Some wear it tastes just like Coca-Cola, others gag in disgust.
A simple homemade concoction of sparkling water with a splash of balsamic vinegar has become a viral experiment on social media.
The “healthy Coke” recipe was originally shared by TikTok user Amanda Jones, who said she learned it from a pilates instructor. In three days, the video has been viewed more than 5.9m times. It has since become a trend on TikTok and beyond, as people film their reactions while sipping their fizz and vinegar.
“I am not joking you, it tastes just like a Coke,” said Jones, who used guava-flavored sparkling water to make the drink. “And it’s healthy, and it’s good for you.”
“That’s too much vinegar,” said Hoda Kotb, a USA Today show host, who mixed it with a black cherry-flavored soda, then gagged in disgust after her first sip.
Dietician Dr Rosemary Stanton says: “It may be better for your waistline, but it may not be any better for your teeth.
“But if you’re using a flavored soda water and there’s sugar in it, then it’s bad for your teeth and your waistline.
“Then the only thing you’d be avoiding is the caffeine, and that’s probably the least of the three problems with Coke.”
Dr Mikaela Chinotti, an oral health specialist, says even if there is no sugar in the sparkling water, the drink is still a problem. The acidity in both balsamic vinegar and carbonated water wears down tooth enamel.
“I don’t know where they’re getting the healthy part from,” she says. “Nowhere does anybody recommend to drink either of these things for your health, let alone mixing them together.”
We made the Guardian Australia office a round of “healthy Coke” with plain carbonated water to put it to the test. The verdict: it’s an acquired taste.
“The strangest part is that I can actually understand why people think it tastes like Coke … all the bad parts of Coke,” said one staff member. Out of eight corralled tasters, he was the only one to see the resemblance. “There is that weirdly artificial sweet aftertaste.”
“It tastes like salad dressing, like a refreshing salad drink,” said another staff member, who happily polished off the whole glass. “I would drink if it was given to me, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to make it as a treat.”
A few staff members pursed their lips in disgust after the first few sips. “I thought initially it tasted quite nice, but now I think it’s disgusting,” said one. They were happy to see the rest of their glasses poured down the sink.
Other staff members would drink it again, but recommend adding a little something extra. One made her version at home, with a vanilla balsamic that had been “haunting my pantry for years”. While she liked the result to a pleasant, alcohol-free spritz, she said “the vinegar had a ton of sediment in it, so … [the drink] was disturbingly gritty”.
Another staff member said: “It’s pretty good. Surprisingly good. Smells like balsamic vinegar, though. I would do it again, sure. I reckon it could do with something else though, like a squeeze of lime.”
If you want to try the drink for yourself, sommelier Samantha Payne suggests using sparkling water that has a floral or fruit flavour, like strawberry or raspberry.
“When you think from a food perspective, we poach strawberries and things like that in balsamic vinegar all the time, so we know that works really well.”
“Balsamic vinegar already has that inbuilt caramelised sweetness,” Payne says. Which “gives it that gorgeous, dark brown color and you get those really nice sort of caramel sweet notes.”
But she is unlikely to add it to a pairing menu soon. “My initial reaction was ‘oh lord, why is this a thing?’”
Payne’s verdict is that vinegar-based drinks are not new, especially when it comes to apple cider vinegar and “to some extent” kombucha. In Korea, drinking vinegars, made to be diluted like cordials, are an entire product category.
“I just think for me personally, there are better examples of ‘healthy’ Coke out there,” Payne says. “That are made by actual beverage producers.”