Last week, Coca-Cola announced an ad campaign defending “artificial sweeteners” (see here for a Marketplace report).
Artificial is an odd distinction. I think of “natural” sweeteners as maple syrup or honey – stuff I could (if pressed) make for myself, without relying on a factory. Here, Coca-Cola is essentially contrasting “artificial” non-calorie sweeteners with the high fructose corn syrup that sweetens regular American Coke, which one could argue is also artificial.
But the Marketplace report also brings up a bigger issue – what do we expect from our soda pop? Is sweet soda really central to the American diet?
And I’m not even entertaining the possibility that we’ll all confine ourselves to water or milk and little frivolity in between. There’s a lot more to soda than the sweet pops we usually think of. As Amy Stewart, of The Drunken Botanist, points out – “soft drinks” were popularized during temperance as an alternative to alcoholic cocktails. They don’t need to be sweet, just like we don’t need to order sweet Dacquiris every trip to the bar.
The other day, I went to Journeyman Restaurant in Somerville and enjoyed a mocktail of (don’t laugh here) Arugula – Toasted Barley soda (it was bright and refreshing! And very green!). And I love this sweet-but-not-cloying Rosemary Lemonade recipe with or without the vodka, for a “natural” sugar option in this recipe you can use maple syrup. Simple syrups made with herbs from the garden, berry purees, even vegetable purees in the tradition of the Bloody Mary or Blushing Mary (Drunken Botanist pg 354), mixed with seltzer or tonic can create soft drinks. In my monthly cooking club, we talk about putting seltzer in a frosted beer mug, or mixing it with lime and cranberry in a martini glass, to get a summer “cocktail” (yes, fine, these would be pregnant cooking club members doing this, the rest of us just fill the mug with beer, but still. . . ).
We can debate the type of sweetener we use. We can also take a strict stance against ingesting any sweetness with our beverages. In between, I think there’s space for rethinking the role of the soft drink altogether. What we’re really talking about here is doctoring sparkly water to make it feel more refreshing or like a worthy partner to the flavors in our meals or become a standalone prelude to dinner with friends. That’s not a bad idea.