Columns

When is pop too old to drink, BVO or not? 2014.07.23

These days, I’m not the only one wondering what’s in the beverages I’m drinking. And I’m certainly not the only one complaining about it. The folks at Coca-Cola are finding out that their customers may be smarter than they thought.

The company altered their formula for Vitaminwater in May, changing from a combination of crystalline fructose and sugar as a sweetener to a combination of sugar and stevia. Although the move allowed Coke to reduce the sugar content, the product still contains 120 calories per bottle, and doesn’t taste as good as it used to. Did they print “Worst Taste Ever!” on the bottle?

Vitaminwater fans flooded the product’s Facebook page with complaints about the  metallic aftertaste left by the stevia. A Coke spokesman said the company loves hearing consumer feedback, adding, “We really like our new formulation and hope customers do, too.” Apparently, they didn’t bother to read any of the feedback.

This kind of reminds me of the “New Coke” debacle back in 1985. About the only mistake Coke didn’t repeat was renaming the product “New Vitaminwater.” But that’s far from Coca-Cola’s only problem.

The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that juice manufacturer Pom Wonderful may proceed with a false advertising lawsuit against Coke. The suit claims that Coke’s Minute Maid division is falsely advertising its Pomegranate Blueberry beverage.

 In fact, 99 percent of the beverage is actually apple and grape juice. Pomegranate juice amounts to a mere 0.3 percent of the total. No amount is stated for blueberry juice, but there’s not much room left for any. I wonder how many Facebook “fans” this product has?

But the biggest beverage controversy is over ingredient brominated vegetable oil, or BVO. Here, both Coke and Pepsi are targets. And I have a long history of complaining about it.

Way back in March of 2000, in my second column ever, I questioned why BVO was in my Diet Squirt, adding it seemed more appropriate in salad dressing. BVO can be used in beverages at up to 15 parts per million, even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration removed it from the list of ingredients “Generally Recognized as Safe” in 1970.

Neither Coke nor Pepsi themselves contain BVO, but many of their other products like Coke’s Powerade and the Diet Code Red Mountain Dew I just finished still do. BVO is used as a stabilizing agent.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the main concern about BVO is the bromide used in its manufacture. Bromide is also used in making flame retardants. It’s a good thing I’ve only got 11 cans of that Code Red Dew left, although to be fair to Pepsi, I haven’t burst into flames in a long time. Pepsi removed BVO from Gatorade in 2013 and both Coke and Pepsi are working on eliminating it from all products.

Also on the beverage front, I recently did a little experiment in the interest of science. I discovered a few cans of Coke I purchased back in 2011 because I liked the polar bear design on them. I decided to empty the cans before they sprung a leak.

I opened the first Coke, and it sounded just like a fresh one. After confirming it was 22 months past expiration, I took a deep breath, then a small taste. Amazingly, it tasted as good to me as Coke ever does, maybe better. Perhaps it improves with age. I finished it, and eventually, the rest of the cans.

Then, I remembered the Pepsi can. Twenty years ago, I bought a case of Pepsi in Toledo at long-gone supermarket chain Cub Foods. It was something like $3.88 for a case of 24. Those were the good old days.

When I opened the case at home, I discovered all of the cans commemorated “Woodstock ‘94,” the concert celebrating the 25th anniversary of the original event. I drank most of them at the time, gave away a few to friends, and held onto the last can. I still have it today, unopened, surprisingly not leaking,  and not quite 20 years past its January 23, 1995, expiration date.

Should I or shouldn’t I? I drank Coke almost two years past expiration—could another 18 years make that much of a difference? After all, I like Pepsi much better than Coke in the first place, plus there’s no BVO to worry about. It almost has to taste better than New Vitaminwater.