In his article The Ketchup Conundrum on The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell expounded that amplitude is “the word sensory experts use to describe flavours that are well blended and balanced, that ‘bloom’ in the mouth. … When something is high in amplitude, all its constituent elements converge into a single gestalt.” The product’s flavours work in such perfect harmony that one cannot isolate its individual elements.
One such iconic, high amplitude product is Coca-Cola.
It is well known that the exact formula of Coca-Cola is a guarded trade secret and many other brands have not been able to make a convincing clone. Coke’s high amplitude makes it even harder to reverse engineer its ingredients and ratios. Currently, Coca-Cola’s ingredients list reads: carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel colour, phosphoric acid, natural flavours, caffeine; but in all honesty, “natural flavours” can encapsulate many things.
Coke’s high amplitude is also arguably the reason why many consumers have been hardwired to prefer the taste of Coca-Cola to other brands of cola sodas. After spotting a few organic colas and cola alternatives on the shelves of supermarkets and cafes, we decided to see if any of them can even come close to emulating the taste of Coca-Cola. The below five colas, together with the original Coke, were blind tasted, commented on and rated on its likeliness the real thing.
Phoenix Organic Cola
- From New Zealand
- Ingredients: carbonated water, organic cane sugar, natural cola flavouring (including organic malt extract and natural cola nut), organic lemon concentrate.
- Tasting notes: “Slightly reddish brown with weak fizz.” “Tastes tangy, like sour plum with earthy undertones.”
- Rating: 9.5/15
Daylesford and Hepburn Mineral Springs Co Organic Cola
- From Victoria, Australia
- Ingredients: carbonated water, organic cane sugar, organic lemon juice, natural cola nut flavour, citric acid, organic caramel colour
- Tasting notes: “Dark brown like real coke, with sufficient fizz.” “Tastes medicinal with sour and bitter notes.”
- Rating: 6.5/15
The Tapping Tapir Kola Bear Natural Sparkling Cola
- From Malaysia
- Ingredients: carbonated water, sugar, cola flavour (including cola nut) palm sugar, citric acid. “A blend of exotic spices and citrus infusion made with real cola nut.”
- Tasting notes: “Rusty brown colour; looks like watered-down ice tea.” “Hardly any fizz.” “Distinct and overpowering cinnamon notes.”
- Rating: 5/15
- From New Zealand
- Ingredients: carbonated water, Fair-trade organic sugar, organic malt extract, cola flavour (including cola nut from Sierra Leone), organic lemon concentrate, vanilla extract from Fair-trade organic vanilla
- Tasting notes: “Dark brown like the real coke with decent fizz.” “Smells like the herbal medicine (“Kungfu-oil”) a Chinese physician wraps your sprained foot in.” “Not tangy enough.” “One dimensional sweet note.”
- Rating: 6/15
Jarritos Mexican Cola
- From Mexico
- Ingredients: carbonated water, sugar, artificial and natural flavours, caramel colour, phosphoric acid, preservative, caffeine
- Tasting notes: “Looks like the real thing with enthusiastic fizz.” “Tastes artificial and fruitier than coke, almost like cherry coke.”
- Rating: 9.5/15
It was way too easy to pick out the real Coca-Cola amongst the other drinks; its distinct high amplitude stood out even more during the blind taste. Taking into account the ingredients, it becomes obvious why Jarritos Mexican Cola is most like the real Coke – with just real sugar replacing Coke’s corn syrup and the addition of “preservatives” the difference. However, if you’d like a relatively healthier cola option without the caffeine, the Phoenix Organic Cola would probably be the closest thing to the original Coca-Cola.