If you read my writing here at Sporked, you may have picked up on a recurring theme: Classic snacks, while they may still taste great, have probably been improved upon in the decades since they debuted. For instance, I firmly believe that original Skittles just aren’t the best Skittles anymore, and although Nacho Cheese and Cool Ranch Doritos are indisputably delicious, I’ll take a more recently released flavor (say, Tapatio or Spicy Sweet Chili) over those two any day. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, like Classic Lay’s potato chips, though I think the data speaks for itself—classic flavors just have a hard time holding up to modern flavor innovation.
This brings me to Diet Coke. This soda may have legions of loyal fans, but I don’t think there’s any dispute that it’s not the best diet soda. Hell, it’s not even the best diet Coke anymore. Diet Coke, which hit stores in 1982, is a dinosaur compared to other diet colas. So much has changed in the diet soda realm since 1982. New artificial sweeteners have been developed, new flavors have been released. I will admit that there is a certain appeal to Diet Coke’s plainness, but who doesn’t want flavor? I do, and here’s a few diet colas that I think put Diet Coke to shame
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Coke Zero (recently rebranded as Coke Zero Sugar) is a gamechanger in the diet cola genre because it achieves a level of crispness we usually only associate with regular Coke. Diet Coke, I’m sorry to say, tends to be flat. Coke zero is fizzier than Diet Coke, so it retains that lovely, straight-out-the-bottle taste that reminds me of Mexican Coke. And if you think that Coke Zero also tastes more like a full-sugar Coke, you’re not crazy. Coke Zero uses an additional artificial sweetener that Diet Coke lacks. The goal of diet cola should be to taste like regular cola, and Coke Zero just hits that mark.
I’m a fiend for Cherry Coke Zero, which has all the intensely sweet and fizzy qualities of a regular Coke Zero but with some deliciously tart and fruity cherry flavor. My colleague Jordan Myrick ranked Cherry Coke Zero number three in our Coke flavor rankings, and they absolutely hate diet sodas. I personally think Cherry Coke Zero is a notch above regular Coke Zero. It’s the perfect diet soda if you want a ton of flavor but no calories. Across the board, cherry is just an awesome flavor in diet colas, and maybe the overall best.
Boylan is a new one for me, but since trying it, I’ve been tempted to buy a case of the stuff. Diet cola in a bottle just hits different, and all of Boylan’s sodas are so damn crisp and delicious, just like bottled sodas should be. I had a Boylan orange soda with an Italian sandwich just last week, and their black cherry is also a really damn good flavor. Part of what makes Boylan sodas so great is that they’re made with cane sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup (ahem, American Coke). Boylan’s diet cola is sweetened with sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame potassium (found in Coke Zero). It also features a “complex blend of citrus oils and spices,” and I can confirm that it’s got a nuanced, bitey flavor to it. Boylan is crisp and refreshing, and if you accused this soda of being flat, you’d be a damn liar.
Generally, I don’t think that fruit flavors work all that well with the peppery bite of a cola, but I was stunned the first time I tried Mango Pepsi Zero Sugar. The fruit flavor is subtle, but it’s oddly refreshing and the type of thing I like to drink outside on a warm summer day. It’s a worthy addition to the diet soda genre and it pairs great with tacos or a burger. It blows my mind that people would choose a Diet Coke over something that has an additional fruit flavor. Plus, if mango works, what other fruit-and-cola combinations might we see on shelves next?