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Soda Shopping Surprise

October 6, 2014

Coffee. More than anything else, I drink coffee. Beer may be eclipsing wine these days. Seltzer is up there. Bourbon and gin make regular appearances on my weekly beverage intake list. Juice appears only in splashes to flavor the seltzer. Really, water should be higher up on that list. When I’m exercising, it certainly is. But we haven’t seen a lot of that lately and I’ve got the pizza judging gut to prove it.

Did you notice what was missing?

We really don’t drink soda. It’s one of those things I’ll keep in the house for emergencies. The “best by” dates on soda are years out, but we drink the stuff so infrequently that we’ve been known to blow past them.

It’s not that I have anything against soda. It’s just that I’d rather get my sugar in other forms. The idea of drinking liquid candy with my food isn’t generally appealing. Of course there’s the issue about soda switching from cane sugar to cheaper high fructose corn syrup. Caramel coloring isn’t great, but I drink so little of the stuff, I don’t particularly mind.

Funny story. Mrs. Fussy was hosting a party yesterday and she forgot to buy soda. So she sent me out to the store with some very specific instructions. Well, it looks like big soda has sunk to a new low.

It was a short list: One cola, one diet, and one caffeine free.

The cola was easy. Pepsi Throwback is made with real sugar. Yes, I’d prefer the flavor profile of Coke. But I’m going to continue to vote with my wallet and hope that Coke finally realizes it could capture more market share by introducing a cane sugar version of its own here in the USA.

Perhaps I should have penalized Coke further by refusing to buy Diet Coke. However, I used to hang out with diet cola drinkers and Diet Coke always seemed to hold a special place in their hearts. So for guests, I thought it would be nice to break out the good stuff. Maybe I should have gone Diet Dr. Pepper? I don’t know. That’s not cogent to today’s topic.

Walking into the store, as far as I was concerned, the caffeine free soda had already been decided. Sierra Mist has been my go-to in this category since the brand went “natural” back in 2010. Not just for its real sugar and natural flavors, but also its lack of artificial colors.

One of my mantras is, “Always check labels.”

It had been a long long time since I had purchased any of this soda, so for good measure I picked it up to double check the ingredient list. It used to be just five ingredients: carbonated water, sugar, citric acid, natural flavor, and potassium citrate. Now the list reads:

CARBONATED WATER, SUGAR, CITRIC ACID, NATURAL FLAVOR, POTASSIUM CITRATE, POTASSIUM SORBATE (PRESERVES FRESHNESS), PURIFIED STEVIA LEAF EXTRACT

Stevia?

Okay, look. I get that not everybody thinks that this stuff tastes bad. I think it tastes awful, and I’m not alone. More importantly, it’s not sugar. It’s a zero calorie sugar substitute. And dammit, if a company is going to use something like that in a product that’s not labeled diet, or low-calorie, or “now made with stevia” that company is being misleading at best.

The mind boggling part about all of this is that there’s only a little bit of stevia. Just enough to ruin the appeal of the brand, but not enough to make any meaningful difference to sugar consumption.

Twenty calories have been cut per can. Twenty. That’s about one rounded teaspoon of cane sugar. Technically, a teaspoon has 4 grams of sugar and 15 calories. You would have to cut a whopping 5.3 grams of sugar to hit 20 calories.

At 120 calories of sugar still in the stevia spiked cans, each one still gives its drinker a daunting eight teaspoons of this far too often maligned treat. Or, just shy of five Dum Dum lollipops.

I love sugar. I love transforming it into caramel. I love how it creates pale golden ribbons when whisked into egg yolks. I love melting it in butter. I love sprinkling it on berries to extract precious juices from deep within. I love it in cakes. It even plays a role in my Cuban black beans.

The problem with soda isn’t sugar. The problem with soda is that people drink it like water. And they drink it with an unquenchable thirst.

Well, maybe the stevia can fix that. Even this tiny amount can make the soda taste so unappealing that consumers will turn away from it in droves. There’s a vocal population of Sierra Mist fans on the brand’s facebook page that are doing just that. At least it’s refreshing that there are people out there who aren’t going to be suckered into this sham.

In the end, I walked out with Vernor’s for my caffeine free pick. Yes, it may have HFCS and caramel coloring, but at least it has some character. Mostly because it’s an old man soda that nobody else likes, unless of course you grew up with it.

Maybe as we make our way through the party leftovers, I’ll finally get to try a Vernor’s float.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2014 1:50 pm

    Thank you! We don’t drink a lot of soda either but when we do we choose Pepsi with real sugar – and, yes, I’d rather have Coke with sugar (I have a feeling that Coke can’t be too far behind the curve with this).
    My beef is with Chobani – their 100-calorie cups are a combo of stevia and cane juice and it tastes awful. I really can’t stand the flavor of any artificial sweetener. I’d much rather go without or have real sugar in moderation.
    PS – I’m not an old man and I like Vernor’s too.

  2. Jack C permalink
    October 6, 2014 2:41 pm

    Whenever possible, I seek out “Mexican Coke” – it’s easy to find at a lot of stores and has real cane sugar. It’s a bit more expensive, though, so probably not best for parties where it will be consumed in bulk. It has nothing to do with some sort of philosophical opposition to HFCS – I just think it tastes better. I know it’s terrible for me, but if I’m going to drink something awful for me (which both are), I’d rather go with the better tasting option.

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