Friday, November 18, 2005

Pour Some Sugar On Me

Sodas today use one sweetener more than any other. High Fructose Corn Syrup, otherwise known as HFCS is their horrible sweetener of choice. It’s everywhere, in everything and has, in my humble opinion destroyed most of the Root Beers and Sodas on the market today. And, as with so many things in this day and age, it is the fault of government as much as of is the fault of the soda producers
Root Beers which use pure, natural cane sugar are, more often than not selling as premium beverages at premium prices. Seeing a genuinely good Root Beer for $2 or more is not an oddity. Even a handcrafted Root Beer from your local microbrewery could easily pull in that much without the benefit of a bottle and a snazzy label. Why the priceyness? Other than the bottle, it must be the quality and a significant portion of the quality and taste come from that delightful caramel flavour that can only be found in cane sugar. Sugar prices are kept artificially high via tariffs, restrictions, quotas and unnecessary government protectionist interference. American sugar prices have been kept artificially elevated above the worldwide prices for 45 years or better, to the detriment of the Root Beer and soda manufacturers of this country, as well as their customers.
HFCS is cheaper than sugar, especially cane sugar. Despite the heavy refining necessary to produce HFCS it remains cheaper than the preferred sweetener for carbonated beverages because the government subsidizes it. In other words, they use our tax dollars to keep the production of corn and corn based products low, so we have to pay more for sugar. Unfortunately, HFCS brings nothing to the party other than oft times cloying sweetness. It is, for all intents and purposes flavourless.
I can’t lay sole blame on the Root Beer and soda companies for using this nasty tasting product instead of the more expensive and better tasting sugar, even though they consistently lie to us and tell us there is no difference in taste. These companies have an obligation to their stockholders, owners and employees to maintain a certain level of profit in order to stay in business. Yes, they bear some of the blame for the price of what are now considered “premium beverages” but the ultimate blame must be lain at the feet of generations of politicians who have meddled in the free market.
I long for the day when these draconian rules are removed and Root Beer and soda manufacturers can import cane sugars from a variety of places around the world at a decent price. I cannot help but wonder what the minor taste differences would be if you used cane sugars on a micro-regional basis. I see numerous foods and ingredients from micro-regions that sell at a premium and there are significant taste differences. Look at coffee as a prime example!
What would Queensland sugar bring to a brew? Cuban? South African? Columbian and Guatemalan? Oh, for the day when the government gets out of the way of the invisible hand and lets us get back to the basics of brewing Root Beer the way it was intended to be made.
Who screwed up our Root Beer? Look no farther than the people in Washington, D.C.

This is not to say that all Root Beers and sodas that contain corn syrup or HFCS are horrible. They just aren't on a par with their competitors who use cane sugar. Shoot, quite a few of these are decent, some are even quite good. But, in my not so humble opinion they don't hold a candle to those sweetened with sugar, especially cane sugar. So, all you good folks out there manufacturing corn syrup sweetened Root Beer and soda, don't blow a gasket. There's room for you in this world, too.


Rocky (Racquel) said...

Wow-I never really gave root beer this much thought... although I must admit that it was interesting. I don't care much for root beer (I do like a Dr. Pepper once in a while)but the seafood in your earlier post sounded good!

Michael said...

Thanks, Rocky!
I just happen to be a fan of root beer. And I do enjoy a good Dr Pepper, now and again. Unfortunately, good Dr. Pepper is extremely hard to find. Only one factory still makes Dr. Pepper in its original formulation, in Plano, Texas. Think it tastes like the regular DP? Not a chance! It's made with beautiful cane sugar and the flavour is very cherry! I'll be posting a piece on that one soon, too! Stay tuned!

Mike Kole said...

Michael- I often venture to the local Mexican grocers, who carry Coca-Cola and other sodas that are sweetened with cane sugar.

You and I should go to the grocer in Noblesville that is just north of the El Camino Real restaurant on the corner of Pleasant & 10th. I've never seen a Mexican root beer, but I have purchased the occasional cane sweetened Coke. It's excellent!

Professor said...

Couldn't agree more. While there are so many factors that go into a good root beer, sugar is always a biggie. When reviewing root beers on my site I am always interested in what kind of sweetner they use. I also love honey and when I make my own root beer I like brown sugar.

Michael said...

I'm a huge fan of using brown sugar in my home brews, too! It adds a nice flavour to the mix.