June 27, 2022



Why Mexican Coke has a cult following

4 min read

Coca-Cola touts its global presence with ads that show off its eponymous signature product, known as Coke, in nearly every corner of the world. But the soft-focus glimpses of joy from assorted cultures don’t let on that the formula for the beverage sometimes changes from country to country. Most famously, Mexican Coke and domestically produced Coke products in the U.S. differ in a very major way that, according to some, affects the flavor of the drink.

Taco shop snobs, food-savvy writers and Instagram over-sharers all make noise that the Mexican version of Coke is superior to the standard American soda, paying a premium for the aesthetics and taste of the imported version. Other people simply crave the nostalgic taste of the version of the ubiquitous soft drink that they grew up with or prefer the Mexican style for health reasons—scientifically backed or not—and choose to avoid the ingredient that distinguishes the U.S. recipe for Coca-Cola from that of its southern neighbor.

So what makes Mexican Coke so special, and why do many Coca-Cola fans claim that it reigns supreme to the standard American version? Let us explain.

What is Mexican Coke?

Taco trucks and Mexican restaurants around the U.S. often specifically tout that they carry Mexican Coke versus American Coke—or even both—because the porous border and constant cultural exchange made people keenly aware of the two similar—but not the same—styles.

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Coca-Cola started out in Atlanta, Georgia, developed in the late 19th century for people looking to avoid alcohol. By the 1920s, the company already started bottling the beverage in Mexico, and by the 1970s a major advertising push made the drink ubiquitous around the country.

But in 1980, a schism occurred that created the difference between Mexican Coke and American Coke: while the Mexican version remained consistent, featuring the same sugar as it always had, the American recipe changed to using high-fructose corn syrup to sweeten it. While the company has always claimed that the flavor remains the same, a vocal group of passionate Mexican Coke fans claims they can not only taste the difference between Mexican Coke vs. American Coke, but that the former tastes truer and better.

Even though people squabble over the subtle flavor variances, the most identifiable distinction between Coke from the two countries is in the vessel. Most American Coke comes in plastic bottles or metal cans, but Mexican Coke in the U.S. always comes in 12-ounce glass bottles.

Cans of Coca-Cola seen on a store shelf.

Cans of Coca-Cola seen on a store shelf.

SOPA Images/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

Do Mexican Coke and American Coke taste different?

The ingredients listed on American Coke starts with carbonated water and high-fructose corn syrup, while Coca Cola labeled “Hecho en Mexico” (made in Mexico) starts with carbonated water and sucrose—ordinary sugar. All the other ingredients are the same, including how much caffeine is in Coke from the two countries.

In a taste test, Serious Eats found a discernable difference in the flavor of the two types of Coke, but despite the oft-repeated premise that Mexican Coke is better than American Coke, results showed that most people preferred the corn syrup version. Still, it noted, the flavor isn’t everything: the same experiment showed that people prefer the feel of the glass bottles, and some people choose to avoid high-fructose corn syrup. The only American Coke product that uses traditional sugar is a seasonal product available during the Jewish holiday of Passover, when observers eschew a number of foods, including corn syrup.

A close-up of Coca-Cola in a glass.

A close-up of Coca-Cola in a glass.

Pornchai Jaito / EyeEm/Getty Images/EyeEm

Where to find Mexican Coke

Many Mexican restaurants as well as trendy mid-range American ones feature Mexican Coke on their beverage menus. When Coca-Cola first started importing the Mexican-made version into the U.S., it did so to cater to people who grew up across the border with the sugar version, so it mostly showed up in small shops in heavily immigrant communities. But by the early 2000s, larger grocery stores started selling it and it became widely available around the country. These days, diehard fans can now order it from Amazon.  

What about Diet Coke vs. Coca-Cola Light?

Even though they don’t contain the sugars that define the standard versions of Coke, the company’s calorie-free versions also differ on each side of the border. In the U.S., Diet Coke uses only aspartame to sweeten the drink, while Coca Cola Light, often just called Coca Light, uses a mix of sweeteners. Both are different from Coke Zero or Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, a product designed to mimic traditional Coke more closely.

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