Monday, November 12, 2012

Crony Corn Syrup Coke versus Hecho en Mexico Coke

By Ron Walker

Spend a few years writing about consumer culture, and you might get a little jaded about products or brands with cult followings. The extreme-loyalist customer always insists that there are perfectly rational reasons for his or her devotion; to the disinterested observer, the reasons seem dubious. This is good news for me, because it assures that I have plenty to write about. But this week, for once, I’m casting myself in the role not of the reasonable observer but of the dubious product-cultist.

The product is Coca-Cola that is made and bottled in Mexico. I’m not the only person who believes that it’s better: there’s a Mexican Coke Facebook page with more than 10,000 fans. “I am a (Mexican) Coke fiend,” wrote Richard Metzger on the Web site Dangerous Minds this past August. “It is SO FREAKING DELICIOUS.” Mexican Coke is “a lot more natural tasting,” another fan recently told a news program in Idaho. “A little less harsh, I would say.”

Mexican Coke cultists of course have a rational explanation: Coca-Cola bottled in Mexico is sweetened with sugar, while the U.S. version is (almost) always made with high-fructose corn syrup. That is so. And it’s surprising, given the degree to which uniformity defines the Coke idea. Who knew the “secret formula” could accommodate ingredient variation? Andy Warhol once suggested that Coke’s sameness united us all: “A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the president knows it, the bum knows it and you know it.”

My own induction into this product cult was inadvertent and based on aesthetics. Some years ago I noticed a glass bottle of Coke for sale, and that was something I hadn’t seen in a while. It looked great; I enjoyed drinking it immensely. I didn’t notice the “No Retornable” and “Refresco” phrases on the 12-ounce bottle, or the ingredients. My rational explanation was that Coke tastes better from a glass bottle than from a plastic one or from a can. It happens that Popular Science examined this very contention on its Web site not long ago and allowed that as the “most inert” material in which the cola is packaged, it’s possible that glass results in a subtly more “pure, unaltered” product than plastic or aluminum. Of course a commenter on that site promptly chimed in that glass-bottle Coke often comes from Mexico: “In the United States, Coke is made with CORN SYRUP. . . . It’s disgusting.”

I’ve now heard this contention many times, but never more so than lately, as high-fructose corn syrup has become one of the most demonized ingredients in contemporary food culture. There’s a political angle (corn subsidies), an authenticity angle (it’s processed, very pervasive and just sounds industrial) and a paranoid angle (the entertaining conspiracy theory that the 1985 New Coke fiasco was an intentional failure, orchestrated to distract consumers from an ingredient switch in Coke Classic). The upshot is the curious celebration of sugar as natural and desirable. Pure-sugar soda fans motivate other product cults, including Passover Coke (using sugar instead of not-kosher-for-Passover corn syrup) available only around the Jewish holiday, and Dr Pepper from a particular bottler in Dublin, Tex.; Coke’s biggest rival has put out a product called Pepsi Throwback, “sweetened with natural sugar.” Somehow all the reverence for sugar manages to make high-calorie carbonated drinks sound like health food.

Read the rest here.


  1. I love Mexican Coke. A few years ago, when I started going back and forth between California and Mexico, I noticed I was drinking tons of of Coke down there but I just wasn't interested at all on this side of the border.

    I finally figured out the difference one day while I was casually reading the ingredients of the Mexican Coke bottle.

    I can buy a 2 liter bottle (plastic) of Coke in Mexico for less than $2USD.

    I'm planning on heading back there for a week over Thanksgiving, and I'm looking forward to getting my fill of the good stuff; and by good stuff, I don't mean turkey.

  2. Costco has Hecho en Mexico Coke by the case!

  3. I used to research investments for large institutional investors. In 1993, my employer owned a lot of Coke stock. My research took me to a regional private label soda pop manufacturer. The business' owner gave me a sample of ginger ale straight from the manufacturing vat. It was delicious; some of the best soda pop I'd ever tasted. He told me the reason it tasted so great was it was made with cane sugar. He also said that corn syrup quality had been cheapened to the point of where 7up, once very refreshing tasting, now tasted like dishwater.

  4. Most Mexican restaurants in SC have the "Hecho in Mexico" glass bottled Coke. I don't drink Coke as a rule but break it whenever I do fajitas(Primal eating) in a Mexican restaurant to enjoy the real sugar made stuff.

    I've had the Dr. Pepper throwback too which was dramatically better tasting than the corn syrup stuff.

  5. The GMO factor can't be ruled out either. Corn syrup comes from genetically modified corn, whereas Mexico has banned the growing of GMOs, so there is a scientific argument for Mexican Coke being more natural

    1. Bird poop is natural. Put that in your scientific argument and smoke it.