Alibi V.13 No.27 • July 1-7, 2004 

Bottoms Up

Low-carb Sodas Hit the Shelves

And they're as tasty as a diabetic koala's morning urine

Scott Rickson

In an unfortunate show of just-a-little-off timing, the major cola players have just rolled out their latest line extensions, low-carb, low-sugar colas designed to jump the Atkins bandwagon just as said conveyance is starting to go off the rails, as frustrated and carb-denied consumers rise up and say, as a nation, "Fuck this! I want a sandwich!"

Coca-Cola's entry into the latest fad is C2, packaged to look as much like a real Coke as possible, except that the familiar script logo is black instead of white. C2 tastes pretty much exactly like what it is: a 50-50 split of Coca-Cola Classic and Diet Coke. (A 12-ounce can contains 70 calories and 18 grams of carbs.) Thing is, I love Coca-Cola Classic. I even like Diet Coke. This does not, however, mean that I want to drink a mixture of the two; the aspartame of the Diet Coke clashes unpleasantly with the corn syrup of the regular Coke. The effect is unpleasantly like a Suicide, one of those fountain service freakouts my buddies and I used to come up with between Centipede games at the 7-Eleven, except that I recall that those actually used to taste pretty good, particularly when accompanied by a tub of fluorescent-orange nachos and followed by a wad of Big League Chew bubble gum. Neither of which, I believe, are allowed on the Atkins Diet.

Frankly, manufacturers are making this mistake more and more often as they try to tempt jaded fast food consumers, as I realized last week when my neighborhood pizza delivery place accidentally sent us a buffalo chicken pizza instead of the pepperoni and mushrooms we'd asked for. I tried a slice out of curiosity while we were waiting for our replacement pie, but unfortunately, it had the same problem as Coca-Cola's C2: Buffalo wings: good. Pizza: gooooooooooood. Buffalo-wing pizza: nasty.

Speaking of nasty, Pepsi has introduced its own low-carb offering, Pepsi Edge. (An eight-ounce serving of Pepsi Edge has 50 calories, with 13 grams of carbs ... of course, since a 20-ounce bottle is 2.5 servings, that's actually 125 calories and a whopping 32.5 grams of carbs.) Pepsi Edge has accomplished a truly astonishing feat: it's somehow both sweeter and flatter than regular Pepsi. I never would have thought that possible. Unlike C2, which contains aspartame (Nutrasweet), Pepsi Edge is sweetened with sucralose (Splenda). The resulting beverage does lack aspartame's not-unpleasantly bitter aftertaste, and it truly does taste much more like Pepsi than C2 tastes like Coke. Unfortunately, Pepsi tastes like a diabetic koala's morning urine, so that's not necessarily a compliment.

Who benefits from these products? Mostly, future collectors of beverage industry ephemera, because I'm pretty sure both C2 and Pepsi Edge will be off the market within 18 months. When you get right down to it, there is no reason for either to exist. Want a low-carb soft drink with no sugar? Hi, they're called Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, and there's plenty more where they came from. Want a real soft drink with less sugar and fewer calories? Both Coke and Pepsi sell their products in convenient little six-ounce aluminum cans, which offer a purer cola experience for the same calories as one of these new drinks. Have one of those and then go out for a walk. You'll be fine.