Thanks to Michael Pollan, High-Fructose Corn Syrup Is No Longer the Soft Drink Sweetener Star (Now, Let’s Work on the Happy Meal)

How do you Do the Dew? Now you can Dew it Country Cool with cane sugar instead of corn, thanks to good folks at PepsiCo. They recently decided to switch from high-fructose corn syrup in some Pepsi and Mountain Dews to plain old sugar, calling their limited edition updates to these best-selling pops “Throwbacks.” (The tagline for this and the original Mountain Dew, I kid you not, is “it’ll tickle yore innards.”)

The hokey retro spin, of course, is pure marketing, since the main goal of any new and improved gambit is to make your case for buying your new version without dissing the old one, and anyone who loves it.  But, I am happy to report, the impetus here isn’t any return to an old-school flavor profile per se — some tasters doubt whether there’s actually any difference between sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, though all those seekers of Kosher Coke might say otherwise — but a response to customer concerns.

Of the many demons in the mainstream food production pipeline, high-fructose corn syrup — or HFCS — is one of the most vilified in recent years, thanks in no small part to the work of investigative journalist Michael Pollan. Made from corn and used instead of sugar in everything from sweet tea to hamburger buns (it’s cheap thanks to corn subsidies, and also enhances mouthfeel and shelf stability) the product has been blasted for everything from environmental problems, the death of small farms, the economic crisis  and childhood obesity  Most artisanal, small-batch food makers these days are sure to clearly label on their products that it’s cane sugar they’re using.

And, it looks like, big companies have been paying attention. Like Pepsi, Snapple has been marketing “better stuff” in their bottled drinks, meaning real tea, real fruit juices, real sweeteners. You might recall their slogan is “the best stuff on earth.” Hey, now it’s even bester!

Snarkiness aside, this is a feel-good bandwagon I hope to see more big guns jump on, horrendous metaphor-mixing aside. Some foodies pooh-pooh Wal-Mart selling organic or buying local milk as hype and a watering down of organic principles, since companies have to produce in large quantities to supply the seller. But when big companies make those kinds of shifts, it does make a difference: More Americans can buy foods made in certain ways, and more growers of them, in theory, can stay in business.

I’ve been saying for years that all some struggling mid-sized burger chain needs to do to gain market share — I am thinking of someplace like Hardee’s here — is to decide to go as local, whole-foodie as they can. Every pricipled eater I know would finally jettison their Taco Bell bean burrito (which have for some reason always been the foodie go-to highway dinner, since somehow beans and cheese, even when served via squirt-gun, seem less problematic than patties) for a free-range Hardee burger topped with a local tomato and a housemade pickle. Washed down, of course, with a 20-ounce Throwback Mountain Dew.

Rachel Wharton is a deputy editor with Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn magazines with a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, where she focused her research on sustainab ...read more

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