"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.