Thing That Does Not Suck: Mountain Dew Throwback

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by Jeff Fecke | May 3, 2009 • High fructose corn syrup. Everyone reading this blog has consumed large amounts of it, whether you wanted to or not. It’s everywhere — in cereal, in juice, in salad dressing, in cookies…heck, I think it’s being pumped into the atmosphere now. America’s gift to America’s corn growers, HFCS isn’t necessarily as evil as it’s often portrayed, at least in and of itself.

Jeff Fecke is a freelance writer who lives in Eagan, Minnesota.In addition to his own blog, Blog of the Moderate Left, he also contributes to Alas, a Blog, Minnesota Campaign Report, and AlterNet. Fecke has appeared as a guest on the “Today” show, the Alan Colmes radio show, and the Mark Heaney Show. Fecke is divorced, and the father of one really terrific daughter. His debut novel, The Valkyrie’s Tale, is now available.

HCFS is mostly fructose (fruit sugar) and glucose (corn sugar), and the body processes those the same way it processes sucrose (table sugar). The real danger with HCFS is not in the substance itself, but in the vast subsidies that have gone to produce a glut of corn, driving down the price for corn products such as HCFS, and thus driving down the price for sweeteners. Corn syrup is ubiquitous precisely because it’s really cheap. It allows its use in products it otherwise might not show up in, at least not in the same kind of amount. And it makes sweet, sugary products less expensive, thus increasing the amount consumed.

The other problem with HCFS is not a danger per se — at least not to health. No, the problem with HCFS is that it is, in the opinion of many, an inferior sweetener to cane sugar. Products sweetened with HCFS taste somehow more artificial, somewhat “off,” compared to products sweetened with cane or beet sugar. It’s for this reason that people will brag of buying Coca-Cola made in Mexico or Pepsi made kosher for Passover — versions of the popular soft drinks manufactured with cane sugar, instead of HCFS.

Sensing an untapped market, Pepsi has gone out and issued two “throwback” versions of their flagship brands: Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback. Both have had their formulas tweaked beyond simply eliminating HFCS, to make them more like the original formulation. (One wonders if Coca-Cola will try this by adding cocaine into the formula. Probably not.) At any rate, I haven’t tried the Pepsi Throwback yet, but I picked up a twelve-pack of the Dew Throwback, primarily because it was on sale. I’m glad I did; the stuff is outstanding, vastly superior to the current formulation of Mountain Dew.

Why it’s superior is hard to explain. It’s at once smoother and less artificial than the current version of Mountain Dew (or, as it’s inexplicably been rechristened, “Mtn Dew”). The throwback formula lacks the orange juice that’s part of the current formulation, and that probably affects it a little. But I think the big thing is the sweetness, which seems more balanced, more evenly mixed. The sweetness in currently-formulated Mountain Dew seems to hit all at once, cloying and over-the-top, drowning out the flavors in the rest of the pop. The throwback version, contrawise, seems more balanced, more even. It’s less “zippy,” but it’s superior all the way through. Interestingly, the throwback formulation seems slightly less carbonated — which probably aids in drinkability. And the aftertaste is sweet and sugary in the best sense of the word, which is a vast improvement over Dew’s current aftertaste, which is best described as purely artificial.

Is the limited release of Mountain Dew Throwback going to dislodge Mountain Dew’s current formula? I doubt it, for economic reasons (as noted, HFCS is cheaper than sucrose). But if I were King of Earth, it would be made so — or at least added on as an alternative version, like Mountain Dew Voltage. Alas, it appears that Pepsi will discontinue both throwback formulas in June — just enough time for me to hoard a few thousand cases’ worth. Heck, despite my dislike of Pepsi, I may even have to try its throwback version. And I may need to find someone out there who can score me some Mexican Coca-Cola — because if sugar-sweetened Coke is as much better than American Coke as sugar-sweetened Mountain Dew is better than regular Dew, I must find out — because if so, I’ve wasted the twenty-odd years since Coke ditched sugar, and I don’t want to waste any more.

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