Saturday, May 16, 2009

The hand that feeds

To start with, a refresher into my cola coverage to which this handy link will direct you:

My search for a Vanilla Diet Coke alternative has been fruitless, but it has led to a mini soft drink adventure, the latest leg of which is now before your very eyes.

Fentiman’s botanically brewed Traditional Curiosity Cola smells like cola bottle sweets, and the initial taste is the similar but with a hint of the plant extracts that have been used – there is definitely a faint ginger hint. Oddly, after this first hit the liquid is curiously tasteless. It is a clean brew, however, going down easily and leaving no unpleasant aftertaste. There’s nothing wrong with it at all, but there just isn’t enough there to inspire any overwhelming affection. This cola is not excessively fizzy, but there’s enough of a kick to provide at least one satisfactory belch.

Ingredients are listed as: “Fermented ginger root extract, carbonated water, sugar, catuaba extract, gurana extract, caramel (E150), phosphoric acid (E338), cola flavour 9594 (flavouring), caffeine.”
I’ve encountered these before, apart from catuaba, which is a bark extract that according to Wiki is used in aphrodisiacs and remedies for erectile dysfunction…I’ve been unable to find any mention of flavouring 9594 so far.
Most interesting is the label stating that it contains “not more than 0.5% alcohol by vol.”, which makes me wonder if it’s flagged as an alcoholic beverage to retailers (as it tends to be stocked with soft drinks) and what the legality is of selling this concentration of alcohol to under 18s…

The bottle itself is a satisfying product, evoking the old-school charm of the era that calling something a ‘curiosity cola’ tries to conjure up.

Not entirely sure why there is a Star of David on the underside of the cap.

Still, the presentation is subservient to the taste, and as the taste is very minor in the grand scheme of cola I doubt I’ll be returning to Fentiman’s, particularly as it only comes in a sugared variety and my dentists are becoming progressively unreliable, so I’d like to avoid any visits beyond periodic check-ups.

Having said that, I’m prepared to take the risk this once in order to continue the cola investigation, toothpaste and mouthwash are not far away.
For the sake of detail fetishists I am rinsing the glass thoroughly in between to prevent taste contamination.

The can is so busy it is hard to work out what this is meant to be called, so we’ll go for Whole Earth Sparkling Delicious Cola.
The line below this is “Drink made with a dash of organic lemon!”, which surely should be preceded by “A”, otherwise the name is ridiculously long.
The front of the can also has “Nutty cola nut” with an arrow pointing to the top of the can, and “Whole Earth organic drinks are 100% delicious” and “And mase with bubble-licious sparking H20!” situated either side of the Whole Earth logo.
The initial impression is one of design by committee, too many cooks as it were, the can front being so cluttered it almost seems like a prototype design with all of the product features displayed at once accidentally made it to production, with so many cans manufactured that it was prohibitively expensive to scrap them.
In comparison to the back, however it seems sparse, with all the information barely squeezing in the available space.
To be fair, the ingredients are presented in four languages, which at least explains the abundance of text.
“Sparkling water, organic agave syrup, organic lemon juice from concentrate (2%), barley malt extract, natural flavouring, cola nut extract. Contains barley and gluten.”

"Natural flavouring" is clearly not descriptive enough, but we can only assume that it doesn’t represent a health concern. Cola nut contains caffeine, which itself is a flavouring, so it could be referring to caffeine. Agave syrup comes from the agave plants native to Mexico and are used as an alternative to sugar in cooking, so that’s the sugar substitute.

After the first pour it seems that the Whole Earth has a good deal more carbonation, but on introducing the nose over the lip of the glass it is an effort to try and draw forth an odour from the drink. There is a very slight fruitiness, more cherry than citric despite the mention of lemon on the front, but as I said this smell is hard to come by.
The taste itself is very bizarre, a fruit flavoured cola with massive emphasis on the fruit, and yet not like any fruit you have tasted.
The lemon is definitely there, and there is a syrupiness that you associate with colas, although the traditional cola taste is barely evident. It’s almost like a carbonated fruit drink for people who don’t like fruit and like their drinks brown. And organic. And Vegan. And not very carbonated, despite how it looked after the first pour.

What with the Whole Earth cola being so right-on and Fentiman’s being ‘botanically brewed’, it’s not a huge surprise to find one of the major players catching up to the bandwagon, with the introduction to the market of Pepsi Raw.

Whilst not as aesthetically pleasant as the Fentiman’s bottle, Pepsi’s Raw bottle is nicely streamlined with wibbly lines around its lower half. It’s a shame that the labelling is literally that, a clear label rather than something etched or blown into the glass itself, but I imagine that the ingredient details would be hard to produce en masse via etching. Going for the pop-top rather than the screw-on of the Fentiman’s, it’s heartening to see the Pepsi logo is off-centre – an unfortunate accident or a design decision in order to fir with the ‘organic’ nature of Raw?

The pour gives an impressive head, threatening to escape the confines of the hiball, but the odour is an unpleasant extremely earthy smell, very much reminiscent of the Red Bull Cola aftertaste. That same aftertaste is there in the Raw, too, the bitter earthiness is present in the sip but comes out more strongly after the swallow, and there don’t seem to be any other flavours to offset this. The kola nut is said to be bitter and that is certainly evident here, the cane sugar and caramel flavouring only offering weaker support tones to the acrid and musty kola nut taste, with a hint of the bitterness of coffee beans.

In contrast to the Whole Earth can, the Raw bottle is clean and simple in design, with the text white on the clear glass and taking up little of the bottle surface. It would have been good if they had left the RDA indicator (sugars: 28.8g or 32% of an adult’s daily maximum) round the back, but quite a lot of room is taken up with the barcode.
The ingredients list reveals “Sparkling water, cane sugar, apple extract, colour: plain caramel, natural plant extracts (including natural caffeine and kola nut extract), citric, tartaric and lactic acids, stabiliser: gum arabic and thickener: xanthan gum.”
The apple extract comes as a surprise as it’s very hard to detect, but on reading the Times article about the drinks launch (apparently UK only to begin with):
we find that coffee leaf is one of the ingredients, so presumably the source of the “natural caffeine”, which helps explain the final taste.
The Times reports that with the introduction of Raw, Pepsi hopes to gain ground over Coke, and that they have not introduced any new drinks for ten years. The Times isn’t clear whether it is talking domestically or internationally, as according to Wiki Pepsi Jazz was introduced in 2006.
The official Pepsi Raw site also goes into a little more detail about the ingredients (tartaric acid is found in grapes), but it’s strange that the Pepsi Company has decided to tap into this market. I would imagine that the demographic who actively seek out organic produce includes a significant proportion who would avoid products from dubious multinational corporations. The fact that it tastes worse than its equivalents really does it no favours. When it’s touch and go as to whether you are preferable to Red Bull Cola you probably need to take a long, hard look at yourself.

Last up is a variation on the daddy of colas, good old Coke itself.
Now, I know this looks like Coke Zero, which isn’t new to anyone now. Especially not me, after I first tried it out back before the swaggering-cock adverts that brought it to the nation’s attention.

It’s actually Kosher Coke Zero. Yes indeed.

As you can see, it builds up froth just as you would expect normal, ‘artificial’ colas to, though not to the extreme as Raw.
It smells as you would expect Coke Zero would do, sweet in an unnatural way, with that very subtle metallic hint underlying it all that reveals the move from the Diet Coke taste towards that of the full sugar variety.
It tastes as you would expect Coke Zero to, too, somewhere between Coke and its Diet brother, not quite as sharp and bloody as the former but not as sweet and light as the latter. To be fair this does taste ever so slightly closer to Diet than normal Zero does, but not so much that you’d notice if you weren’t sitting and drinking different colas all day.

I’m not entirely sure what makes it kosher.
The ingredient list doesn’t bring much enlightenment: “Water, Carbon-Dioxide, Caramel color (E150d), Edible Phosphoric acid, Sweeteners: Aspartame* and Acesulfame-K, Flavours, Acidity regulator: Lemon Salt (E331), Caffeine. *Contains a source of phenylalanine.”
I’ve included the capitalisation and bold type over from the label.
It appeared in my local Sainsbury’s during Passover and once that ended, they reduced their remaining kosher Coke and Zero stocks.
The ingredients are normal, no surprises there as even lemon salt or E331 is just another name for citric acid.
As none of the ingredients in themselves pose no particular problem, there must be something different in the method of production and/or preparation that renders this particular drink kosher, perhaps ensuring there are no leavening products in the factory where the Coke is produced.

I have learnt that Vanilla Coke is still available in the US, with a Zero version rather than Diet. Unfortunately Cyber Candy, the junk food importers, only lists full-sugar Vanilla style for sale.

My search continues…

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant.

    Almost the best part of your soft drink writings are the photos. You should get a portfolio together.