Serious Eats: Drinks
Impromptu Pepsi Throwback Taste Test
We here at SE finally got our grubby hands on some Pepsi Throwback, the special-edition Pepsi made with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. You would not believe how hard it is to find that stuff. Is that part of Pepsi's marketing plan? To create an artificial shortage and get people talking about it?
Anyway, having learned a thing or two from Kenji's meticulous testing methods, we engineered a double-blind taste-test. I decanted three different soda products—Throwback, HFCS Pepsi, and as a wildcard, Coke Zero—into three identical unlabeled bottles marked simply A, B, and C. I then left the room and had Erin decant those into sets of cups marked 1, 2 and 3. We had each noted the contents in a codebook beforehand for sorting-out afterward.
The six of us in the office then tasted, trying to see if we noticed any difference. From the tasting notes:
Pepsi Throwback (votes: 3 of 6)
"Not cloyingly sweet — good carbonation."
"Not that sweet up front but gets syrupy. Weak sugar aftertaste. Kinda caramely flavor."
"Most mellow of the bunch."
Pepsi HFCS (votes: 2)
"OMG! All starting to taste the same!"
"Noticeable aftertaste, vaguely metallic."
"Sweet, kinda stale, Fakey but clean."
"Sharper flavor going down."
Coke Zero (votes: 1)
I threw in Coke Zero because I wanted a third drink to shake things up. I figured Diet Pepsi would have been too obvious, as would regular Coke. So I rotated in the Zero. Everyone pegged it as either Diet Pepsi or "a diet drink" right off. Erin, a big Coke Zero fan, pegged it as Coke Zero right away but didn't say anything until after the test.
"Coke Zero? More sweet and flatter than #1 [Pepsi Throwback]."
"Hint of melon. Weird!"
"Little less sweet, a little more "cola"/deeper flavor."
Speaking for myself, I found the difference almost negligible, which was disappointing. I've long been a fan of Mexican-import Coca-Cola, which is made with real sugar, and when Pepsi released the first wave of Throwback in April 2009, I thought I could discern an obvious difference that took me back to the soda-filled days of my youth (I grew up in a Pepsi family but defected to Coke in college). I thought the taste-test would prove definitively (at least for me) that the real-sugar Pepsi did taste better.
Have you tried it? If so, what did you think? Noticeable difference? And if you think so, did you try a blind taste test?