"Au Naturel" can mean many things. It's handy when we want to make "naked" sound more sophisticated than vulgar. And in the world of food, it presumably means something derived from "natural" ingredients. But when it comes down to it, the definition of "natural" is a fuzzy one. Jones Soda just released their new "Au Naturel" line—three sodas sweetened partially with stevia, with 35 calories and much less sugar (7g) than a standard bottle. We've had a number of low-sugar sodas we've liked recently. How would Jones fare?
Given that we're fans of Jones Soda in general—from their wacky photo labels to their clear, vivid flavors—we had high hopes for these. The three flavors, Green Apple, Lemon Limelight and Orange Ya Glad It's Mango, are all virtually clear, presumably in line with their "all natural" stance. But whereas most lightly sweetened, low-cal (not no-cal) sodas these days just go light on the sugar, Jones makes use of stevia (along with cane sugar and agave). From the taste of it, heavy use of stevia.
Carey's favorite was the green apple, juicy and flavorful; as a diet soda drinker, she didn't find its sweetener too offensive. John, a cane sugar fan, didn't hate it but wouldn't drink it again. But the Orange Ya Glad It's Mango had a strong stevia taste, cloyingly sweet, and though the Lemon Limelight is a little gentler, it's still got that distinctive aftertaste. Stevia may come from plants, but it reminds the tastebuds heavily of all those chemicals that don't.
In fairness, we've sampled a number of stevia-sweetened sodas, and none of them have even made it to this column. Because they're so dominated by that faux-sweet flavor that we couldn't take a second sip. To their credit, Jones "Au Naturel" are a lot better than that. But even after these, we haven't found stevia soda we'd wholeheartedly recommend.
These sodas aren't terrible, but seem a bit misleadingly named. Whether or not stevia is a natural compound, its sweetness doesn't resemble that of sugar. If these were a "Jones Lite" or "Jones Diet Natural", they'd be an easier pill to swallow. As is, though, they don't deliver what one might expect.
About the authors: Carey Jones is the senior managing editor of Serious Eats. Follow her on Twitter (@careyjones). John M. Edwards writes about soda and occasionally fast food for SE and eats 85% of the food Carey orders. Follow him on Twitter (@johnmedwards).