Inca Kola: Peru’s tasty soda

One fun aspect of travel is discovering cool local brands. When I visited Peru back in 1998 I first learned of Inca Kola, a neon-yellow soda produced there. I was curious so I ordered some at a cafe. The waiter was surprised and delighted that I chose his nation’s drink over Coca-Cola and told me proudly that it was the only local soda that had a bigger market share in its home country than Coke.

He brought me my Inca Kola and I took a sip. It was wonderful, an ultrasweet bubblegum flavor that my girlfriend couldn’t stand but I immediately fell in love with. I brought two liters back with me on the plane and served it to all my friends.

Peruvians are pretty proud of this soda, and that’s reflected by its advertising, with lines like La bebida del Perú (“The drink of Peru”) and ¡Es nuestra! (“It’s ours”). Sadly, the Coca-Cola corporation got its global tentacles wrapped around Inca Kola in 1999 and it’s no longer a completely independent company. Several Peruvian-owned rival brands have since taken up the banner.

I haven’t seen Inca Kola much outside of Peru. Some Latino shops in the U.S. stock it under the name Golden Kola, but it can be hard to find. Today I discovered it here in Santander, Spain, under its own name. The local long-distance phone bank, where people use Skype for a small fee rather than racking up huge phone bills to South America, had it for sale. Strangely, the shop is owned by Pakistanis. Santander is pretty cosmopolitan for such a small city!

After I bought some I went next door to a Chinese-owned convenience store, generally called Chinos here because most convenience stores are owned by the Chinese. As I picked up some beer the owner asked me how much I paid for my Inca Kola. Turns out he sells it for five centimos less. Live and learn.

In many ways the world is getting smaller, and that can be a good thing.

No Wrong Turns: Coca-Cola Removes Toxin from Mexican Drink

According to statistics from the Coca-Cola Company, Mexico consumes the most Coca Cola per capita in the world. I am not a huge fan of soft drinks in general, but when traveling my intake of them often goes up due to unreliable drinking water and juices made with questionable ice. Diet drinks, like Coke Zero, freak me out with all those weird additives listed in their ingredients, but many people prefer these drinks to the original…even though they have proven to be dangerous.

Last month, Coca Cola had to remove the artificial sweetener sodium cyclamate from the Mexican Coke Zero formula. The sweetener was banned from the US in 1969 because it appeared to increase the odds of developing bladder cancer in rats during testing. Oddly enough, sodium cyclamate is readily found in many Canadian (such as Sugar Twin) and European products.

The sodium cyclamate was replaced with aspartame and other fake sweeteners, because they are undoubtedly so much better for you. Coke refuses to admit that the sodium cyclamate was removed due to the danger it posed to consumers and instead said that this alteration will make Coke Zero taste more like the original Coca-Cola Classic.

The director of communications for Coca-Cola Mexico stated that Coke Zero has sold extremely well since being introduced the Mexican market over a year ago despite the controversy over the sodium cyclamate. How could Coca-Cola not do well in a country where the people consumed over 500 Coke products per person last year!

Coca-Cola even launched a new pro-Coke Zero campaign to support this new version with a slogan that reads, “Everything can get better.”

I think “better” would be removing all the artificial sweeteners in their products…I think I’ll be sticking with the Coke Classic or better yet, bottled water.

“No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.