Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Old Coke Vs. New Coke (a.k.a. "Juice Vs. High Fructose Cornhole Syrup")

If you follow health trends like I do, (i.e., barely, but if I'm beat in the face with something I might pay attention) you've probably noticed something of a backlash against high-fructose corn syrup in recent years. Just Google the term and you'll find loads of sites that decry its existence, claim that it's Devil Squeezings, cite studies that claim it's addictive, that it causes increased cases of diabetes and any number of other ailments, that it's being crammed into millions of common products on the market, many of which you wouldn't even expect to find sugar in to begin with, but especially in processed and fast foods, and is therefore contributing greatly to our national obesity crisis, etc.

Naturally, the National Corn-Growers Association isn't fond of such claims, so they've in turn funded a few of their own studies on the matter to try and prove the old studies (which are, in turn, no doubt funded by the sugar industry) wrong. And they've used the results of said new studies to help ramp up a backlash propaganda campaign against the backlash propaganda campaign. You might have seen the ads on TV. They all go something like this...

BRAINLESS AVERAGE GUY-- Hey, don't you try and make me eat that tasty-looking popsicle! It's loaded with high-fructose corn syrup!


BRAINLESS AVERAGE GUY-- (Stammers for half an hour before saying) Duhhhhhhrrrrr... I dun't knoOOOw. (Drools on self) Isn't it supposed to be evil?

OBVIOUSLY WISE GIRL-- (Pats him on shoulder) Silly, boy. Don't you know that corn-industry studies have now shown that high-fructose corn syrup is no more evil than sugar? In fact, the studies show it's exactly as bad for you as sugar. That means that even though high-fructose corn syrup may be addicting our kids, making them fatties, destroying the country and killing us all slowly, at least it's doing it cheaper. Now eat this damn popsicle, but only in moderation.

BRAINLESS AVERAGE GUY-- You only brought the one?



(That's not verbatim, but I think it's basically what they mean.)

As you may have guessed, I come down on the High-Fructose Cornhole Syrup equaling Devil Squeezings side of the issue, but not really because it's destroying the country (though I confess I suspect it of doing so, studies be damned). No, my hatred for high-fructose cornhole syrup comes from two different directions. Direction one: much like my hatred for chrome-coated plastic trying to pass for metal, I hate high-fructose corn syrup because it's processed crap trying to pass for cane sugar--which has been killing us naturally for hundreds of years the way God intended. Direction Two: when compared to actual cane sugar, I think high fructose corn syrup tastes like duck bladders. (Oh, those sweet, sweet duck bladders.) As evidence of this, I present to you my Coca Cola argument.

According to Wikipedia, Coca Cola has been using high-fructose corn syrup as the sweetener for Coke since 1985 when it was introduced as part of the formula for New Coke, during that infamous campaign. I was 13 at the time, which means I'd been consuming sugar-based Coke for nearly that many years--usually out of nifty, small, green, glass bottles. At the time I claimed not to like New Coke because it was too sweet and I switched exclusively to Diet Coke. (Ironically, it turns out New Coke was basically the same formula used for Diet Coke but sweetened with HFCHS instead of NutraSweet. I didn't know that, then, though.) Even after they brought back Coca Cola Classic, my taste for the stuff began to wane and I soon returned to drinking Diet Coke, (the formaldehyde produced by the breakdown of NutraSweet in which has been slowly embalming me ever since). Little did I know that while Coke Classic returned to the previous formula, it was no longer sweetened with sugar but with HFCS.

I can't say that high-fructose corn syrup was the cause of the decline in my consumption of plain Coca Cola. I didn't consciously notice any difference in the taste. Coca Cola with sugar simply became another of the many things that disappear from our collective culinary life that we don't notice on a conscious level, (like McDonald's French Fries fried in pure lard--mmmm, what I would give for a super-sized sleeve of those right now.)

With the big switch to HFCHS happening so long ago, a great many people in this country have never tasted the glory that is sugar-based Coca Cola. Notice I said "this country," because Coca Cola in other countries, particularly Mexico, is still produced using sugar. In fact, on an episode of Smodcast, Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier mentioned that a person could still find Coca Cola containing sugar by shopping at primarily-Hispanic super-markets in Southern California. I filed that information in the back of my mind in case I ever find myself in the big C.A. again, which isn't unlikely, being as how I was born there.

Months passed.

Old CokeOne day, while shopping in my local Kroger, what did I happen to spy on a non-beverage-related aisle but several small green glass bottles of Coca Cola. At first, I couldn't figure out why they had been shelved there, until I noticed I was in the International Foods Aisle, specifically the Mexican food shelf. Could it be? Yes, yes, it could! I picked up one of the bottles and found affixed to it a special nutritional information sticker in both English and Spanish that listed its ingredients, one of which was sugar, none of which was high-fructose cornhole syrup. I realized I was holding in my hand a time-capsule of goodness I hadn't tasted in 23 years!

Old CokeI immediately bought two of them, hauled them home and presented one to the wife. The wife poured her treasure over ice and enjoyed it in a glass. I drank mine straight from the green bottle.

Now I won't wax too nostalgic and claim that I was instantly transported back into my ten-year old body by the experience, but it was still pretty amazing. I didn't do a taste test, or anything, but it did seem to be a flavor combination that I haven't experienced in quite some time. It was like an unexpected encounter with an old and much-missed friend.

So if you too are older than dirt and would like to sample a small piece of the lost days of yore, I recommend keeping eyes peeled down the international aisle of your local grocery store. And if you're a punk kid, do the same and experience something you might not have missed has our generation not been shafted by corporate America.


mike. said...

Some stores also carry Kosher Coke during Passover week. Look for the bright yellow caps!

Beth said...

Coke that is made for Passover has sugar instead of corn syrup (as corn syrup isn't kosher for Passover). I don't know where you'd get it, but it should be available around the end of March/beginning of April.

Maughta said...

I went to Spain a few years ago and ever since then I've been wishing I could import the Diet Coke (Coca-Cola Light) that I had there. I think it had meth in it or something. Mmmmmmm, so good!

Anonymous said...

oh, yeah, pop made with sugar, as the good lord intended! I didn't know why at the time, but my soda drinking dropped like a rock right around the time HFCS came in. I just didn't like it much anymore. I think something about it makes the carbonation feel harsh, too. I discovered Jarritos at the Mexican restaurants here a few years ago, & found I could still enjoy chugging a pop, it just had to be a sugar pop. Yum!

Mary Piero Carey

lib.rare.ian said...

We can get "Mexican" coke by the case (24 tall bottles) at the local Sam's Club all year 'round - because we're in Southern CA. The flavor seems crisper and clearer.

finally_a_librarian said...

The NY Times had an article about K for P Coke a few years back: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0DE1DF1230F93BA1575AC0A9639C8B63

Diana said...

If you haven't seen it yet, I HIGHLY recommend watching the DVD King Corn. If there is ANY part of you still on the fence about HFCS, you'll have your feet squarely on the ground afterwards.

Melanie said...

Google Dublin Dr. Pepper. There is one small bottler in Dublin, Texas that still makes Dr. Pepper in glass bottles sweetened with real sugar. I had forgotten how much I like Dr. Pepper until I had one of these. They ship!

Anonymous said...

anyone know the price of new coke and old coke(can) in 1985?