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Clearly cola?

The soda scientists at Pepsi had clouds in their test tubes--until they hit on the right solution.

One of America's biggest soft-drink makers has found a new way to wet your whistle. And why not? With the average American teen guzzling some 75 gallons of soda a year, surely there's room for more variety.

The people at Pepsi-Cola obviously thought so when they introduced Crystal Pepsi last year. Their new soda combines the ever-popular cola taste with a certain "lightness" consumers now crave, says company spokesperson Gary Hemphill. Crystal Pepsi has no caffeine or preservatives, less sugar than regular cola, no artificial flavors--and no color.

"People think clear means pure," says Carole Pollock, chief flavor chemist at Universal Flavors, a leading soft-drink flavor developer. That quality alone may draw drinkers to give Crystal Pepsi a try.


Will it taste like the real thing--the classic cola without the brown cola color? Practically, says John Long, another beverage chemist at Universal Flavors. The color, he explains, comes from caramel, a melted form of sugar that isn't even sweet. It contributes very little to cola's flavor, he says. The flavor comes mainly from the nut of the kola tree, grown in the tropics.

But there's more to flavor than meets the mouth. "People generally taste first with their eyes," says Long. So taking the color out of cola creates a perception problem. Gulp a glass of colorless Pepsi and your eyes might think you're sipping Sprite or 7UP. Your brain may even play tricks with the signals you get from your tastebuds to make you think you're tasting what you see.

In order to convince consumers that they were still sipping cola, scientists at Pepsi had to tinker with the flavor to make it more recognizable. "We tested over three thousand flavor formulas in developing Crystal Pepsi," says spokesperson Hemphill.


"Keeping the soda clear was the challenge," Hemphill adds. See, many of the flavor-enhancers used by soda makers are citrus oils, explains flavor chemist Pollock. Why is that a problem? Try this: Put a piece of orange, lemon, or lime peel in a glass of club soda or seltzer. Now give it a quick stir. Does the soda you made deserve to be called "crystal" clear?

Probably not. Citrus oils, Pollock explains, contain substances called terpenes, which can't dissolve in water; they are insoluble. What they should do is spread out evenly among the water molecules to make a solution, or mixture that is uniform throughout. But instead, the oil molecules bead together and cloud the mixture.

The Pepsi scientists wanted a true solution, one where the dissolved substances, called solutes, are broken up into pieces so small that you can't even see them. They wanted the solvent (the water in which all the flavors, sugar, and [CO.sub.2] gas, are dissolved) to remain transparent.

So the scientists had to find a way to remove the terpenes. Just how they did it is an industry secret, but Pollock says it involves heating the citrus oils under pressure.

Did their solution to the cloudy solution/false-flavor problem work? Why not pick up a bottle and put it to the taste test yourself? While you're at it, you might want to sample Tab Clear--Coca-Cola's answer to the clear cola craze--which is being test-marketed in selected cities as we sip.

What will they think of next? What will you?
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Title Annotation:clear cola soft drinks
Author:McNulty, Karen
Publication:Science World
Date:Mar 12, 1993
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