Back to
Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

American Man’s Perspective on Chinese High Fructose Corn Syrup

Over the course my journey so far, I have probably tried about forty weird drinks that I have found littered about Yunnan in small convenience stores and gas stations. Some of which are just variations of the classic beverages we enjoy in the west, maybe with some weird designs or a strange gimmick in how the beverage is consumed.

As always, however, there have been some beverage consumption experiences that are unforgettable, whether that be due to the strange flavors, awful taste, or genuine regret that it can’t be purchased in my home country. Among this laundry list of diabetes and high-fructose corn syrup are different types of coke, fanta, and bottled juices that you just can’t purchase in the US.

I found pineapple and coconut fanta dyed an awful green color that tasted way too much like the toothpaste at the dentist’s office, which brought back many memories of Doctor Howe brooding over my open mouth telling me I need to floss more. On the other end of the spectrum, I found a fanta flavor called dang manao, which at first really looked to me like “dang mango” despite the limes and strawberries that littered the can. After consulting with my Thai instructor Gai, I learned that dang manao is a type of drink in Laos and Thailand that is basically grenadine and lime juice in sparkling water. I am still on the hunt to find a true dang manao that doesn’t come from a can (it was that good).

On the topic of variations of familiar drinks with a wacky twist was a small can of coke decorated with coffee beans. The second I opened the can and smelled the chemically aroma I knew that I would never get the five yuan I spent back, even in the form of sugary goodness. The first sip tasted almost exclusively like the original recipe coca-cola that we all know back home, but as the flavor settled all I was left with was a very acidic, very pungent coffee flavor that definitely did more damage to my teeth than not flossing (sorry Dr. Howe).

The more pleasant coke variations I have tried was a Coke bottle proudly labeled Fiber+, touting apparently 7.5 grams of fiber. Although it didn’t taste great, it is nice to see that Coca Cola cares about China obtaining a healthy amount of dietary fiber. It is a sad fact of the weird soda lifestyle that inevitably you will find a drink so whack that you just need to buy it, a good example of this is a drink I found called blue coke. The name was located in a ripoff Pepsi logo and was even trademarked(?). It tasted like cough syrup and had the color and consistency of antifreeze. I knew China was famous for rip-offs but I have never seen something so blatant, with the only thing to separate it from normal coke was the adjective thrown in front, and the fact that they wrote “coke” instead of “coca-cola.”

Despite having a laundry list of weird sodas I have tried, we’d be here all day if I attempted to list them all. I will keep the Yak Board updated when I stumble across other strange beverages.