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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Mexican’ Coke makes us yearn for real soda again

    Justyn DillinghamEditor-in-Chief
    Justyn Dillingham
    Editor-in-Chief

    There’s a delicious secret hidden in plain sight on campus.

    If you’ve ever bought a Coke from Jett’s Wildcat, 501 N. Park Ave., you may have noticed a stack of frosty-looking glass bottles of Coke standing next to the plastic-bottled Cokes in back, or stashed in the ice near the register. Jett’s sells plenty of regular Cokes, but I’d wager it sells a lot more of these “”special”” Cokes.

    What’s so special about them? Well, with their fancy glass bottles and simpler logo, they look nicer than most Cokes. But to put your finger on what’s different, you have to go to the list of ingredients, tacked above the familiar label. Then it hits you: This Coke uses sugar.

    So what, you might ask. Doesn’t all soda use sugar? Nope. In fact, Coca-Cola hasn’t used sugar in its soft drinks since 1984, and none of the other major soda manufacturers use it, either. The bottles you’ll find at Jett’s – and in many other small grocery stores along the southern U.S., from Southern California to Florida – are bottled in Mexico. Indeed, much of the rest of the world continues to enjoy the real thing.

    Instead, American Coke now contains high-fructose corn syrup. This sweet-tasting goop is a liquid produced by smashing up corn kernel molecules into fructose and combining them with regular corn syrup.

    Soft-drink companies decided to make the switch in the early ’80s, when high sugar quotas in the U.S. lobbied for by interest groups like Archer Daniels Midland Company, one of the worlds biggest corn dealers, made plain old sugar prohibitively expensive for them to use.

    Nutritionists have long bemoaned the fact that every supermarket staple from Ritz crackers to Campbell’s soup is loaded with high-fructose corn syrup. A number of foods and drinks even claim that they use “”all natural”” ingredients, because HFCS does start out as, well, corn.

    The truth is, there isn’t much evidence that high-fructose corn syrup is worse for you than sugar. But, in part, because using it made soda cheaper and easier to produce en masse, soda consumption in America increased by 40 percent between 1980 and 2000. Coincidentally enough, obesity levels among Americans soared during the same years.

    Is that the inevitable price we pay for an improved product? No, because as anyone who’s had a Mexican Coke can tell you, the stuff most of us have to drink is a decidedly inferior product.

    Corn-syrup Coke is just too sweet. Take one swig and your mouth is instantly coated with the stuff. It’s like trying to drink a tar pit. Yet we chug the stuff. It’s bubbly, yet inoffensive enough that it goes down easily. It’s no wonder we consume millions of bottles of it each year.

    Mexican Coke is different. When you take a swig, it hits you like a rocket. While the corn syrup in American Coke seems to flatten out the fizz, the sugar in Mexican Coke seems to exacerbate it. (It could also be the glass bottle; as any faithful Coke drinker can tell you, it tastes different in a can, from the bottle and from the fountain.)

    If this is the way Coke used to taste in this country, no wonder Americans didn’t gorge themselves on it in the ’40s the way they do now. Try chugging one of these, and you’ll be gasping for breath.

    Coca-Cola sticks to the company line that there is no discernable difference between corn-syrup cola and Mexican Coke. They officially frown on the practice of bringing Mexican Coke across the border and selling it, because it usually outsells the regular stuff, but there’s not much they can do about it, as the Coke isn’t counterfeit.

    Are we likely to get real soda back in America any time soon? Sadly, probably not. Coca-Cola’s current plants are designed to handle liquid corn syrup, not bulky solid sugar. Sugar remains up to three times as expensive as corn syrup.

    Finally, and most crucially, there’s no popular demand for it. Inferior or not, Americans aren’t about to stop drinking soda.

    Those of us lucky enough to live near the right supermarket will just have to be content with our semi-legal supply of the real thing.

    Justyn Dillingham is a senior majoring in political science and history, and is the editor-in-chief of the Arizona Summer Wildcat. He can be reached at editor@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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