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I think they just took the “uh-huh” out of Diet Pepsi…

August 20, 2015, 6:25 PM

You may recall that I made a Journal entry back in April regarding some blown blood vessels in my eyes.  Turns out that my body will no longer allow me to have coffee, after I discovered that no matter whether it was commercially brewed, brewed at home, cheap coffee, or expensive coffee, I would be awake with an upset stomach.  And it was very sudden, too.  One day, I could drink as much coffee as I wanted, and then the next, it was verboten.  Ultimately, I had to give up coffee completely, which some of my former coworkers might be quite surprised to hear.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t the caffeine that was causing the problems, but something else in the coffee that was causing me problems.  Therefore, I ended up replacing coffee with diet soda in order to get my caffeine.  After initially bouncing between different diet sodas for a while, I eventually became a regular Diet Pepsi drinker.  It seemed to work for me, and it tasted pretty good.

Then they started fooling around with the sweetener.

You may have heard the news a few months ago that Pepsi was planning to discontinue the use of aspartame in Diet Pepsi, and replace it with sucralose.  For those not familiar with the generic names, aspartame has been marketed under the names NutraSweet and Equal, and sucralose has been marketed as Splenda.  Then this past Tuesday, I was at the grocery store, and spotted this:

Diet Pepsi, "Now Aspartame Free"

I bought two bottles of it, like I usually do, but didn’t think much of it otherwise at the time.  I figured that the folks at Pepsi knew what they were doing, and the soda would taste the same as it did with aspartame.  Much to my disappointment, the change in sweetener is very noticeable.  I’ve never been a big fan of Splenda, because I feel that it has something of an off taste compared to sugar, Equal, and stevia, and it also leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.  And you can definitely taste the sucralose in the new Diet Pepsi.

Then I was thinking today, and remembered the old Diet Pepsi commercials from the 1990s featuring Ray Charles.  Those commercials usually ended like this:

"You got the right one..."  "...baby..."

"...uh-huh!"  "With 100% NutraSweet."

And on that last image, a guy on voiceover would say, “With 100% NutraSweet.”  And remember that for purposes of this discussion, NutraSweet = aspartame (even though technically, the former is one of several trade names for the latter).

As the ad campaign progressed, they started putting a bigger emphasis on “uh-huh”, including going so far as to say that the beverage had “100% uh-huh”, as seen here in a later ad spot:

"With 100% uh-huh."

In ad spots containing either ending, the NutraSweet logo was shown in the lower left corner of the screen at some point during the ad.  So as far as I’m concerned, one could reasonably conclude that the artificial sweetener was the “uh-huh” in Diet Pepsi.

And now, they’ve taken it out.  Diet Pepsi now tastes terrible as a result.

I can understand why Pepsi would opt to ditch aspartame, however.  Aspartame has a good bit of baggage when it comes to potential health effects, and as far as I can tell, the jury is still out about whether aspartame is really as hazardous to one’s health as some will have you believe.  If nothing else, the switch to sucralose is a PR move.  Noting the way they’ve branded the bottles with the introduction of the modified formula, I’m convinced that it’s exactly that – just a PR move.  And if they wanted to change the sweetener just to look better, they could have done way better than sucralose.  After all, Diet Coke came in a Splenda-sweetened form for a few years in the mid-2000s, and that was discontinued after, as far as I can determine, it did rather poorly in sales.  And understandably so – Splenda tastes awful.

If Pepsi wanted to change the sweetener to something that wasn’t aspartame, they should have gone with stevia.  Stevia has two main benefits compared to aspartame.  First of all, it’s not aspartame, and thus doesn’t have all of the aspartame baggage.  Second, it doesn’t have the off-taste and unpleasant aftertaste that sucralose has.  It tastes a lot more like both aspartame and sugar than sucralose does.  Back when I used to drink coffee, whenever I made coffee at home, I would use stevia to sweeten it.  When I got coffee outside the house, I usually sweetened with Equal (or whatever brand was on the blue aspartame packet).  Whenever I made tea by the gallon at home, I normally used either Equal Spoonful or a similar spoonable stevia product – whichever was available and cheaper.  I’ve also had stevia-based colas before (Zevia), and they were quite good.

And if not stevia, they should have gone with monk fruit.  I used that briefly in my coffee and my tea around 2012, and I loved it.  Zero calories (and therefore guilt-free), and it tasted just like sugar.  The only reason that I didn’t continue to go with the monk fruit sweetener was because I felt that it was too expensive compared to the alternatives.  More recently, I found Skinny Girl-brand monk fruit sweetener in the grocery store, and then I couldn’t find it anymore.  It was just as awesome as the spoonable kind.  Apparently it’s still being made, but I can’t find it in stores, and I’m not paying more than the price of the product in shipping fees to get it online.

Or, of course, they could reverse course and put the aspartame, i.e. the “uh-huh”, back in and call it a day, but somehow, I don’t see that happening.

And in the meantime, I need to figure out a new diet soda of choice.  This new Diet Pepsi is awful, and after I finish the two bottles that I’m already committed to, I’m done with them unless they change the sweetener again.

Categories: Food and drink

  • Mike

    I usually buy Zevia cola for home. They actually added monk fruit to the mix now, which improved the taste considerably. Wish it wasn’t twice as expensive as normal diet sodas though.

    I thought the Diet Pepsi with Splenda had a bad aftertaste the first time I tried it. After a few more bottles, I don’t think it’s that bad, or even that different, but I would still say the previous formula was a bit better. And I do think it’s kind of a questionable decision from a marketing perspective – Splenda doesn’t really have that much of a better reputation than aspartame, either in terms of taste or health.

    Incientally, Diet Pepsi hadn’t actually had “100% NutraSweet” for the last few years – they added another sweetener called “Ace-K” into the mix (which is also used in the new Splenda version). I actually thought that was a change for the better. And apparently you will still be able to get that version online, so you may not need a new choice after all.

    Thanks for the nostalgia trip with the “uh-huh” commercials.

  • peteperry

    Interestingly enough, I find stevia to have a very odd aftertaste. I frankly don’t like it. Splenda, while not preferable to good old sugar in my coffee, is OK. My Dad who is diabetic is a regular splenda user.