03/08/2012 09:42 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

Surprising Pepsi Taste Test Results: Sugar vs. High Fructose Corn Syrup

A recent taste test between U.S. Coke and Mexican Coke revealed that 80 percent of tasters prefer Mexican Coke, which is made with sugar (as opposed to American Coke, which is made with high fructose corn syrup). This would lead one to assume that all sugar-sweetened sodas should taste better than their HFCS counterparts, right? Well, now we're not so sure ...

Our team of editors recently conducted another taste test, this time between Pepsi (with HFCS) and Pepsi Throwback (with sugar). We fully expected Pepsi Throwback to come out on top, just like Mexican Coke. Surprisingly, we were wrong. Here's a little background to lead up to our taste test ...

Pepsi has been creating soft drinks since 1898, and the formula hasn't changed much since then. But in the 1980s, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) replaced cane sugar as the soda's sweetener because HFCS was cheaper than cane sugar (the U.S. government had levied tariffs on imported cane sugar and was now subsidizing the production of corn). There was little to no choice for soda manufacturers but to switch to HFCS.

With more and more Americans concerned about the health effects of HFCS, people have been turning to soft drinks made with old-fashioned cane or beet sugar, when available. Many small mom-and-pop soda companies use these sugars, but not until recently have the large soda companies, such as Pepsi, made a move to revert back to sugar in certain "special-edition" lines of their drinks.

Pepsi responded in 2009 by releasing Pepsi Throwback, a soda that uses its old formula and includes sugar (cane and beet) instead of HFCS. This new offering was not based on any health concerns about HFCS, but more about consumer demand. Initially the soda was released for a limited time only, but when customers found that their new beverage of choice was gone from shelves, Pepsi backpedaled and decided in January of 2011 to add Throwback to its list of permanent offerings (as long as consumers keep buying it). And after many blunders with the design, Throwback now features the original Pepsi design used between 1973 and 1987.

So what does it taste like? What's the difference? Unlike Coca-Cola, which claims its regular Coke (made with HFCS) and Mexican Coke (made with sugar) taste the same, Pepsi makes no such claim. In fact, regular Pepsi and Pepsi Throwback taste different. Steve Tanner at says Throwback has none of the tinny metallic taste of HFCS-based Pepsi -- instead it offers a clean and consistent flavor.

The Verdict

Twenty editors blind taste-tested the two colas, side by side, and found ...

  • 50 percent of our tasters could tell the difference between regular Pepsi and Pepsi Throwback.
  • 55 percent of our tasters preferred regular Pepsi to Pepsi Throwback.

Here's what our tasters thought:

Regular Pepsi: "Tangy and metallic." "Watery." "Sweeter on the finish."

Pepsi Throwback: "Sweeter at the start -- better." "Coats tongue." "Really thick with syrupy mouthfeel." "Bubbly."

IN SUMMARY: Unfortunately most tasters mistook the sweeter taste of Throwback (made with sugar) as containing HFCS and thought it was regular Pepsi. Though most tasters agreed that Pepsi Throwback has a sweeter taste and regular Pepsi has more of a metallic taste.

Can you tell the difference between Pepsi made with HFCS and sugar? Leave a comment.