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The real thing

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By Elizabeth Bridge, CBC Digital Archives

As Passover came to an end last week, a group of my co-workers conducted a taste test: Coca-Cola sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) vs. Coke sweetened with sugar. (The latter is available only at Passover, mainly in neighbourhoods with a large Jewish population, and was supplied to us by an observant manager.)

coca-cola.jpg
Six tasters correctly identified the Coke sweetened with sugar.
(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

High-fructose corn syrup (or HFCS) has been in for a rough ride lately, so much so that the industry has fought back with a series of ads and, of course, a website. It disputes claims that HFCS is a major contributor to North America's obesity epidemic – and it's true that sugar and HFCS are nutritionally identical.

I don't drink any soda regularly, especially not Coke – I'm partial to ginger ale – so the argument is largely irrelevant to me. Still, I was curious to find out whether I could taste the difference between sugar and HFCS.

On test day, only one of the six tasters described himself as a regular Coke drinker. Visually, the sugar Coke had more foamy bubbles on the surface and around the edges, so after taster #2, everyone refrained from looking. After taking four or five sips from each cup, I guessed which one had sugar – and I was right. So was every other person who took part.

As a scientific test, of course, this proves nothing. I can't even describe how the two sweeteners were different, except that maybe the sugar was richer or fuller somehow. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't pleased to know the real thing when I tasted it.

(For more Coke lore, CBC Digital Archives has a great 1985 TV clip about New Coke.)

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Aussie in Canada

I grew up in Australia where Coke and all other sodas are sweetened with sugar (sucrose), not high fructose corn syrup, mainly because Australia grows a lot of sugar cane, so its cheaper to use sugar. I agree with the test; you can tell the difference - coke containing HFCS tastes foul, so I don't drink Coke in North America.

Posted April 20, 2009 10:52 PM

Kate

Calgary

I never drank a whole lot of soft drinks, but after spending 4 months in Africa, where everything is sugar-sweetened, I can taste the HFCS right away. I've given up conventional soft drinks altogether and on the rare occasions when I want a carbonated treat, I pick up a specialty soda, like Jones, Virgil's, or Boylan's, which are made with real sugar. Much yummier. And more satisfying from a glass bottle, somehow.

Posted April 23, 2009 04:04 PM

Ellen

Waterloo

Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) may have approximately the same number of calories if measured in a calorimeter, but in the body they do not metabolize in the same way. There is growing evidence in clinical nutrition journals that HFCS, if consumed regularly in fairly high amounts, does indeed contribute to more fat build-up than other natural sweeteners, and does promote obesity in the population. Corn is a major crop in North American agriculture, and one of its most profitable products is HFCS; so of course the food & beverage industry is protesting. It is best to avoid all drinks with HFCS.

Posted April 27, 2009 11:12 AM

Rob

NB

Any coincidence that HFCS is introduced in the 70's and obesity and heart disease increases as well. Diets high in HFCS result in elevated insulin levels, high blood sugar levels, insulin resistance and can also elevate blood pressure. Why anyone would eat or drink anything with this in it is beyond me. There is no better way to shorten your life then to eat HFCS.

Posted April 30, 2009 07:47 PM

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Amber Hildebrandt Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.

Andrea Chiu Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.

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Andree Lau Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).

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Kevin Yarr Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.

Elizabeth Bridge Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.

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