Often I’m asked, “so what’s the big deal about high fructose corn syrup? It tastes fine to me.” My reply tends to recommend drinking something sweetened with sugar right next to its HCFS version. We were able to do that in the past when we reviewed Kosher for Passover Coke and Kosher for Passover Caffeine Free Pepsi.
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to these types of drinks, especially since they are highly seasonal. One great alternative to experience the way the flagship colas were meant to taste is to head to a local Mexican supermarket or eatery. More often than not, they’ll probably have what we in the States casually refer to as “Mexican Coke”.
Mexican Coke is nothing more than imported Coca-Cola from Mexico, often bottled in glass. The defining factor of the beverage, however, is that it’s sweetened with sugar. The popularity of the drink has grown over the years, as folks have realized the improved taste profile it offers vs. the muck we’re stuck with normally.
An article from the Santa Cruz Sentinel in March 2006 discussed this trend:
It’s popping up just about everywhere in Latino communities across the United States: Mexican-made Coca-Cola in those old glass bottles, somewhat of an anomaly in the age of the plastic liter and twist-off cap.
Slightly worn and a bit gritty from all the coming and going, the 12-ounce bottles, which sell for roughly $1.25 a pop, are being bought up and sucked dry at record clips in cities across the country with large Latino populations.
And Mexicans and Mexican-Americans aren’t the only ones swigging down the soda bottled south of the border, claiming it tastes different from its American-made counterpart, that its fizz seems to last longer because it’s in a glass bottle.
If running diaries on the Web in the form of blogs are any indication, just about everybody who likes the heft of a good old-fashioned soda bottle is looking for the Mexican-made pop in the thousands of ma and pa convenience stores that cater to Latinos.
It hasn’t escaped notice by Coca-Cola. In fact, they tend to frown on the importing of the Mexican version of the drink. They consider it bootlegging.
It totally isn’t. There’s nothing illegal about it. They are just trying to protect their antiquated bottler system which defines regions as having the exclusive rights to certain beverages. It makes about as much sense as Region Codes on DVDs.
But beyond the ethical nature, what makes me laugh is how Coke attempts to write off the trend:
“We believe that the appeal of Mexican Coke is as much about nostalgia as it is about anything,” says Martin. “It’s like getting a piece of home in a bottle. You can’t deny the fact that it’s in a tall glass bottle, something you just can’t find in most parts of the United States.”
But it’s the “same exact product,” and Mexican bottlers are buying the ingredients straight from the company, says Martin.
“It’s not like they’re stirring it up in some backyard,” he adds. “Coke is Coke is Coke.”
Sure, it’s the same product… except for that small little detail regarding sweeteners! It has nothing to do with the packaging or if it’s cold, etc. It has everything to do with the use of sugar cane vs. high fructose corn syrup. Obviously, Coke doesn’t want to admit that the existing product in the United States is inferior… but it is.
That said, my wife Amy picked up a bottle of Mexican Coke recently while she was in an Hispanic neighborhood here in the city. The bottle definitely looked like it had seen better days. But it was glass! How cool is that? The capacity was listed as 355 ml, which translates to 11.83 oz, just a little less than a typical aluminum can. A copyright date of 1996 showed below the Coke logo along with the welcome phrase, “Hecho en Mexico” (Made in Mexico).
Of interest was an added label which you often find on imported soft drinks. (I had seen this on Polish imports Fanta Pomarańczowa and Fanta Lemonic). This label provides the ingredients and nutritional facts in English. (Interestingly, they rounded up the 11.83 oz to 12 oz on the label). What was interesting about the ingredient list is that it was a little wishy-washy about what kind of sweetener was used. The exact phrasing was “High Fructose, Corn Syrup and/Or Sugar.” Who are you kidding? It was without a doubt sugar!
As far as the taste? Very much the same flavor and aftertaste profile as I had found previously with Kosher for Passover Coke. In general, it’s the Coke you know and love, but with a much “cleaner” feel. Like I said, if you have a regular bottle of Coke side-by-side, you can completely tell the difference. I actually think my individual situation featured a bottle that was somewhat flat. This may be due to the age of the drink or some other factors, so that was a bit puzzling.
Nevertheless, if you have a chance to both find a drink like this as well as experience it, you’ll quickly become a believer in the “non-HFCS is better” club!