Kosher Coke Is Almost the Real Thing

To borrow a phrase, things certainly do go better with Coca Cola... at least if it's kosher Coca Cola!

I noticed a new item in my NYC supermarket today while I was browsing in the drink aisle. It was a floor stand for Coke that is kosher for Passover. Passover Coke has a yellow cap to distinguish it from regular Coke, which is kosher, but not kosher for Passover. I happen to be pretty familiar with the ingredient label for regular Coke, since I make it my business to notice such things. And, double-checked on the Coke website, it contains:

  • Carbonated Water
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Caramel Color
  • Phosphoric Acid
  • Natural Flavors
  • Caffeine

Yes, regular Coke contains the dreaded high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Out of curiosity I looked at the label for "Kosher" on Passover Coke and saw that the second ingredient is sucrose! Passover Coke is not sweetened with HFCS! Sucrose is basically sugar, derived from cane or beets, or a mixture of both. If it tastes anything like Mexican Coke, which is made with sugar, and tastes like the Coke of my childhood, that's great! Great, at least, for eight days of the year, not so great for the other 11 months and 22 days of the year, because right after Passover, Coke switches right back to using HFCS.

You might think: "Wow, corporate America is being really sensitive and responsive to different religions. Coke isn't even looking for a pat on the back for making a special Coke for observant Jews. It doesn't even advertise it." Truth is, I suspect that's because Coke doesn't really want everyone to know that for eight days of the year they can drink Coke that's made without the dreaded HFCS. If more people start demanding it, they might have to start making Coke with sugar, which is more expensive than HFCS, and that will cut into their profits.

By the way, why is HFCS kosher, but not considered kosher for Passover, you might ask? HFCS is made from corn. Corn isn't exactly chametz, (which means "leavened," and applies to grains that can be made into flour and baked and so are forbidden at Passover, except in the form of matzoh) during Passover, but corn is on kind of a second tier of Passover forbidden foods, kitniyot ("small things"), which in at least one ancient Rabbi's opinion might be confused with chametz. Observance of kitniyot varies among observant Jews, but I guess Coke isn't taking any chances.

I would feel special that Coke would make a special beverage just for my people, but unfortunately this all comes down to money. Without Passover Coke, the Coke sales would dive in Brooklyn during the eight days of Passover, if not longer, considering that most Jews start the koshering process (clearing the house of chametz) the week before Passover begins. That would mean at least a 15-day loss of sales in every Jewish community across America. And I presume supplying Passover Coke creates brand loyalty, which is important.

That makes me wonder why Coke doesn't want to create brand loyalty with another community: the whole food movement, which would include every college kid in the last 10 years who read Fast Food Nation.

If you want to drink soda, I say opt out of regular Coke (except for the eight days of Passover) and drink Mexican Coke or other sodas made with sugar. At least until an image consultant tells Coca Cola that it's time to use sugar, because HFCS shouldn't be kosher for anybody!