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Energy Drink Showdown: Red Bull Zero vs Sugarfree

October 16, 2013

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As a walking stereotype, I fuel my gaming and coding habits by ingesting scary quantities of energy drinks – I realized I was a lost cause when, a few years ago, I needed to have a pre-sleep can before I could relax. Now, while Red Bull may not be my energy drink staple (I am a fan of Frucor’s V), sometimes I like to slum it (don’t we all) and I will find myself cracking open the old winged bull. A few weeks ago, something strange happened – a new Red Bull variant turned up overnight, Red Bull Zero.

This, in itself, is actually a little odd if you ask me – unlike Coke Zero (which tastes quite different to Diet Coke – the latter was supposedly meant to appeal to women in the 80s), Red Bull already had a sugarfree form which is a pretty reasonable analogue to the normal formula. I’m not against artificially sweetened energy drinks, especially as the flavour du jour for many brands can be fairly accurately described as “diabetes with a hint of pineapple” (V “Master Chief” flavour – ew – has nearly 70g of sugar in a big can), so I thought I’d give it a shot. In the interests of science, I bought a can of the “normal” sugarfree kind as well, to produce an empirically accurate verdict.*

The pretender's can

The pretender’s can

Pour, Smell and Colour

Both Red Bull Zero and Red Bull Sugarfree have a sickly “tropical” flavour that fills the room as soon as you open the can. For years, I didn’t really isolate what it actually tastes like, until I had some Red Bull sorbet (yes, I really do have a lot of energy drinks), which was very convincingly pineapple flavour. Of course that’s not all that it tastes of, but beyond that, it’s mostly unidentifiable noise and vague berry flavour. Anyway, they smell identical – or at least, that’s what I initially thought. Once we poured them out, it was pretty clear that our initial assessment was wrong, Red Bull Zero is much, much syrupier, while Red Bull Sugarfree has a tartness to it that balances it out. Also, while the liquids were exactly the same shade of Energy Drink Yellow (why are they all this colour?), Red Bull Zero is noticeably less fizzy.

Taste

Red Bull tastes just like it smells, which means that Zero had a cloying sweetness and a slightly flat sensation while Sugarfree was much more refreshing, washing away the taste of artificial “fruit” flavour with extra fizz and more unidentifiable sourness. Strangely, Red Bull Zero was also noticeably thicker than Sugarfree. I mean, it wasn’t like leek and potato soup or something like that, but, while Sugarfree is about as thick as soda water, Zero was practically jelly in comparison**.

Science Zone

At the end of the day, you're drinking an Austrian guy's yellow fluid.

At the end of the day, you’re drinking an Austrian guy’s mysterious yellow liquid.

After chomping through the Zero (with a knife and fork) and washing it down with the rest of its cousin, I went to the back of the can to check the nutrition info. A couple of things stood out – first, Zero has three artificial sweeteners: aspartame (nutrasweet), sucralose (splenda) and acesulfame potassium (“Ace-K” in the food industry), while Sugarfree has only the latter two. It’s typical for artificially sweetened drinks to mix sweeteners, by doing so, the manufacturers are able to mask each components’ unpleasant bitter taste (which will happen at some point). Aspartame and Ace-K are the common mix, while sucralose is generally viewed as a better sugar analogue (it is chemically similar to sugar, only with some hydroxy groups replaced by chlorine) – but is much less frequently used (I assume due to cost, as it is under patent). What is atypical is seeing three different forms in there, and I suspect that adds to the mushy, oversweet flavour (and may also be part of the thickening effect). They also removed a significant amount of sodium citrate and all magnesium carbonate, both of which were acting as a buffer to the citric acid and carboxylic acids, which would explain both the lack of sourness and carbonation, respectively. Also removed is something called glucuronolactone, which was added to energy drinks to, well, how about I quote the Red Bull Malaysia website:

Detoxifying Function: It helps to eliminate waste substances from the body which are produced within the body (endogenous) or which are taken up from the environment (exogenous). Waste substances / toxins are bound by glucuronolactone, thereby made water-soluble so they can be easily excreted via the kidneys.

– A professional liar

Yes, tell me more about this mystical “detoxifying” chemical! Does it prevent government mind control through fluoridated water (exogenous) as well?! Actually looking at my review of Wicked, it looks like this damn chemical keeps cropping up. I find it amusing that they’ve quietly dropped it from the Zero formula though – while they may be aiming to ~*toxify*~ everyone, it’s probably just fallen out of favour. I guess it’s all acai berries or something equally tenuous now.

Verdict

Red Bull Zero is a pathetic cash in on the “zero” drink craze, which is surprising since I would’ve thought the Coca-Cola company would’ve sued the hell out of anyone who tried that. They have reformulated the product for the worse and if you disagree it is because you are wrong and not a true energy drink connoisseur like myself. Beyond that, the other parts are the same – it’s the same caffeine content (moderate), the same sugar content (zero), and approximately just a refresh of the older product. At the end of the day, I actually disliked Zero quite a lot – not because it’s bad per se (lord knows there are enough energy drinks that deserve that title), but because it was unnecessarily worse, as if they were just giving the finger to everyone out of spite. Typical.

* not empirical
** by that, I mean ‘about as thick as apple juice’

From → Food Reviews, Reviews

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