What Is the Actual Difference Between Coke and Pepsi?

There have been many corporate rivalries throughout human history: Apple vs Microsoft, Nintendo vs Sega, Uber vs Lyft, probably a couple of toga makers back in Roman times, and the granddaddy of them all, Coke vs Pepsi. There is no one on the planet that likes both of these things the same amount. There are Coke restaurants and Pepsi restaurants. Growing up and making friends, there were Coke households and Pepsi households, and you knew dang sure what they had to drink somewhere before you went to spend the night. But when it comes to Pepsi vs Coke, what is the actual difference? Is there one? Which is better? We’re going to settle this once and for all, or at least talk about it until we decide we can’t!

Why do Coke and Pepsi taste different? While these two pop powerhouses have some similarities, there’s definitely a noticeable flavor difference between the two sodas. They have a similar chemical composition, but it’s the little things that separate them. “Pepsi is sweeter than Coke,” writes Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink. He goes on, “Pepsi is also characterized by a citrusy flavor burst, unlike the more raisiny-vanilla taste of Coke.” Those observations are in line with the ingredients. Pepsi contains citric acid, while Coke does not. Pepsi also has slightly more sugar, calories, and caffeine while Coke has a tiny edge in sodium. With ingredients that match so closely, neither has an edge as being any healthier than the other.

Coke has had a slight edge over Pepsi from the beginning. An Atlanta-based chemist named Dr. John Pemberton developed Coca-Cola in 1886. Caleb Bradham made Pepsi, originally called “Brad’s Drink,” in 1893. Coke and its red can is one of the most recognizable brands and logos in the world. By focusing purely on soda, Coke has maintained its status as the global leader in soft drinks. Pepsi embraces the role of the alternative and has taken that approach in its advertising campaigns and celebrity endorsements. Pepsi is more diversified as a company than Coke, they merged with FritoLay in 1965. 

As a part of Pepsi’s more aggressive marketing approach, they developed the Pepsi Challenge in the ‘70s and ‘80s. This was an ongoing marketing campaign, running single blind taste tests at malls. People would sample two sips of unlabeled sodas, one Coke and one Pepsi, and say which they liked better. Pepsi tended to win in this style of head-to-head taste test because it’s sweeter. When it comes to just a sip, whether it’s a wine or a soda, people usually prefer the sweeter option. But when it comes to a whole can or glass, that may not be the case. The Pepsi Challenge was designed to play to Pepsi’s strengths and convince a lot of people they liked Pepsi. That’s part of how it became the “choice of a new generation.” 

Which is better, Coke or Pepsi? So, we know why they taste different. We know how they market themselves. We know sort of how their businesses run. We know what’s in them. But which is actually better, Coke or Pepsi? It has to come down to personal taste. Just kidding. It’s Coke.

best coke flavors

Best Coke Flavors

Now that’s settled, find out what the best flavor of Coke is. We taste tested all the flavors of Coke and ranked them.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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  • Hi former fellow Houstonian 🙂
    Very few darkly colored sodas have citric acid these days. They’ve changed over to Phosphoric Acid. Pity that, because that annoying acid tends to cause kidney stones in quite a few folks, like me.
    You’re right about coke tasting better. Pepsi tastes like it might have dirt in it. 😆✌️