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Taste Test: Grapefruit Soda
Until this taste test, the vast majority of our tasting group had never tried a grapefruit soda outside a Squirt or an occasional Fresca. While a handful of brands are available in the States, most are boutique and regional relics of years past, with only the above-mentioned ones reaching anything resembling widespread popularity.
Most grapefruit soda isn't as pucker-inducing as its namesake fruit, thanks to a decent amount of sugar applied to even out the tartness. In addition to grapefruit juice, many varieties are flavored with citric acid, wood rosin, and our old friend sodium benzoate, not to mention other fruit juices like apple and orange. But these sodas can be especially refreshing on a hot summer day due to that bright, crisp burst of citrus flavor.
For our blind taste test, we sampled 9 nationally and locally available grapefruit sodas and ranked them. Did we skip over one of your favorites? Tell us about it in the comments section!
Each soda was sampled in a blind taste test and judged on the following criteria:
- Carbonation: No one likes flat soda, but too much fizz can sting the mouth and mask flavors. In addition to the levels of initial carbonation, we also looked at how quickly these sodas lost their bubbly effervescence once emancipated from their respective bottles.
- Sweetness: This is soda, so there should be some sweetness, but it shouldn't be so sugary as to become undrinkable. Does the sweetness taste natural, leaving your mouth feeling crisp and clean, or does it feel syrupy, coating your tongue? We rated them on a scale from "dry" to "sugar rush," and the best fell somewhere in between. Since grapefruit is naturally tart, we expected there to be an element of sugar added to each soda, but we didn't want it to completely steal the inherent identity of the grapefruit.
- Overall grapefruit flavor: We looked at how closely the soda came to tasting like fresh, juicy grapefruit while also taking into account the sweetening factor.
As it turns out, grapefruit sodas vary greatly from brand to brand. Those that embraced the natural tartness of the grapefruit and used a majority of real fruit juice in the recipe tended to amplify it well beyond our preference. Those at the opposite end of the spectrum went too far with the sugar, oversweetening their sodas until they passed into the realm of syrup. The best straddled the line, offering the best of both words, sweet and sour.
Everyone in the tasting group scored each soda on a scale of 1 to 10. These numbers were then averaged for the final scores you see below.
#1. Kiss (7.5/10)
None of us had ever even heard of Kiss before this taste test, but you'd better believe we'll remember it now. Precious little is written about this soda on the internet, except that it replaced the older "Quench" brand. Only by checking the bottle itself will you discover that it's distributed by Orca Beverage, the same company behind the outstanding Americana line of sodas (for proof of Americana's superiority, check out the Orange Cream, Ginger Ale, or Root Beer taste tests).
More than any of the other sodas in this test, Kiss offered the perfect balance between sweet and tart. It's made with grapefruit and lemon extracts, and we definitely picked up on the lemon notes. Taking a swig, the lemon hits you first, and as you swallow, it leaves you with a grapefruit aftertaste. One thing to note: It starts out very fizzy, but goes flat rather quickly, so drink it fast!
#2. Fresca (7.3/10)
"Fresca" translates to "fresh" in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, and it's a fitting title for this highly drinkable soda. It's gone through a few changes since its introduction in 1966, but it has a loyal following. It was even President Lyndon B. Johnson's favorite beverage!
Like the Kiss brand, Fresca is one of the tamer grapefruit sodas available, with a strong citrus/lemony body and grapefruit finish. Though it's one of the sweeter sodas in the lineup, we found that aspect to be one of its strong suits. Fresca is available across the country, but if possible, buy the Mexican-made version (you'll likely have to hit up your local Latin market); it's made with real sugar, and the difference is worth the effort.
#3. Squirt (7/10)
Easily the most ubiquitous grapefruit soda in America. It's possible that nostalgia played a part in the distribution of high scores among the tasters, but there's no question that this is a well-balanced soft drink. Herb Bishop created it in 1938 and named it thusly because the soda would "squirt" into your mouth like a freshly squeezed grapefruit. Now owned by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, you can get it anywhere.
Squirt's tartness has a slight edge on the sweetness yet doesn't overpower it. It pours with effervescent carbonation and a bright citrusy scent, and gives subtle hints of grapefruit on the back of the palate once sipped. This is a good choice for those who don't like their grapefruit soda too sweet.
#4. Ting (6.8/10)
Ting (as in "the real Ting!") is a Jamaican soda that burst onto the beverage scene in 1976. Quite popular in its country of origin, it started making headway in the States after PepsiCo bought the company in 1999.
Made with 6% Jamaican grapefruit juice, Ting offers one of the most interesting flavor profiles of any of the sodas in the taste test. Initially, it comes off quite sour, and if you stop there you'll probably say it's awful. But subsequent sips reveal an underlying sweetness that melds with a lemon/lime flavor, eventually overtaking the tart bitterness. It is very strongly flavored, so some people might be hard-pressed to finish an entire bottle, but anyone who wants a grapefruit soda that really packs a punch should seek it out.
#5. Goya (6/10)
Goya makes a whole line of Latin American foods, including soda. The company was founded by Prudencio Unanue Ortiz, who immigrated first to Puerto Rico and then to New York City to start his culinary empire. Convinced his name would be too difficult for Americans to pronounce, he purchased the Goya sardine company and used that instead.
Goya's sodas are more popular south of the border than they are here in the U.S. Regardless, their grapefruit drink is a decent example of the product, even if it split the tasting team. Some praised it for it strong grapefruit flavor and hints of lime zest, while others called it "funky" and "too sour."
#6. Jarritos (5/10)
Another brand highly favored in Mexico, Jarritos makes highly carbonated sodas in a variety of fruit flavors, including some more unusual choices like tamarind (unusual to Americans, anyway). The brand always uses sugar cane as its primary sweetener, although often the resulting soft drink can come off cloyingly sweet.
That's the case here, where the amount of sugar outweighs any presence of tartness. The grapefruit flavor also tastes a bit artificial. That said, it's entirely decent, and while it may not have garnered the highest marks with the tasting group, it also didn't earn any low scores.
#7. Kickapoo Joy Juice (4.3/10)
Kickapoo Joy Juice is instantly recognizable for its neon yellow-green glow and the L'il Abner characters Lonesome Polecat and Hairless Joe on the bottle. In the comic strip, Kickapoo Joy Juice is described as "a liquor of such stupefying potency that the hardest citizens of Dogpatch, after the first burning sip, rose into the air, stiff as codfish."
Our reaction to the non-alcoholic version wasn't quite so extreme, but it wasn't overly positive, either. Without question, this was the sweetest, most syrupy soda in the lineup, with a peculiar muddle of flavors ranging from guava to banana to mango (but not, curiously enough, grapefruit). It skims dangerously close to Mountain Dew territory, so if that sounds like your kind of soda, and you like the sugar dial set to "extreme," then Kickapoo has your name written all over it.
#8. IZZE (3.2/10)
IZZE (pronounced "is") prides itself on the amount of fruit juice in its sodas, using a ratio of 70 percent fruit juice concentrate to 30 percent seltzer water. This results in two servings of fruit in every 12-ounce bottle. IZZE promotes most of its beverages as "sparkling juices" rather than soda, and their grapefruit variety falls under this nomenclature.
Two servings of fruit it may contain, but don't expect pure grapefruit juice. It's augmented by apple, white grape, and orange juice, and some of our tasters found the combination a bit confusing. Though it smells very much like an actual grapefruit, it tastes like an exaggeration of the fruit, with intense tartness and an acidic bite. If you're more of a juice person than a soda person, it might be your thing.
#9. GuS (3/10)
GuS, which stands for Grown-up Soda, is the youngest company in this taste test. Steve Hersh and Jeannette Luoh founded their New York City-based operation in 2003, wanting to market a soda that wasn't as sweet as the rest of the offerings currently available. Now that we've tried it, we can confirm their mission accomplished.
Like IZZE, GuS's contribution to grapefruit soda went down the natural fruit juice path. Its website claims its soda is "the first made truly for adult palates." If you're looking for old fashioned sweet soda pop, this isn't it. Some in the tasting group thought it was a bit too bitter, and noted an earthiness "like pureed grapefruit seeds" in both the scent and the flavor of the soda. Exceedingly dry, we think this would work better as a mixer than as a soda to drink straight. That said, if you like to dose your seltzer with a squeeze of grapefruit, you may love this.
Of course, every palate is different. Want to tell us about your favorite grapefruit soda? Chat us up in the comments below!