The race to create a good tasting, no calorie soda - KMSP-TV

The race to create a good tasting, no calorie soda

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With two-thirds of American adults fighting the battle of the bulge, a race is brewing to come up with a good tasting alternative to what many believe is a root cause of expanding waist lines -- sugary soda.

"There's tremendous pressure on the soft drink industry.  Consumer advocates like me make fun of the industry for peddling the sugar water with all the calories fueling the obesity epidemic, so the industry wants to find a lower calorie alternative," said Michael Jacobson with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Until recently, artificial sweeteners have been the method of choice, but many consumers feel that good taste is being sacrificed for zero calories.

"People were leaving the cola category to go to other products that were medium calorie options like enhanced water, sports drinks, iced teas, things like that.  So we saw an opportunity.  We're losing 90 million cases out of the cola category.  We can develop a great tasting cola that has that mid-calorie option, which is what consumers are looking for," said Angelique Krembs, vice president of marketing for Pepsi.

A range of lower calorie options has recently hit store shelves, but how do they stack up with the full calorie versions?  A small panel of tasters agreed to try them out.

"They taste similar to me, which I guess is a good thing," said one taster.  "There's a real similarity.  I would drink either one."

Overall the testers found differences in the two varieties of each brand and were only in agreement once on which was the low calorie drink.  One of the stinging similarities that the testers found?

"It has kind of a strange aftertaste for me."

"It's got a weird aftertaste."

"I would rather drink tap water than this because it taste like tap water, but slightly worse."

Beverage makers are aware of the dreaded aftertaste issues, and they know that tastes can differ, so they're feverishly trying to concoct a blend of artificial and natural sweeteners that will appeal to all pallets.

Blending national and artificial sweeteners mean new zero calorie drinks will probably have to wait, but ultra low offerings like ten and 60 calorie drinks are getting space on shelves.

"One of the attractive things about artificial sweeteners is that they're non-caloric, and so it can save somebody 250 calories in a 20 ounce soda.  So that's a real benefit, avoiding all the sugar, but there are questions about some of the artificial sweeteners," Jacobson said.

Those questions involve links to cancer.  Aspartame has that association and, as a result, is a deal breaker for many consumers.  That's where natural sweeteners like stevia come in.

"A big limitation has been that the sweeteners like aspartame have all been synthetic and don't taste that good, so they desperately want to find a natural chemical that tastes good.  The stevia derivative or baudioside meets at least half of that requirement.  It's natural.  It comes from nature.  It doesn't taste very good, so they're working on that," Jacobson explained.

The cola giants are already falling behind when it comes to making a naturally sweetened, calorie free soda.  Smaller companies, such as Zevia, have already brought products to the market.  If you would like to try them out, you can find them at Whole Foods.

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