca-Cola Life, which was a mix of Stevia and sugar. I taste-tested that in April 2015.

This will leave Coke in New Zealand with the sugar version, as well as four without sugar: Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Coke No Sugar, and Coke Stevia No Sugar. As Stuff put it, “It seems unlikely that Coca-Cola can continue producing four no-sugar colas in the small New Zealand market.” They also speculate that Coke Zero will probably be dropped to simplify the offerings.

I bought a six pack of the cute little 250ml cans (outer wrapper of the six pack is below) just because I saw it in the grocery store. At the time, I didn’t know it was a new product and thought it might be imported, rather than made in New Zealand, as it was. My first reaction was that this made so much more sense than the former Coca-Cola Life. If someone is trying to avoid sugar altogether, then merely reducing the amount of it by adding stevia wasn’t helpful. Same for those avoiding sugar and artificial sweeteners. Using 100% stevia was clearly the sensible solution, I think.

Coca-Cola Stevia No Sugar has 1.3 kilojoules per 100ml (about 0.3 calories), which means it has about a quarter of the food energy of their other non-sugar colas. The reason is probably that stevia is non-caloric (doesn’t have calories of its own), whereas artificial sweeteners are usually just very low calorie.

But, how does it taste? I find it sweeter than any of the other no-sugar versions, and with a "piercing earthy sweetness", as a taster for the New Zealand Herald put it. I haven’t compared it directly to regular Coke, but it’s a different kind of sweetness. I think that at least some people will think it’s sweeter; I’m probably one of them.

Be that as it may, anyone can adapt if they want to. I say that because adapted to their old brand TaB, then later to Diet Coke, neither of which I necessarily liked when I first tried them. By the time I got to Coke Zero, it was much easier. So, I think that I could get used to Coke Stevia No Sugar, too.

The obvious question here, of course, is why would I (or anyone else) want to “get used to” a drink if we don’t like it immediately? There are two answers: Sugar, and artificial sweeteners.

We all know that we should avoid refined sugar. A little bit, particularly in food, isn’t usually harmful for most people, but too much causes weight gain and can lead to the development of Type 2 diabetes and heart problems. It’s best to avoid having it.

The alternatives, up until now, have been artificial sweeteners, and the science on them has been all over the map. Nevertheless, some studies indicate that artificial sweeteners may lead to weight gain, and can even lead to developing Type 2 diabetes—just like sugar. One theory [mentioned in the article “In Search of the Perfect Sweetener” from the BBC is that artificial sweeteners affect gut bacteria and that can lead to insulin resistence, which can lead to diabetes (and contribute to metabolic syndrome). So, artificial sweeteners MAY affect the body similarly to the way sugar does—not in a good way. Using them may cause problems, too (and that’s without even getting into the theories that they can cause cancer).

So far, there’s no evidence that stevia has any bad affects on health. However, it’s important to note that while stevia has been used as a sweetener since the 1970s, it hasn’t been studied as much as artificial sweeteners, so problems may yet be found now that it’s becoming more and more common. At the moment, however, stevia is the only natural non-caloric sweetener available, and it seems to be free of the problems associated with both sugar and artificial sweeteners, so all that makes it very appealing.

Years ago, I used aspartame all the time, including to sweeten my coffee, and did so up until I became convinced it was unsafe due to the Wisdom of the Internet. After reviewing actual data, I’ve since come to believe that it’s as safe as most other artificial sweeteners. Nevertheless, in sort of a holdover from the old days, and because non-use made me no longer like the taste, I switched the sweetener for my coffee to one made from saccharin and cyclamates. By then, it tasted best to me, and it’s very cheap. Even so, once my current supply is gone, I plan to switch to stevia, mostly to avoid the problems (seemingly) associated with artificial sweeteners and sugar. It will take some time to get used to as well, but—for now—I think it’s worth it to avoid other health problems.

Sweetening coffee is the main thing I use sweeteners for. I’ve tried skipping sweeteners completely, but it turns out there ARE some tastes I just can’t get used to. I rarely drink soft drinks, but if I want one I’m likely to choose Coke Stevia No Sugar. I wish they made a Sprite Stevia No Sugar because I think that would work well with stevia, and because there are times I want a soft drink without caffeine. Someday, maybe.

It’s never easy making smart choices for one’s diet, and in many cases those choices are necessarily highly individualised. This drink won’t be to everyone’s taste, and some people don’t like stevia in anything. That’s fine—there are other choices. But for me, I think this new version of Coke is a good option for a treat, at least for now.

The products listed and their names are all registered trademarks, 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 at normal retail prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.


rogerogreen said...

I thought TaB was vile! I just tried Coke Zero, and it was pretty meh.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

At the time I drank TaB is was instead of RC100, which had been discontinued when cyclamates were banned in the USA (it's legal in most other countries, including New Zealand). I started because my dad, a diabetic, used to drink it sometimes. I got used to it.

I kinda like Coke Zero—more than any of the other sugar-free alternatives—so I'll be kind of sad when it's discontinued. Still, I guess Coke No Sugar isn't THAT bad (I'm assuming that Coke Stevia No Sugar won't be available at fast food joints).