In this installment of Around the World in Eight Items (or Less), an exploration of the “International Aisle” at your neighborhood grocery store, I set out to examine some cold, imported beverages from across the globe.
These items are often squeezed into an aisle called “World Market” or “International,” which, at the stores I visited, contain exotic foods such as “pasta” and “taco shells.” But about half the items are legit imports.
Coconut juice (or “coconut water,” as many items are marketed) seems to be all the rage these days in America, though on tropical islands and in India, Africa, Brazil and other countries, it’s been all the rage ever since someone realized the water in a coconut was not only tasty but also a great source of electrolytes. The water is so pure it can be used during medical procedures intravenously where medical saline and water are lacking (or dirty). In the past several years, coconut water has become a health fad in the U.S. because it contains little fat, carbohydrates or calories.
Among all of the options, I chose the Taiwanese Chaokoh brand of “Young Coconut Juice with Jelly,” which comes in an easy pop-top can. The juice part of it was excellent and refreshing, but the “coconut jelly” — which tastes like gummy bear bits soaked in water for three weeks — got in the way of the light, refreshing flavor. It’s a bit like a “high pulp” orange juice, only this “pulp” is relatively flavorless. Not a fan of chewing my drinks, I moved on.
England gets mocked constantly for their apparently gross food products, but do they do drinks better? The Ribena brand of Blackcurrant Juice was too hard to resist, what with its fancy champagne bottle look and tin foil around the cap (sadly, the cap didn’t fly across the room; it’s a twist-off). The packaging — besides the currant backdrop — is minimal, with declarations like “Made with British Black Currants,” “Rich in Vitamin C” and “Perfect when trying to say sober at a wine-tasting” (OK, I made that last one up). The wine-ish drink has a bite to it, but it’s very rich, sort of like a thicker version of grape juice. It would be much better over a full glass of ice.
(NOTE: A kind writer wrote to inform me that the Ribena Blackcurrant Juice is concentrate, actually meant to be served with multiple parts water, like the item below. That explains a lot!)
Staying in the U.K., I next tried Robinsons’ brand of Lemon Barley Water Drink. I had to work on this one. While I’m used to simple instructions like, “Open lid, enjoy,” the Robinsons recipe requires four parts water, one part Robinson. It’s a bit sour for my taste, but they must be doing something right — it has been Wimbledon’s “Official Still Soft Drink” since the early ’30s. Barley water has many health benefits — it’s loaded with antioxidants and vitamins. It’s only mildly tastier than the lemon juice we buy in the States for cooking, the kind that comes in a lemon-sized plastic lemon (maybe we just need to add more water?). Like most barley water, one of its main uses is boiling it and making tea.
Carbonated water is popular in the international aisle. I grabbed the Naleczowianka 1.5-liter plastic bottle (from Poland) and a glass bottle of Mexican-made Topo Chico water. Though both taste like your run-of-mill carbonated water, I’ll give the edge to Topo Chico, but only because the Naleczowianka water was low sodium (though the Polish water was more refreshing and pure-tasting).
I’ve forever heard of Mexican Coca-Cola and the word is it’s the best, way better than American Coke. So I grabbed bottles of Coke, orange Fanta and Sprite. If anything, the Coke seems thicker than America’s and there’s a little bit of a flat taste to it. Conversely, Mexican Sprite and Fanta lack any qualities, flavor-wise, that distinguish themselves from their American versions.
I think the American cult of those who love Mexican Coke just like Spanish words on the their packaging, but there is a legit reason: People find it more natural-tasting, possibly because sugar is used to make it (not high-fructose corn syrup, like American Coke). Perhaps the Fanta and Sprite were also made with sugar, but, again, the difference in taste was negligible.
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