Friday, May 18, 2012

Incredible Inedibles: Mexican Coke

Forget the Delorean, Americans relive the taste of the '70s south of the border.

My parents back in Australia love to hear about all the fun things I'm doing in New York. I regale them with stories about bar-hopping in SoHo and shopping on Fifth Avenue and tripping around the Guggenheim, and they always tut approvingly.

Then last week I told them I'd bought Mexican Coke and they started crying and begging me to call some woman called Betty Ford.

Fortunately I was able to explain just before mum broke into hysterics that Mexican Coke isn't an illicit white powder you buy from a bloke called Pablo in a Lower East Side alley, but rather Coca Cola manufactured in Mexico.

Even better than the real thing.

Sold in old-school glass bottles, the drink has something of a cult status here in America with foodies and hipsters alike traversing great distances and scouring through rusty old fridges in the back of Mexican delis just to get one.

Why? One ingredient: sugar.

Before 1980 Americans enjoyed their Coca Cola the way everyone else did - with 10 teaspoons of sugar in every can. Then the company began combining sugar with much cheaper high fructose corn syrup, and in 1984 it ditched sugar altogether, giving Generation X-ers yet one more thing to crap on about that was better when they were kids.

But in Mexico, one of the world's largest producers of sugar, high fructose corn syrup is actually a more expensive ingredient - so the drink's recipe there has remained unchanged.

Spot the difference.

People claim Mexican Coke is more "authentic" than regular American Coke, with sugar giving the drink a more "natural" taste. This of course means you can now buy it at trendy Brooklyn restaurants for three times the price.

Rumour has it Mexican Coke tastes even MORE natural if it is consumed while wearing ironic glasses and a silly moustache.

Now Australia, lucky country that it is, knows nothing of this cross-border flavour competition because, like Mexico, our version of Coca Cola is also made with cane sugar. Normally this would make my usual Incredible Inedibles tasting experiment redundant - I could just write "MEXICAN COKE. SAME AS AUSSIE COKE" and leave it at that.

But as someone who NEVER drinks regular Coca Cola (I am a Diet girl, thank you very much), I figured my test of Mexican Coke was just as much a test of cornified American Coke. So here's what I found.

Unsurprisingly, they looked exactly the same. Except the Mexican Coke was MUCH bubblier, as you can see in the photo - whether that was due to the presence of sugar, or being kept in bottle as opposed to a can, I can't say.

American Coke on the left, Mexican Coke on the right. 
Mexicans are renowned for being bubblier than Americans.*
*May not be true.

As for the flavour - I was surprised to discover there was definitely a subtle difference between the two. The American Coke tasted tangier and left a rather unpleasant sour aftertaste after several minutes, as though my mouth had been wiped out with an old gym sock. The Mexican Coke had a softer flavour, which I agree could be interpreted as more "natural" tasting. (Although is there anything more natural than an old gym sock? It practically has its own ecosystem.)

Sadly I was alone in this experiment so couldn't indulge a blind tasting - try as I might I just kept remembering which glass I'd poured each Coke into. Sorry.

I'm never going to be a Coca Cola drinker, because I think it tastes like liquefied fairy floss and I can feel my teeth melting every time I put it within one metre of my lips. But if a bloke named Pablo ever held a gun to my head in a Lower East Side alleyway and asked me to choose between the American or Mexican version - I'd go south of the border every time.

Thank your lucky sugar cane, Australia.


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