Cane Sugar Sodas

Over the weekend I talked to a friend who knew nothing about the history of cane sugar versus high fructose  corn syrup use in soda. The conversation came up when I lunged for a bottle of Pepsi Throwback at the grocery store and he rolled his eyes.  I explained that it contained actual cane sugar rather than HFCS and he scoffed.

Then he tried a sip of Pepsi Throwback. He didn't scoff after that! In fact, he went back inside to buy a bottle for himself.

Back in the day, all sodas used cane sugar as a sweetener.  Cane sugar is readily available in America from Hawaii and some growers in the tropical South, and it enjoys trade tariff protections, so it was an affordable source of sweet.  Then in the 1970s corn began to rise to dominance, and gradually soda manufacturers switched out HFCS for cane sugar.  

The story of this switch with regards to Coke is interesting. Coke released New Coke, which everyone agrees was an unmitigated disaster.  Then Coke replaced it with Coke Classic, which was the original Coke in the exact same formula, except that it had replaced the cane sugar with HFCS.  It's hard not to view the entire New Coke "debacle" as being deliberately engineered as a distraction for the switch from cane sugar to HFCS.

Sugar Coke still exists in a few forms, and those who have tried it swear that it is far preferable to "regular Coke."  I have yet to be able to track any down, so I can't attest to this.  Coke sweetened with cane sugar can be found in Mexico, and many people along the border make special trips in order to bring back cases of the stuff.  In some markets a special cane sugar version of Coke is sold for Passover, since the Passover rules prohibit grain-based foods.

Another throwback soda is a particular version of Dr Pepper which comes from a bottling plant in Dublin, Texas.  The Seattle Times has an awesome article on the Dublin bottling company, which exists as a "brand within a brand" within the larger Dr Pepper corporate structure.  The Dublin plant was the first Dr Pepper bottling plant in existence, and it holds a special (although limited) status within the legal strictures of the soda world.  The Dublin plant refused to make the switch to HFCS, and has been producing "real" soda all along.  Note to visitors: they have a limit of 20 cases (24 cans per case) per visitor!

Of course there are several other sodas which have been using real cane sugar all along.  Jones Soda is famous for never having used HFCS, and also famous for releasing weird seasonal flavors like Mown Grass (for Safeco Field) and Mashed Potatoes With Gravy (for Thanksgiving).  Aside from the freak flavors, I love root beer and cream soda (alone among cream sodas; every other cream soda in the world is retch-worthy).  I'm not a big fan of their cola flavor or their fruity flavors, but to each his own.

Hansen's Soda has also chugged along without HFCS, and they seem to be doing just fine.  I have always been a fan of their Mandarin Lime flavor, although again I find the cola flavor a little lacking.