Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why does Coke taste better in Thailand?

Is American Coke different than Thai Coke? I have discussed this seemingly trivial question with Thai friends.

"American Coke is too sweet" is a familiar complaint about the US coming from Thais who visit. Their verdict: Coca-Cola tastes better in Thailand than in the United States. Most processed American foods are too sweet, in my opinion.

Is it that there just more sugar added to American Coke? Or is something else going on here?

Actually, the taste difference likely concerns the fact that two kinds of sugar are used. Whereas Thai Coke is sweetened with cane sugar, American Coca-Cola contains mainly "high fructose corn syrup." Corn syrup and cane sugar have different chemical compositions.

Moreover, recently studies have shown that the health effects of fructose, sucrose, and glucose may be markedly different. Today the NY Times reported:
Some research has suggested that consumption of high-fructose corn syrup, used as a sweetener in a wide variety of foods, may increase the risk of obesity and heart disease. Now, a controlled and randomized study has found that drinks sweetened with fructose led to higher blood levels of L.D.L, or "bad" cholesterol, and triglycerides in overweight test subjects, while drinks sweetened with another sugar, glucose, did not.
Interestingly, the article concluded with a quote from someone highly critical of the the findings of the most recent study:
John S. White, a biochemist who has published widely on nutritive sweeteners and was not involved in this study, said that the experimental setup did not reproduce a real-life diet. The study did not test high-fructose corn syrup, he said, and judgments should not be made about it from the findings.
The background the Times provided its readers about this expert was woefully insufficient. On a previous occasion the NY Times ran an article raising concerns about corn syrup, John S. White responded with a letter to the paper (a lucky few get quoted authoritatively and get their letters published). On July 9, 2006 White wrote:
I am a scientist with 25 years in the food industry, including involvement in research leading to the replacement of sucrose with high-fructose corn syrup in carbonated beverages.
As White himself makes clear,* he is not a mere "biochemist" but a "food industry" insider. He is an "integral player in the application of high fructose corn syrup to carbonated beverages and in the introduction of crystalline fructose to the food and beverage industry" according to Corn Annual -- an industry journal that evidently embraces higher conflict of interest disclosure standards than the NY Times.

Health concerns aside, I do hope that US soft drink makers return to using sugar instead of corn syrup in the future. Sugar cane is a major cash crop in the developing world, and many third world farmers have long been penalized by US agriculture subsidies. Is corn syrup economically competitive with cane sugar? My brain has its doubts about this. But my taste buds know the difference.
Note: It's funny that I happened to write two posts concerning Coca Cola today. Here's the other one.
* My point here is not to criticize John S. White, who has identified his potential own conflicts of interest in the past.


  1. I noticed that the SPRITE in Thailand tastes different, too.

    In fact, it tastes much better--sweeter if you may.

    Have you ever noticed, too, how the milk in Thailand tastes like lactose-free milk from places like the U.S.?

    It's probably because 90% of Asians are lactose intolerant, so they put in Thailand's milk whatever they put in lactose-free milk.

    I have no doubt that there are "fixes" like this to cater to the tastes of people from different countries.

    --Mike Sworilapol

    1. AnonymousJune 29, 2014

      The Sprite in Thailand is WAAAY sweeter than Sprite anywhere else. It is laden with far more High Fructose Corn Syrup and/or sugar than elsewhere. Seen the obese young Thai kids on the SkyTrain - and the shocking diabetes death toll? There's a connection - and it's not just Coke the food companies are stuffing the Thais with sugar and chemicals across the board. There is almost zero education about diet.

  2. Yes, sprite also taste better in Thailand.

    Funny thing about drinking milk in Southeast Asia is that people will point at me and laugh.

    "Baby!" they say.

  3. LOL
    Jot wears a white moustache oh hoho

    and let's throw this one into the pan

    COCA-Cola has been forced into an embarrassing backdown for falsely claiming its sugary drink does not "rot your teeth" or contribute to weight gain.,,25286175-2682,00.html

  4. AnonymousJuly 30, 2009

    This is true, and well known here in California.

    The Coke made in Mexico also uses cane sugar, and tastes vastly superior to its northern counterpart.

    We buy it here in the US at the Mexican grocery stores.


  5. RM,

    Good to know about Mexico.

    I'm reading your comment drinking something called "Hansen's Natural Cane Soda." It's not that great -- tastes to me like sugar-water, but it's interesting to me that this company saw a marketing opportunity in promoting soda drink made with cane-sugar.

  6. AnonymousJuly 03, 2012

    Yes it's truly right, I just came from South East Asia (Indonesia) to USA, in here the coke is sweeter, the chocolate (KitKat) is a lot sweeter, the doughnuts also sweeter huhhh... Only KFC taste the same haha


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