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Cooking Tests

HFCS-Free Cream Sodas

by Michael Chu
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I love soft drinks. If it's cold, non-alcoholic, and flavored - I want to try it (at least once). (After an unfortunate incident with a salty yogurt drink, I should also add "sweet" to that list.) Tina also shares my curiosity and likes to taste soft drinks (but taste is all she does - I love to drink the stuff - fruit juice, sparkling water, sodas, lemonade, and even Sunny Delight). We both have a special place in our hearts for cream soda, so we decided to do a taste test. In order to limit our selection - we focused on regular (no artificial sweeteners) cream sodas without high-fructose corn syrup.

(This is filed under Cooking Tests even though no cooking was involved... didn't know where else to put it.)

I should explain a little before I go on. In the United States, it's actually cheaper to make high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) than to buy cane or beet sugar. This is largely due to the massive corn lobby in the U.S. which has convinced the government to set import quotas and tariffs on sugar cane to make the environment more favorable to the corn producers. (America produces so much corn that it doesn't really know what to do with it - most recently there's been a big push for the corn to be converted ethanol for use as a fuel.) In any case, the corn goes through a fairly extensive process to form corn syrup, which is then treated with enzymes to convert glucose into fructose. The syrup is then further enriched to a higher concentration of fructose. Most beverages use HFCS that is about 55% fructose and 45% glucose as opposed to pure corn syrup which is close to 100% glucose. (HFCS can be as high as 90% fructose.) Because fructose is sweeter than sucrose (cane sugar) and glucose a bit less sweet than sucrose, this blend works out well for use as a cane sugar replacement - just replace the sugar with HFCS. Because sucrose breaks down during digestion into a glucose and fructose molecule, most people consider the two to be pretty much the same.

This isn't quite true - just because sucrose is composed of glucose and fructose doesn't mean it's the same as a 50-50 mix of glucose and fructose. First off (and most important to me) it tastes different. Whether it tastes better or worse is a matter of preference, but I think sugar tastes better than HFCS. It's currently unclear which is worse for you - HFCS detractors claim that HFCS can lead to and/or promote obesity while other research shows that HFCS has no detrimental effects when comapred to sugar. (The fact that the majority of the pro-HCFS research has been conducted with money from industry sources like the American Beverage Association and the Corn Refiners Association does not invalidate the results, but can lead to some eyebrow raising.)

In any case, for taste reasons (as well as reducing the number of sodas we had to buy), we limited our taste testing to only those products using cane sugar. We stocked up our fridge (these sodas don't usually come in singles - so we had four and six packs of them) with nine different varieties of cream sodas. Here's how we felt about them after multiple tastings.

We tried (from left to right): Natural Brew Hand Crafted Vanilla Creme Soda, AJ Stephans Pure Cane Sugar Boston Cream Soda, Virgil's Micro Brewed Cream Soda, Fitz's Premium Micro-Brewed Creme Soda, Dad's Classic Cream Soda, Journey Softbrew Java Island Vinalla Creme Soda Twisted Bean Vanilla Brew, Boylan Bottleworks Brand Creme, Boylan's Creme Soda (The Natural Kind), and R.W. Knudsen Vanilla Creme Spritzer.

Our favorites
Virgil's Micro Brewed Cream Soda - Gentle vanilla flavor and smooth finish made this our favorite cream soda

AJ Stephans Pure Cane Sugar Boston Cream Soda - Rich solid vanilla flavor

Dad's Classic Cream Soda - Good, strong vanilla flavor but extra sweetness reduced the complex vanilla flavors

Fitz's Premium Micro-Brewed Creme Soda - Fruity taste, mild vanilla flavor

Second choice
R.W. Knudsen Vanilla Creme Spritzer - Sweetened with fruit juice, this cream soda had a sweetness that hinted of grapes

Boylan Bottleworks Brand Creme - Crisp start with a slightly odd after taste; overall bland flavor

Boylan's Creme Soda (The Natural Kind) - Clean cream soda flavor, but a little bland and unexceptional

Natural Brew Hand Crafted Vanilla Creme Soda - Weird citrus flavor at end followed by a super-sweet lingering aftertaste

We really didn't like this one
Journey Softbrew Java Island Vanilla Creme Soda Twisted Bean Vanilla Brew - the winner of longest named cream soda had some overwhelming weird flavors of maple syrup and spice (as in spice cookies) which ended up tasting like medicine

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Written by Michael Chu
Published on April 21, 2007 at 03:52 PM
25 comments on HFCS-Free Cream Sodas:(Post a comment)

On April 21, 2007 at 07:24 PM, LarryZa (guest) said...
Subject: Green Cream Soda
In South Africa the Cream Soda was always dyed green for some unknown reason.

On April 22, 2007 at 02:16 AM, an anonymous reader said...
You should come to India. There are some wonderful savoury yogurt drinks here. Salt lassi, spiced buttermilk and many more. It'll change your opinion..

On April 22, 2007 at 02:29 AM, spudmunkey (guest) said...
Subject: n
I really enjoyed Virgil's when I had it. Tasted very natural. Even the Black Cherry Cream Soda was suprisingly great. Granted, I can see how it could be a little too sweet for some...but then again, I really like Jones Bubble Gun my opinion isn't the same as much of the population.

On April 22, 2007 at 09:43 PM, Joe (guest) said...
Subject: Oh the glories of Passover
For those that don't already know, near Passover some grocery stores begin selling kosher coke. The sucrose based kosher version is great and when it's gone I resume my coke-less diet.

On April 23, 2007 at 10:17 AM, yoyo (guest) said...
Subject: Sucrose Coke available all year
Many Mexican-oriented grocery stores offer Coca Cola imported from Mexico where they have not switched to HFCS (They still use cane sugar). It comes in the thicker return-for-deposit glass bottles. It is still the "original" coke and beats the HFCS-version hands-down (IMHO)

On April 23, 2007 at 11:03 AM, Dominic (guest) said...
Subject: sucrose isn't necessarily cane sugar...
Because fructose is sweeter than sucrose (cane sugar)...

55% of the sucrose sold in this country actually comes from sugar beets. While sucrose from sugar beets and sucrose from cane are 99.95% similar, apparently that .05% is significant, as reported in this article from the San Francisco Chronicle:

The article claims that sources sometimes produce cane and sometimes produce beet sugar (based on, surprise, economics). I wonder if the soft drink producers always use one or the other or if it depends on their suppliers -- or if it makes a difference in that application.

On April 23, 2007 at 04:50 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Yea, I haven't come across any studies that conclude HFCS is any worse (or better) for you than cane sugar. As for the taste? I could never tell the difference!

The sodas you reviewed sound yummy though! I love cream soda - it's underrated in the U.S.!

On April 24, 2007 at 03:29 PM, Sarah (guest) said...
Subject: What is cream soda?
Why are cream/creme sodas thusly called?

On April 24, 2007 at 05:25 PM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: What is cream soda?
Sarah wrote:
Why are cream/creme sodas thusly called?

The name probably comes from the vanilla flavor. Ice cream and whipped cream are commonly flavored with vanilla, and I believe that's what people were reminded of when they tasted the vanilla flavored soda.

On April 26, 2007 at 03:51 PM, an anonymous reader said...
I'm totally with you on the HFCS tasting odd, I always try to avoid it when I am in the US

On May 08, 2007 at 11:53 AM, beanny007 (guest) said...
Subject: Ayran, drink of Champions
You need to try the salty yogurt drink with food. It tastes good with Mediteranean cuisines =)<br><br><br>


On July 16, 2007 at 01:14 PM, studentforlife (guest) said...
Subject: hfcs article
here is an article that goes into depth on the history of high-fructose corn syrup. It may seem long and dry in parts but I think it explains a lot. I have heard bad reports on hfcs through my mom who works at a health food store. I am currently trying to cut it out of all aspects of my diet. It's a work in progress. I'm a junior chemical engineering student with hopes of continuing onto grad school and studying food science or food engineering so this is something I feel strongly about.

On July 26, 2007 at 12:29 PM, thatoneguy (guest) said...
Subject: Jones
Try a Jones Cream Soda. They sell them at Starbucks in the south and south west (im sure many other places also).<br> They are the deepest flavor i have ever had in a cream soda.<br> I must also tell you its only that way STRAIGHT OUT OF THE BOTTLE.<br> Once that stuff hits ice it's done for.

On November 28, 2007 at 08:11 PM, lehorn (guest) said...
Subject: Hard to find!
Nice to know there are some colas out there with out HFCS. I live in an area where is it extremely few & far to find things made with real sugar.
I did see some at the store once, but the price was horrible and had to pass.

Good job on the story!

On March 14, 2008 at 02:49 PM, webm0nster (guest) said...
Subject: Second for Jones
I would like to second the suggestion you try Jones Creme Soda. It has a unique flavor that tends toward cotton candy like. Best serving for any soda IMHO is put it all in an ice chest and dump two 8lb bags of ice on top, let set for two hours at least. Sometimes we do this with Jones Creme Soda, Jones Green Apple Soda and Mexican Coke on the weekend even if we are not going anywhere. Something about a near frozen coke in a glass bottle. *drool*

On March 16, 2008 at 09:49 PM, an anonymous reader said...
If you're ever in the St. Louis area, I strongly recommend going to Fitz's. The bottled version just doesn't taste as good as a cold mug of cream soda straight off the tap.

They also keep their mugs in the freezer so you sometimes get a layer of frozen cream soda right on the inside of the mug. Yum.

~ Lyra

On March 25, 2008 at 09:58 AM, rich.bronson said...
I used to love cream soda too but I stopped drinking it years ago because I thought it was just too harmful to your health. But if I could get it without HFCS, then I might reconsider having it every once in a while.

On April 18, 2008 at 08:03 PM, Cjay (guest) said...
Learn to make your own vanilla phosphate and you will never buy ANY of those again!

I miss the days of the Soda Jerk!

On May 20, 2008 at 05:31 PM, Gabe (guest) said...
Subject: Henry Weinhard
I can't help but notice that you did not test Henry Weinhard's Cream Soda. Perhaps you can't get it there, I believe it is bottled in Oregon, but it is the most delicious cream soda in my opinion. They also make a fantastic rootbeer that is deliciously creamy and has an enormous head.

On May 20, 2008 at 09:29 PM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: Henry Weinhard
Gabe wrote:
I can't help but notice that you did not test Henry Weinhard's Cream Soda. Perhaps you can't get it there, I believe it is bottled in Oregon, but it is the most delicious cream soda in my opinion. They also make a fantastic rootbeer that is deliciously creamy and has an enormous head.

Henry Weinhard uses HFCS as it's main sweetener and so was disqualified from this tasting.

On June 26, 2008 at 01:20 AM, Terry_Jim (guest) said...
Subject: Sprecher Cream Soda
Sprecher brewery of Wisconsin makes
a cream soda with a rich vanilla / honey flavor.
I don't think it has HFCS in it.
Their root beer is spectacular also.
It's availiable at Menard's in the midwest.

Avoid their Lo-Cal Root beer- they use ghastly bitter saccharine instead of splenda or nutrasweet in it.

On November 07, 2008 at 04:54 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: HFCS
I was very impressed by your knowledge of HFCS and appreciated you educating your fans about the corn lobby. This was a red flag for me when obama specifically endorsed ethanol fuels ONLY within the united states that the corn lobby has their powerful hand in both the democrat's and the republican parties' back pockets.

I am a nutrition geek and get very happy to see you taking this seriously. Integrity is cool.

On November 08, 2008 at 06:39 AM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: HFCS
Anonymous wrote:
This was a red flag for me when obama specifically endorsed ethanol fuels ONLY within the united states that the corn lobby has their powerful hand in both the democrat's and the republican parties' back pockets.

I don't know where you heard that Obama specifically endorsed ethanol only since I know he's promoted biodiesel as a fuel as well as other alternative fuels. (Tina and I both use biodiesel only in our vehicles so it is of particular interest to us.) Also, at the moment corn is the main source of U.S. ethanol production but it need not be so - there are a variety of other grains, plants, and even bacteria and algae that may be promising for the future of ethanol. With the current economic crisis, I suppose we'll have to wait a while to see if President-elect Obama will stand by his word and promote a multitude of new fuel sources (or if he's in the pockets of the corn lobby). I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt at this point.

On May 08, 2009 at 10:43 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: Zuberfizz
The best cream soda that I have ever had in my life is micro-brewed in Durango, Colorado. Unfortunately it is only available locally, but whenever I'm near I have to pick up several cases. Its called Zuberfizz cream soda, and if you ever get the chance, you must try it.

On September 06, 2011 at 09:05 PM, kuul (guest) said...
Subject: Best Cream soda
The best cream soda I've tasted is American Honey Cream Soda. It is hands down the best cream soda I have ever tasted. It is perfect and hits the spot every time. Only problem is that it's very rare.

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