Recently, the Health Writers Association of Nigeria (HEWAN) held its annual workshop under the sponsorship of Coca- Cola Nigeria Limited. The Scientific and Regulatory Director, Central, East &West Africa, Fred Chiazor, addressed burning questions consumers frequently ask about the brand during in one of the interactive session with journalists in Lagos. CHIOMA UMEHA (HEALTH EDITOR) was there:
Five Alive juice is fortified with Vitamins. So, why is Coke not fortified?
I do not see any fortification done in Five- Alive. The vitamin you see in Five- Alive is Vitamin C which is from citrus fruit and citrus is the source of the Vitamin C. It is not that Vitamin C is added to it. So, Vitamin C there is not artificial but natural. Fortification means you have to deliberately add some nutrients to what you are producing, but it is not the case. For Coke, it is not fortified too, though, sugar is a fortified nutrient. But we should not get confused that Coke is intentionally fortified. It is sugar we see and buy at the market that is fortified.
Invariably, Coke provides you with varieties. It does not limit your choices. It is up to you to make an informed choice based on the provided varieties. That is why we always preach varieties. So, each of these varieties –products have various functions. A glass of Five- Alive is different from Coke and vice versa. Coke is a refreshing drink. When you are thirsty and take a bottle of Coke, it refreshes you. You see that it is different from a glass of orange. Each (Coke or Five- Alive) has its function. Take for instance, Coke Zero has low calories for those who are scared of sugar. Coke and Five- Alive are different products. We cannot fortify Coke just because we want it like juice. It all depends on what individual likes.
No system is fool-proof no matter how automated it is. About 60,000 bottles are produced per minute. If you have 60,000 and you have only one bottle having that problem, then it is okay! But there is another side which we don’t like to make so much noise about: There are some people that are funny especially those looking for litigation purposes. We have adulterators outside there.
These are people who manually corked these bottles for all kinds of reasons. But, because we are Coca Cola, we won’t say if you have a complaint, we will throw it away and say, it is not ours. We will follow it through to unravel the date code, batch number to make sure it is actually from our plant. And if need be, we compensate as required. What we are saying is, there is a possibility of having problem from the plant but it is one in a million.
How is it that something that has sugary taste like Coke Zero does not contain sugar?
It is very possible. I said earlier that there is no food that is artificial but you can have artificial sweetener. Sweetener is not a food, it is an ingredient. We have artificial and non-artificial sweeteners. Sweeteners we are talking about include aspartame, acesulfame-K, sucralose, saccharin and so on. In Coke Zero, we have aspartame and Acesulfame-K. Because these are non-nutritive, they do not have any calorific value. For instance, aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar and that is why it is possible to have that sugary taste. But you cannot use one sweetener to get the sugary taste we are talking about.
That is why we combine it with acesulfame-K which is another non-nutritive sweetener. A combination of the two gives you a taste close to sugar. If you use only one of them at that same level, you will get an after-bitter taste. When something is too sweet, it turns to bitterness. The two sweeteners do not have calories like sugar.
Is Coke in PET bottle the same as in glass bottle and can? Consumers’ perception is that they are not the same. They said the one in PET is better than the one in bottle.
Coke is Coke all over the world. The Coke you drink here is the same as one made in US or London or all over the world. The difference you will find mostly is in the source of the sugar we use. Whether you like it or not, sugar has its taste. The source of our sugar here is cane sugar. Over there in US, it is beet sugar.
So, what we are saying is that the formulation of Coke does not vary with packaging. It is the same formulation we use. We cannot afford to have a different formulation. Now, because they are different packages, they go through different storage conditions. Remember, the one in bottles does not have the same shelf life as one in PET. Why? Pet is lighter so the shelf-life is about four months while the bottle is about one year.
Now, because PET is fresher and has shorter shelf-life, you think it is better than bottle because the bottle is older. Remember, it depends on when the bottled one is produced and when you taste the product. Also, mind you, ‘Best Before’, does not mean that it is no longer safe for consumption. What it means is that you will get the best taste before the stated date, but it is still wholesome.
What is the position of Coca Cola on the rumour circulating on social media that if you heat up Coke to a certain level, it turns to coal tar. Another one is that Coke is so acidic that it can shine toilet?
Whether you like it or not, Coke contains acid. So does juice, orange and so on. You can call it natural or not, it is still acidic. The point we are making here is that if you use certain level of orange to go and clean that toilet, it will clean that toilet because it contains acid. I won’t say Coke won’t shine the toilet, it will just as orange or lemon would. What is causing that shining is the acid in it.
No matter what people tell you about the acid in Coke, know that the acid in Coke is lower than the acid in the stomach. The one in Coke is about 2.5 PH, but the acid content in your stomach (gastric acid) is about 1.5 PH. That is to say that the acid in the stomach is stronger than acid in Coke. But just as the stomach has acid, it also has neutralizers which neutralize the acid in the stomach before everything gets to the small intestine.
Now on the question of when you heat Coke, it turns to coal tar: It is the presence of the colourants and acid in Coke that they are reacting to. Remember as I said earlier, the stomach has neutralizers. That is why people have been drinking Coke for over 100 years and no one has died from drinking Coke. By time our generation goes, Coke will continue.
There was a case of a colleague who each time after taking Coke, she usually visits the toilet more frequently (stooling). What could have been the cause?
It is a matter of perception. There is really nothing special in Coke that will warrant going to toilet as often as stated. Coke has been there for over 130 years and no negative effect of that nature has been recorded.
How many of us take Coke and go to toilet? Everybody’s system is different that is why he would experience that. I think it is peculiar to that person. Maybe that person has something about Coke in his head. You know when we have psychological feeling about something; it is bounds to affect us.
This story was published in Newswatch Times on September 10, 2015.