ByBen FisherANDJoe Nasta/Updated: July 21, 2021 4:12 pm EST
The sweet flavor of Coca-Cola has been tantalizing American tongues for decades, carbonating our weekends and packaging our culture into bottles and cans as no other company has. In the past couple of decades, American consumers have been cracking open an alternative version of the soft drink: the Mexican Coke.
In the soda aisle of most grocery stores these days, next to the cans and plastic two-liter bottles of traditional Coca-Cola, you'll find a selection of long-necked glass bottles of Coke emblazoned with the words Refresco, Hecho en México, and No Retornable. These bottles have been imported from Mexican Coca-Cola bottling plants to satiate your thirst for the extremely hyped version of the soda that has grown in popularity since 2005, when it was first officially sold in the United States (via DNA Info,New York Times).
Beneath the hype, what's really going on with Mexican Coke? With so many myths and layers of information about how it differs from traditional Coke and how it affects the Mexican communities where it's bottled, there's a lot bubbling inside the glass bottle.
It's all about the sugar
The difference between a Mexican Coke and its traditional counterpart is visually apparent on the bottle, but it's not just the packaging that distinguishes the two. While they are both made with the classic Coca-Cola formula, there's a vital difference in the ingredients list.
The core recipe of carbonated water, a sweetener, caramel color, caffeine, and the secret natural flavor ingredients is the same in both cases. The sweetener is where the recipes diverge. Traditional Coke is made with high fructose corn syrup. In Mexico, this is swapped out for cane sugar. There also may be a slight difference in the formula, as the Coke secret ingredients are slightly different in other countries, but this difference is rarely disclosed by the company (via Serious Eats).
Many consumers claim that the Mexican version made with real cane sugar is tastier. This is possibly due to a slightly less intense sweetness; some studies claim high fructose corn syrup is up to 1.5 times sweeter than plain old sugar, according to Live Science. Others believe soda sweetened with real cane sugar is more natural, pure, less harsh, and possibly healthier (via New York Times Magazine). Only, Coca-Cola wouldn't agree with those takes. "There is no perceptible taste difference ... Whether sweetened with high fructose corn syrup or sugar, a Coke is a Coke and both are 'the real thing,'" a representative from Coca-Cola told Consumerist.
Everyone thinks they prefer Mexican Coke
But do they really? Everyone seems to have their own (very strong) opinion on which version of the soda they prefer. More and more people swear by Mexican Coke and refuse to drink the American-made stuff, or are at least willing to splurge on the typically higher-priced sugar-sweetened soda. However, taste tests show varying results as to whether the perceived difference between the soft drinks has anything to do with flavor.
James Beard Award winner J. Kenji López-Alt once carried out a taste test with friends which suggested that the vast majority of them (seven of eight) chose the taste and aroma of American Coke over its Mexican counterpart (via Serious Eats). López-Alt carried out his test with precision and knowledge of scientific controls and biases and believes his study shows there is a perceivable taste difference between the two types of Coke. He also conducted a test that showed people who believed they liked Mexican Coke would usually pick Mexican Coke as their preferred type regardless of taste.
A similar taste experiment was conducted at Refinery 29 with a different method and different results. They found that the likelihood of someone favoring one or the other by taste alone was practically negligible. From their test, it seems that most people in their day-to-day life would not be able to accurately identify traditional or Mexican Coke by taste without seeing the package.
The Mexican Coke trade war
One reason for the discrepancy in ingredients is a simmering trade war between the United States and Mexico (via Smithsonian Magazine). The Mexican soda industry has always preferred sugar in its beverages because it aids the country's sugar industry.
In 1997, Mexico passed a tariff on high-fructose corn syrup to prop up the sugar industry because of the competition posed by corn syrup. The United States, which exports large amounts of corn syrup, did not take kindly to the tariff — they brought the case to the World Trade Organization, which ruled in favor of the U.S.
Five years later, Mexico tried again to make corn syrup prohibitively expensive. Again, the United States went to the WTO, and again, the WTO ruled in favor of the United States. Even after these legal setbacks, Mexico appears to be doing something right to keep high fructose corn syrup out of their soda industry, because Mexican Coke which is exported to the United States, continues to be made with cane sugar.
Is Mexican Coke healthier than traditional Coke?
One reason many Americans crave the cane sugar of Mexican Coke is that they believe it's healthier than the high fructose corn syrup used to sweeten classic American Coca-Cola.
Chemically, the two sweeteners both contain a combination of glucose and fructose and are broken down by your body in almost the same exact way. Culturally, high fructose corn syrup has been widely criticized and shunned in the US, leading many consumers to purchase foodstuffs made without it under the assumption that anything that doesn't have it on the ingredient list is more natural. The syrup is labeled as chemical, unhealthy, and toxic in the minds of many consumers, which is even leading a rebrand as corn sugar (via Live Science).
The widespread bias against corn syrup is not based in fact. Leading health writer and columnist at the New York Times, Jane Brody, asserts that there is no scientific reason high fructose corn syrup is more unhealthy than any other sweetener, with similar calories per gram and chemical composition across the board. "It's an urban myth that high-fructose corn syrup has a special toxicity,"Michael Jacobson, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the New York Times. Jacobson believes if sugar was used instead of corn syrup in all of our food, there would be no difference in national health.
So while Mexican Coke is not actually healthier than Coke, the consumer's perception against corn syrup will continue to inform their soda choices.
The curvaceous glass Coke bottle
Another reason people reach for Mexican Coke is the appealing glass bottle, which is nostalgic and aesthetic. Drinking ice-cold soda out of the classic bottle creates an undeniable experience that elevates the taste and feel of the drink.
The classic bottle shape as we know it was not the original design. According to The Coca-Cola Company, the contoured bottle design was created in 1915 after typical bottle shapes were mimicked by other soft drink producers. Hoping to create a long-lasting national brand identity that consumers would connect with for years to come, the company asked for a bottle design that would be "so distinct that you would recognize if by feel in the dark or lying broken on the ground." The winning design copied the elongated shape and ribbed texture of a cocoa bean. The bottle was trademarked in 1961 — an unusual move for product packaging, but one that made sense for the distinct bottle.
The bottle is now called the "contour bottle" after a 1925 French magazine article that used the phrase. The glass bottle is not used for classic American Coke as often, as cans and plastic bottles have become the norm. A very similar shape is still used by Mexican bottling plants, and so it lives on in every case of Mexican Coke, per Refinery29. Undoubtedly, the flair of the glass contour bottle adds to the appeal of Mexican Coke for many American consumers.
The politics of Mexican Coke
Just as Coca-Cola has had a huge impact on American life, it has also greatly affected Mexican culture and politics. The delicious Mexican Coke so many Americans enjoy has had far-reaching effects on the country.
The Coca-Cola company marketed very strongly in the country starting in the 1970s by putting out national advertisements, sponsoring large sporting events like the Mexico City Olympics, and incentivizing small business owners to exclusively sell Coke. The popularity of the soda skyrocketed and became cemented as a Mexican staple. Vicente Fox, formerly of Coca-Cola Mexico, was elected the president of the country in 2000. Protecting big business, especially Coca-Cola, informed many of his actions during his term (via Business Insider).
The New York Times reported on the way Coca-Cola bottling plants affect the communities they are located in, from using a ton of water that would otherwise be available to citizens to generating a unique following that uses Coke in medicine and religious practice. The Guardian explores the high soda consumption rates in Mexico and Coke's role in the country's obesity and diabetes struggles.
Of course, a huge corporation that infiltrates a national identity will have side effects. These effects are important to consider when reaching for a Mexican Coke.
Is Mexican Coke really made with cane sugar? ›
Coca-Cola allows independent local bottlers some leeway in the type of sweeteners they use, as long as the rest of the recipe remains intact. Mexican Coke is made using cane sugar as the sweetener, and the version typically sold in the United States uses high fructose corn syrup as the sweetening agent.What is special about Mexican Coke? ›
Mexican Coca-Cola is sweetened with white sugar instead of the high-fructose corn syrup used in the U.S. since the early 1980s. Some tasters have said that Mexican Coca-Cola tastes better, while other blind tasting tests reported no perceptible differences in flavor.Is Mexican Coke actually different? ›
Some soda fans even say that Mexican Coke is bubblier and more effervescent. However, there is a real, measurable difference between Coke from the two countries, and it's listed on the label: The sweetener. American Coke is made with high-fructose corn syrup, while Mexican Coke is made with cane sugar.What is the diff between Mexican Coke and American Coke? ›
American Coke is made with high-fructose corn syrup and Mexican Coke is crafted with cane sugar. Cane sugar is less processed than high-fructose corn syrup, so it offers a more natural — some would say purer or more clean-tasting — version of the drink.Is Mexican Coke healthier than regular Coke? ›
THE ANSWER. No, Mexican Coke is not healthier than its American counterpart.Is high-fructose corn syrup worse than sugar? ›
High-fructose corn syrup isn't necessarily worse for us than table sugar, but there is just too much of it in our food supply, says Harvard School of Public Health nutrition expert Frank Hu.Why did Costco stop selling Mexican Coke? ›
in its stores, due to a pricing dispute between the two companies. The stores will not remove Coca-Cola from the shelves, but does not plan to restock until the issue is resolved.Is cane sugar healthier than high-fructose corn syrup? ›
Which Is Healthier? In short, they're all about the same. Our bodies break down table sugar and HFCS 55 in nearly the same manner, so there's no fundamental difference between the two. Sugars have no nutritional value.Why does McDonald's Coke taste better? ›
Typically, restaurants get their soda syrups in plastic bags, but Coca-Cola does something different for McDonald's. The fast-food chain gets its Coke syrup delivered in stainless steel tanks. According to the New York Times, the material keeps the soda fresher, and your tongue can taste the difference.Why does Mexico use real sugar in Coke? ›
In 1997, the Mexican government passed a levy on high-fructose corn syrup in an attempt to keep the demand—and thus the price—for Mexican sugar higher. The U.S. deemed this an unfair infringement on trade and went to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to make its case, and the WTO decided in favor of the U.S.
Is cane sugar soda better for you? ›
The sucrose molecules in both types of sugar are identical, so scientifically there isn't much difference. Like all types of added sugars, cane sugar is usually linked with negative health effects like weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.What soda is made with real sugar? ›
Kroger® Cola Time™ is made with real sugar, just like in the old days. Ever since our first storefront opened in 1883, in an exciting era of American history, our focus has been on high quality food at a good price. Step back in time with an ice cold can of full-flavored soda, just as it was meant to be.Is Mexican Coke legal in the US? ›
Mexican Coke was first sold at grocers who served Latino clientele, but as its popularity grew among non-Latinos, by 2009 larger chains like Costco, Sam's Club and Kroger began to stock it. It is now readily available at most grocery stores throughout the United States.What is the ingredient in Mexican Coke? ›
Mexican Coke contains: Carbonated water, sugar, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavors, caffeine. American Coke contains: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavors, caffeine.Is there Mexican Pepsi? ›
Mexican Pepsi Cola 12-12Oz (355Ml) Glass Bottles Mexico - Walmart.com.What soda is healthier than Coke? ›
Sierra Mist is often considered one of the healthiest sodas you can drink because a 12-ounce can contains 140 calories, 35 milligrams of sodium, and 37 grams of carbohydrates. What is this?Does Mexican Coke have aspartame? ›
Sodium cyclamate, which is legal in more than 50 countries, was replaced in Coke Zero in Mexico with a combination of two other artificial sweeteners, aspartame and acesulfame K.Which is healthier sugar or honey? ›
"Honey's advantages over sugar include a slightly lower glycemic index (i.e. it doesn't affect your blood-sugar levels as much)," Dr. Dixon says. "It also contains more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, such as calcium, potassium, vitamin C, zinc, phenolic acids, and flavonoids."What does high fructose corn syrup do to your brain? ›
In addition, it has emerged that fructose consumption, even in the short term, can adversely influence brain health by promoting neuroinflammation, brain mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress, as well as insulin resistance.Is Karo syrup high fructose corn syrup? ›
We use Karo brand, which contains no high-fructose corn syrup. If you read their website's articles carefully they say that the brand did not contain any high fructose syrup when they introduced the product in 1902 and they do not now.
Why is Coke so much better in a glass bottle? ›
Glass is a more inert material than either aluminum or plastic, so it's less likely to affect the flavor of your drink. That's why drinking out of a glass bottle may be the way to get the purest Coca-Cola flavor.Why is Coke in Mexico everywhere? ›
During Fox's presidency, Mexico joined the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, allowing Coke to become cheaper to buy and more accessible. Since its spike in popularity, Coca-Cola has become ingrained in culture.Why is Coca-Cola so big in Mexico? ›
Coca-Cola rose to popularity in Mexico starting in the 1960s with the help of Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, who started his career as a delivery driver for the company. In the early 1970s, an international ad campaign for the drink swept across Mexico.Is honey high fructose? ›
Fructose content of honey varies from 21 to 43% and the fructose/glucose ratio from 0.4 to 1.6 or even higher [31–34]. Although fructose is the sweetest naturally occurring sweetener, it has a glycemic index of 19, compared to glucose which has 100 or sucrose (refined sugar) with 60 .Does maple syrup have fructose? ›
Fructose is found in honey, maple sugar, fruits, and vegetables. Fructose is also formed from sucrose hydrolysis in honey, maple syrup, and invert sugar. It is commonly used as a sweetener in soft drinks, bakery products, and candy, in the form of high-fructose corn syrups.Is Karo syrup better than sugar? ›
The Bottom Line. The most common form of high-fructose corn syrup, HFCS 55, is virtually identical to regular table sugar. Evidence to suggest that one is worse than the other is currently lacking. In other words, they're both equally bad when consumed in excess.What is the oldest major soft drink brand in America? ›
Dr Pepper is a “native Texan,” originating at Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store. It is the oldest of the major brand soft drinks in America.What brand of ketchup does McDonalds use? ›
McDonald's actually makes its own ketchup.Who Won the Cola war? ›
Who won the Coke war? In 1996, Pepsi had officially lost the Cola War. In October 1996, the cover of Fortune read, "How Coke Is Kicking Pepsi's Can." As Pepsi's profits trailed Coca Cola's by 47 percent, the magazine declared that the brand had officially lost the war.Why did Mexican Coke stop using cane sugar? ›
Why did Mexican Coke stop using cane sugar? In 1997, the Mexican government passed a levy on high-fructose corn syrup in an attempt to keep the demand—and thus the price—for Mexican sugar higher.
Why does US Coke not use cane sugar? ›
Because high-fructose corn sweetener is cheaper, and has an identical taste. If you want coca=cola with real sugar, check out your local Mexican market, they often carry coca cola products made in Mexico.Does Pepsi still make Pepsi with real sugar? ›
Pepsi-Cola Made with Real Sugar.
|Bottles of Pepsi-Cola Made with Real Sugar|
Dubbed nectar of the gods by its many fans, Mountain Dew takes the crown for the soda with the most grams of sugar, according to Business Insider.What's the healthiest sugar drink? ›
- Water. ...
- Tea or coffee without sugar. ...
- Sugar-free drinks e.g. sugar-free cola, sugar-free lemonade, and no-added-sugar squash. ...
- Fruit juice (150mls) ...
- Tea/coffee with added sugar. ...
- Fruit juice drink with added sugar. ...
- Squash with added sugar.
For most people living with diabetes, sugar-free sodas are safe in moderation. Resist the urge to pair something sweet or high in calories with that no-calorie beverage.What soda has more sugar than Mountain Dew? ›
A 12 oz can of Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar. A 20 oz bottle of Mountain Dew contains 77 grams of sugar. An 8.3 oz can of Red Bull contains 27 grams of sugar. A 20 oz bottle of Minute Maid Lemonade contains 67 grams of sugar.What soda has Splenda? ›
Diet Coke with Splenda is the original great taste of Diet Coke. Serve ice cold for maximum refreshment. With Diet Coke naturally flavored feisty cherry and ginger lime, there's a whole flavor adventure waiting for you.What replaced sugar in Coke? ›
We sweeten Coke Zero Sugar in our bottles and cans with a blend of aspartame and acesulfame potassium (or Ace-K).What is Coke called in Mexico? ›
It is called Coca Cola de Vidrio (Glass Coca Cola, Coca Cola in a glass bottle) or simply Mexicoke. It has a different taste, because cane sugar is used to make it. In the United States, high-fructose corn syrup is used.Why does my Coke taste like metal? ›
Soda may taste like metal if it has been contaminated with metal particles. This can occur if the soda is packaged in cans or bottles that have been damaged or have rusted, or if it is stored in a container that has previously held metal objects.
Why is Mexican soda in glass? ›
Likely because it is bottled in Mexico. Additionally, the Mexicans coke is usually made with sugar instead of the high fructose corn syrup used in the US. As a result, it has a cleaner, crisper taste to most people.Why does Mexican Coke taste like Pepsi? ›
Some soda fans even say that Mexican Coke is bubblier and more effervescent. However, there is a real, measurable difference between Coke from the two countries, and it's listed on the label: The sweetener. American Coke is made with high-fructose corn syrup, while Mexican Coke is made with cane sugar.Is Coke in glass bottles different? ›
Whether you drink it from a can or a bottle, Coca‑Cola is always the same. It's the same recipe, the same ingredients and the same manufacturing process every time.Does kosher Coke taste different? ›
Kosher for Passover Coke with supervision is marketed before and during Passover—it is made with cane sugar, not HFCS. Yes, there is a difference in taste; HFCS imparts a slightly-off aftertaste.What is Mexico's favorite soda? ›
In Mexico, the overwhelming favorite is Manzana Lift, an apple-flavored soda (made with high fructose corn syrup) that goes straight for the Jolly Rancher profile.Why does Mexican Pepsi taste better? ›
Many Coca-Cola fans believe that Mexican Coke tastes more “natural” than its American cousin. This difference in taste is due to the fact that American-made Coke switched over to using high fructose corn syrup as a sweetening agent in 1980. Mexican Coke continued using cane sugar to sweeten its version.What soda was invented in Mexico? ›
The colorful history of Jarritos - Jarritos ®️ The all-natural, fruit-flavored sodas from Mexico. The Official Drink of Tacos!What Coke is made with cane sugar? ›
Coca-Cola Life is sweetened with cane sugar and stevia leaf extract. Contains 35% fewer calories than leading colas.Is there sugar cane in Coke? ›
Coca-Cola contains sugar from sugar cane. The cane sugar is the same as you would buy in a supermarket to use at home in cooking, tea, coffee or in other drinks.What are the ingredients in Mexican Coke? ›
Mexican Coke contains: Carbonated water, sugar, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavors, caffeine. American Coke contains: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavors, caffeine.
Does Pepsi use cane sugar? ›
Pepsi-Cola Made with Real Sugar.
|Bottles of Pepsi-Cola Made with Real Sugar|
Kroger® Cola Time™ is made with real sugar, just like in the old days. Ever since our first storefront opened in 1883, in an exciting era of American history, our focus has been on high quality food at a good price. Step back in time with an ice cold can of full-flavored soda, just as it was meant to be.Which Coke is made with Splenda? ›
Diet Coke with Splenda is the original great taste of Diet Coke. Serve ice cold for maximum refreshment.What drink has the most sugar? ›
Through in-house innovation and extensive market testing, the no-calorie fan favorite delivers an even better-tasting recipe and goes by the name Coca-Cola Zero Sugar.Which Coke has no sugar? ›
Both drinks are sugar free and calorie free. Coca‑Cola zero sugar looks and tastes more like Coca‑Cola original taste, while Diet Coke has a different blend of flavours which gives it a lighter taste.Is cane sugar better than high-fructose corn syrup? ›
Which Is Healthier? In short, they're all about the same. Our bodies break down table sugar and HFCS 55 in nearly the same manner, so there's no fundamental difference between the two. Sugars have no nutritional value.