REVIEW: Salted Caramel Pepsi

Salted Caramel Pepsi

Most seasonal flavors stay in their section of the calendar.

Pumpkin spice and candy corn products show up during fall. Candy cane and egg nog products are around for Christmas. Carrot cake is a spring flavor. But salted caramel (and sea salt caramel) gets shoehorned into being a fall flavor, even though many brands have offered salted caramel products earlier in the year. What does salted caramel have to do with fall?

Maybe caramel’s brown color brings thoughts of fall leaves or turkey gravy. Maybe the salt represents the salty tears of sadness you’ll cry at your annual dysfunctional Thanksgiving dinner.

Whatever it is, Pepsi is also getting into the holiday spirit of releasing a salted caramel product in the fall with their latest flavor.

Salted Caramel Pepsi sounds like a unique flavor, but it’s not Pepsi’s first rodeo with a caramel-flavored cola. A decade ago, there was Diet Pepsi Jazz Caramel Cream. The flavor in it did a great job at hiding the Diet Pepsi-ness of the drink at chilled temperatures. But this new flavor, while it has artificial sweeteners, isn’t a diet soda thanks to the high fructose corn syrup.

Like Toucan Sam’s nose following the scent of Froot Loops or the noses on Carmen Miranda cosplayers, my nose detects a fruitiness with this soda. The aroma is familiar and I’ve been racking my brain over why that is. And its flavor doesn’t help either because it tastes like something I’ve had before. Is it from my childhood? Is it another limited edition Pepsi flavor? Did I experience it in another life? Another dimension? I don’t know.

But what I do know is Salted Caramel Pepsi has a flavor I enjoy. It’s fruity at first, which is odd, but the salt and artificial caramel hit my taste buds a bit later and lingers for a while. The saltiness enhances the flavor of the caramel, which I like, but at the same time, a salty soda might turn off some drinkers. I mean, it’s not like drinking ocean water, but sodas are sweet 99 percent of the time, so it might be strange for some.

Every year, I wait with bated breath for the return of Holiday Spice Pepsi, a seasonal cola variety I enjoyed over a decade ago. But every year I release that breath with a sigh because it doesn’t come back. I let out another sigh this year, but Salted Caramel Pepsi softened my annual disappointment. It’s a nice seasonal flavor, although unusual for a soda. But I’m attracted to unusual, like moths to a flame or Toucan Sam’s nose to a box of Froot Loops.

(Nutrition Facts – 20 oz. – 170 calories, 0 grams of fat, 105 milligrams of sodium, 45 grams of carbohydrates, 44 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.49
Size: 20 oz. bottle
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Not gross. Pleasant seasonal flavor. Lower sugar levels due to the sucralose and ace-k. Artificial sweeteners not too noticeable. If you know who Carmen Miranda is.
Cons: Might be too unusual for some. Might be too salty for some. It smells and tastes like something, but I can’t recall what it is. Not Holiday Spice Pepsi. Sighs.

REVIEW: Pepsi Fire

Pepsi Fire

You know what I think’s the big problem with Pepsi’s marketing? They’re too skittish to come out and tell us what they really want to call their products: non-alcoholic colas.

We’re actually seeing this more and more with Pepsi’s line-up of L-T-O products. The first wave of Pepsi 1893 sodas had a distinct gin-like taste, and the recently released Mountain Dew Spiked beverages are clearly meant to ape the alcopop-flavor of stuff like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice. While the newfangled Pepsi Fire soda may be advertised as a cinnamon-flavored cola, one swig of the stuff ought to remind you of an entirely different kind of beverage. Simply put – Pepsi Fire is VODKA-flavored cola.

It’s understandable why Pepsi refrained from marketing the beverage as a hard liquor imitator (obviously, parents groups probably wouldn’t be too keen on a cola manufacturer getting their kids accustom to the taste of high-alcohol-content fermented potato.) But the synthetic vodka taste is just too spot-on to be a coincidence. In an alternate reality, I can imagine the product being sold as Absolut Pepsi with an ad campaign heavily targeted towards millennial consumers – and selling like crazy despite all the media controversy.

Pepsi Fire 2

Alas, Pepsi went the “safe” route and stuck to its cinnamon cola marketing hook. The product isn’t new by any stretch – Pepsi has sold a cinnamon cola beverage with the very same name and almost identical packaging in Southeast Asia on-and-off again for at least two decades (sometimes, coupled with a spearmint-flavored counterpart called Pepsi Ice.)

Since cinnamon is a pretty polarizing flavor, naturally, your mileage will vary on the quality of the soda. While the cinnamon aroma is strong – if not overpowering – when you open the bottle, the actual cinnamon kick isn’t as tastebud-scorching as you’d expect. In fact, the aftertaste kinda’ feels like sipping on a cold glass of ginger ale while chewing some Big Red gum; you’re either going to find it appealing or disgusting, and there’s really no way to tell until you’ve given it a taste test for yourself.

Pepsi Fire 3

The hue of the cola is nice (it’s darker than standard Pepsi but not as atomically vibrant as Mountain Dew Code Red) and it has a nice sparkly, tingly mouthfeel. Oddly enough, it doesn’t taste anything at all like the short-lived Pepsi Holiday Spice, which despite being marketed as a cinnamon cola, had more of a dark cherry kick than anything else. I really can’t think of anything else out there to compare it to, not even Old City Soda’s cinnamon-flavored cola (which is noticeably sweeter and less spicy than Pepsi Fire.)

This is a hard one to score. Just for its uniqueness it’s probably worth a try, even if many drinkers may consider the overall flavor mildly off-putting. If you like cinnamon (or getting sloshed on martinis), I say pick up a 12-pack. But if you harbor a distaste for the spice, do you really need me to tell you stay far, far away from this beverage?

(Nutrition Facts – 1 bottle – 260 calories, 0 grams of fat, 85 milligrams of sodium, 69 grams of total carbohydrates, 69 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein, 63 milligrams of caffeine..)

Purchased Price: $1.49
Size: 20 oz. bottle
Purchased at: Circle K
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: The cinnamon flavor is potent without being too intense. The medley of Pepsi and ginger ale is surprisingly decent. Taking that first swig and instantly recalling your first freshmen year kegger.
Cons: Unless you are a hardcore cinnamon connoisseur, it takes some time to get accustom to the taste. The packaging is really unimpressive. Trying to figure out why Pepsi thought it was a good idea to release a “hot” cola at the very beginning of summer.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Dragonfruit Pepsi X

Dragonfruit Pepsi X

I guess dragonfruit is the appropriate fruit flavor for The X Factor’s Limited Edition Pepsi X since almost everything that comes out of Simon Cowell’s mouth is verbal fire that can burn egos and Britney Spears is bat shit fruity.

Dragonfruit, or better known by Future Farmers of America members as hylocereus undatus, hylocereus costaricensis, or hylocereus megalanthus (depending on the color of the fruit’s skin and flesh), is grown in tropical areas, like this rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean I live on.

Just like I’ve never seen an episode of The X Factor, I have yet to try dragonfruit. So seeing as how I could easily get the exotic fruit, I thought it was necessary to taste an actual dragonfruit before writing a review about the dragonfruit-flavored Pepsi X.

It’s a good thing there’s a farmer’s market down the street from me, but it’s a bad thing that dragonfruits were selling for $4.99 a pound. I bought the smallest one, which cost me $5.15.

If you’ve never seen a dragonfruit in real life or saw one when accidentally choosing a Google Image search suggestion for exotic fruits instead of, what you really wanted, exotic females, the most common type of the fruit (hylocereus undatu) has a pretty, pretty pink skin with green leaves protruding out of it and behind it there’s white flesh with tiny black seeds.

A few other interesting factoids about dragonfruits, there’s also a red-fleshed dragonfruit (hylocereus costaricensis) and if you eat too much of it you may get pseudohematuria, which is a harmless condition that turns your urine and feces reddish in color. Now that you know that, I hope you never accidentally choose a Google Image search suggestion for pseudohematuria. And knowing is half the battle.

Oh, speaking of pseudohematuria, the color of Pepsi X was noticeably lighter than regular Pepsi and it looked like it had a reddish hue.

Dragonfruit Pepsi X 2

Now that I know what dragonfruit tastes like, I can definitely say Limited Edition Dragonfruit Pepsi X doesn’t have a flavor that’s recognizable as dragonfruit. The dragonfruit’s flesh was mostly bland with a very mild sweetness. It’s as flavorful as cucumbers or kiwis. However, Pepsi X has a strong fruity and slightly floral flavor that doesn’t taste anything like dragonfruit. There’s also very little cola flavor.

Of course, I might’ve selected the wrong dragonfruit to taste and needed to buy the pseudohematuria-causing one. Or maybe, because it’s a little floral, Pepsi is trying to reproduce the flavor of dragonfruit flowers. Or maybe the flavor was developed by blending together dragon meat with fruits.

Dragonfruit Pepsi X 3

Whatever the case, I didn’t really care for Pepsi X. It’s interesting and not horrible, but I don’t see myself buying more because its unusual fruity/flowery flavor just doesn’t have The X Factor.

While I didn’t care for Pepsi X’s flavor, I LOVE that Pepsi did something I never thought they would do — release an unusual Pepsi flavor. A dragonfruit-flavored Pepsi is something I’d expect Pepsi in Japan to release, but it was released here in the U.S. That’s extremely exciting. So, within the past few months, Pepsi has launched a malt-flavored Mountain Dew and this dragonfruit-flavored Pepsi. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

(Nutrition Facts – 12 ounces – 110 calories, 0 grams of fat, 35 milligrams of sodium, 31 grams of carbohydrates, 30 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Limited Edition Dragonfruit Pepsi X
Purchased Price: $3.00*
Size: 12 ounces
Purchased at: eBay
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Not horrible. It’s a weird Pepsi flavor that sounds like it should be from Japan, but it’s not. Being able to buy dragonfruits down the street. Future Farmers of America.
Cons: Doesn’t taste like dragonfruit. Fruity/flowery flavor is a bit odd and doesn’t have The X Factor. Very little cola flavor. The price of dragonfruit. Pseudohematuria. Simon Cowell.

*To ensure I could review these as quickly as possible, I bought some off of eBay. It will most definitely be cheaper if you bought it in a store.

REVIEW: Pepsi Next Cherry Vanilla & Pepsi Next Paradise Mango

Cherry Vanilla Pepsi Next & Paradise Mango Pepsi Next

Crystal Pepsi must be jealous of the reduced sugar Pepsi Next. During its year of existence, Pepsi never released other Crystal Pepsi flavors. Diet Crystal Pepsi doesn’t count.

But the reduced calorie Pepsi Next has been around for just four months and it already has two new varieties — Cherry Vanilla and Paradise Mango.

I know that probably would make Crystal Pepsi so mad it would want to pop its top, but it would struggle to do so because, after 20 years, all its carbonation is gone. Well, at least there is some love for Crystal Pepsi, in the form of a disorganized effort to bring it back via numerous Facebook fan pages.

Cherry vanilla is a flavor we’ve seen before from Pepsi. Remember Pepsi Cherry Vanilla and Diet Pepsi Cherry Vanilla? You don’t? Well, the Internet does and so do I. Pepsi Next Cherry Vanilla smells more like Pepsi Vanilla than Pepsi Wild Cherry, but in my mouth the vanilla and cherry flavors are equally balanced. Because of that, it has a milder cherry flavor than Pepsi Wild Cherry. There’s a slight artificial sweetener aftertaste, but it’s far less harsh than Diet Pepsi.

As for Pepsi Next Paradise Mango, its aroma didn’t register as mango to my nose, instead it smelled more like apricots. Because of my past experiences with mango flavored beverages, I presumed this soda was going to have an extremely artificial mango flavor, but I was pleasantly surprised that wasn’t the case. I don’t know how the mad scientists at Pepsi did it, but they created a cola with a nearly authentic mango flavor. I say, “nearly” because its aftertaste is a bit artificial and the soda as a whole becomes a little more unnatural tasting the warmer it gets.

Now this is the part of the review where I bring up aspartame and high fructose corn syrup. Just like regular Pepsi Next, both of these flavors contain the sweeteners. If the comments in our original Pepsi Next review are any indication, people have strong negative opinions about them and they like to share those opinions with other people. For those of you who don’t want to look back through the 100+ comments, here’s what I vaguely remember the comment thread looked like.

Commenter #1: “Aspartame is evil!”

Commenter #2: “High fructose corn syrup is making everyone fat! It’s evil!”

Commenter #1: “No, aspartame is evil!”

Commenter #2: “No, HFCS is evil!”

Commenter #1: “ASPARTAME!”

Commenter #2: “HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP!”

Commenter #1: “Oh my God, you’re so hot when you’re angry! Let’s make out!”

Commenter #2: “Okay!”

Commenter #1: “Mmmmm.”

Commenter #2: “Mmmmm.”

Commenter #1: “Oooh baby, you have a fine, tight aspartame.”

Yup, I believe the comments went something like that.

Pepsi Next Cherry Vanilla & Pepsi Next Paradise Mango are both really good. I want to say they’re a step above regular Pepsi Next, but that could be my taste buds talking who are slightly tired of Pepsi Next since I’ve been drinking a lot of it over the past few months. These two new Pepsi Next flavors should continue to make Crystal Pepsi jealous because they’re good enough to ensure the Pepsi Next line will exist longer than Crystal Pepsi did.

Disclosure: We received free Pepsi Next Cherry Vanilla & Pepsi Next Paradise Mango samples from the fine bubbly folks at Pepsi in order to do this review. They came in a nice plexiglass box with a beach scene at the bottom of it with real sand. To be honest, I don’t know what I’m going to do with the box.

(Nutrition Facts – 12 ounces – 60 calories, 0 grams of fat, 60 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 15 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Pepsi Next Cherry Vanilla & Pepsi Next Paradise Mango
Purchased Price: FREE
Size: 12 ounces
Purchased at: Received from the folks at Pepsi
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Cherry Vanilla)
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Paradise Mango)
Pros: If you enjoy Pepsi Next and your taste buds want more variety, these will do nicely. Less sugar than regular Pepsi. Equal balance of cherry and vanilla. Nearly authentic mango flavor. Going to be around longer than Crystal Pepsi.
Cons: 38 mg of caffeine per can. Slight artificial sweetener aftertaste. Too many bring back Crystal Pepsi Facebook fan pages. Mango flavor becomes a little unnatural as the soda gets warmer. Those who hate aspartame and/or HFCS will not like it.

REVIEW: Pepsi Next

Pepsi Next

Update: Pepsi recently reformulated Pepsi Next to not include aspartame. This review is about the original version with aspartame.

Pepsi Next contains a veritable who’s who of sweeteners. The latest addition to the Pepsi line includes the high fructose corn syrup in regular Pepsi, the aspartame in Diet Pepsi, the sucralose in Pepsi One, and the acesulfame potassium in Pepsi Max.

So if you’re someone who yells, “High fructose corn syrup is evil!” or “Aspertame is the Devil!” or “Sucralose will destroy mankind!” or “What the hell is acesulfame potassium?”, Pepsi Next is not for you.

The combining of these sweeteners into Pepsi Next makes it sound as if Dr. Frankenstein had a part in developing it by collecting ingredients from other Pepsi varieties to bring to life a new one.

Or, maybe, he tried to bring back from the dead a discontinued Pepsi, like Crystal Pepsi, Holiday Spice Pepsi, or Pepsi Blue.

(Sidenote: Dear Pepsi: Please bring back Crystal Pepsi, Holiday Spice Pepsi, and Pepsi Blue, even if it’s for a limited time. I would totally play 7 Minutes in Heaven with current PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi to make this happen. Heck, I would also play 7 Minutes in Heaven with her predecessor, Steven Reinemund to bring them back.)

So what happens when Pepsi combines four popular sweeteners in the processed food world into one beverage? According to Pepsi, we get a beverage with real cola taste and 60 percent less sugar than regular Pepsi. But could I see myself replacing my beloved Pepsi Max for Pepsi Next? Also, if it’s discontinued, would I be willing to play 7 Minutes in Heaven with whomever the PepsiCo CEO is a decade from now?

Although it contains three artificial sweeteners and has 60 percent fewer calories than regular Pepsi, it’s really hard to taste anything “diet” about Pepsi Next. But it’s not quite like regular Pepsi; it’s less syrupy and smoother. There are also differences in flavor between Pepsi Next and original Pepsi. I thought Pepsi Next had a slightly stronger cola flavor and, for some reason, my taste buds perceived a hint of lemon, which made me think my taste buds were broken, but a second opinion agreed with me.

Maybe it was my tongue hoping Pepsi brings back Pepsi Twist.

(Sidenote: Dear Pepsi: I don’t really miss Pepsi Twist, so I would not be willing to play 7 Minutes in Heaven with any PepsiCo executive to bring it back.)

Pepsi Chart

Overall, Pepsi Next is quite good. However, I don’t think it’ll replace my beloved Pepsi Max because my go-to soda has no sugar, more caffeine, and I prefer its flavor. I also don’t see it taking the place of Diet Pepsi as my backup go-to soda. Pepsi Next is slightly better tasting, but my taste buds have long gotten used to the flavor of Diet Pepsi, so I’m willing to sacrifice taste to drink something with no calories and sugar. I think many Diet Pepsi drinkers will probably feel the same.

So who is Pepsi Next for?

I think Pepsi Next mainly appeals to are those who want to cut back or stop drinking regular Pepsi because their doctors advised them to or they’re losing their hearing from all people yelling at them, “High fructose corn syrup is evil!” So if you’re one of those people, Pepsi Next could be the Nicorette Gum of Pepsi colas.

(Sidenote: Dear Pepsi: Pepsi Next is good, but if it’s discontinued, I won’t miss it. So the CEO of PepsiCo ten years from now is safe from the possibility of being subjected to seven awkward minutes with me in a closet.)

(Disclaimer: I received a free six-pack of Pepsi Next from the nice PR firm that represents Pepsi. It also came with a card that said I was one of the first 100 people in America to taste Pepsi Next, but I’m not sure that’s accurate since they’ve been testing it in limited locations over the past year or so.)

(Nutrition Facts – 1 can/12 ounces – 60 calories, 0 grams of fat, 60 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, 15 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Other Pepsi Next reviews:
Phoood
Grub Grade
Fast Food Geek

Item: Pepsi Next
Price: FREE
Size: 12 ounces
Purchased at: Received from nice PR folks
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Quite good. 60 percent less sugar and calories. Smoother than other Pepsi varieties. Tastes more like regular Pepsi than Diet Pepsi. Playing 7 Minutes in Heaven to bring back discontinued Pepsi flavors. Pepsi Max. If you love consuming a bunch of artificial sweeteners at one time, you’ll love this.
Cons: Spending seven awkward minutes with me in a closet. If you hate sweeteners other than pure cane sugar, you won’t like it. Not really interested in bringing back Pepsi Twist.