Unlike (or, perhaps too like) such previous attempts to breathe life into flagging product lines, what with the likes of Crystal Pepsi, the multicolored variants of Mountain Dew (LiveWire, Game Fuel, etc.), Slice, Pepsi Max and Pepsi Blue, PepsiCo introduced a new (if it could be called that) product into their Pepsi brand name family. What is it?

Throwback™

That's right, you can now purchase both Pepsi and Mountain Dew made with their 1970s/early 1980s formulas. That is, without high fructose corn syrup. Throwback products use actual cane sugar instead of corn syrup. I'm not sure what prompted PepsiCo to come up with such a marketing scheme, particularly since most people (well, Americans) who grew up in the early/mid 1980s don't remember what Pepsi and Mountain Dew were like back then, before the corn syrup revolution replaced all actual sugar with chemicals, probably don't know that mainstream soft drinks, particularly colas, were made with anything but corn syrup at all, on account of being too young to remember.

For reasons that aren't entirely clear, the Throwback products are available only in 12-pack cans and individual 20oz bottles.

The labeling on the bottle/can harkens back to the late 1970s/early 1980s, with the old Pepsi "smiley" logo and the very different hillbilly Mountain Dew design which reminds me of the five-and-dime stores in the non-restaurant portion of a Cracker Barrel franchise.

This marketing gimmick, perhaps in anticipation that the product will tank as all alternative drinks put out by PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have (with the possibly exception of PepsiCo's Mountain Dew Code Red), will last only until the end of February 2010, only about seven weeks from the time of this writing.

I haven't had a chance to try Throwback Mountain Dew yet, but I have tried the Pepsi variant. It tastes just like Pepsi, only a bit stronger and more heavily carbonated. It doesn't seem quite as sweet, which is odd because Pepsi with corn syrup seems cloyingly sweet to me. For that reason, I normally prefer Coke. So it would seem that the removal of high fructose corn syrup and the addition of pure cane sugar makes one thing clear: corn syrup is significantly sweeter than real sugar. I suspect this is why, apart from the rising cost of sugar, all the soft drink companies switched from sugar to corn syrup all those years ago.

That being the case, I'd say that people who don't remember what these drinks were like before corn syrup won't be interested in them after their first taste, but those old enough to recognize the difference will enjoy them. Good thing it's a limited promotion. So enjoy or revile it while you can.


Update (February 2011): Oddly enough, I've found Pepsi Throwback products in Michigan over a year after the above was written. I've been unable to ascertain whether these products are available in certain areas at certain times or whether they're now permanent products. I've also found them available in two-liter bottles, which I hadn't seen when I wrote the above. I'm not complaining, though. High fructose corn syrup is for sucks.

I've also had a chance to try Throwback Mountain Dew. It tastes exponentially more fruity than HFCS-based Mountain Dew. Like Throwback Pepsi, I prefer it to the non-Throwback product.


Update (March 2013): These products are still around. I read somewhere that PepsiCo will continue to make and distribute them for as long as a market exists for them.

Pepsi Throwback Hub
Throwback container designs

In actuality, Pepsi Throwback is not a diet soda of any kind. It does not contain saccharine, aspartame, or sucralose.

The only difference between Pepsi Throwback and Pepsi is that Pepsi is made using HFCS-55 as a sugar substitute. HFCS-55 is the most widely used version of high-fructose corn syrup in the United States and Canada and is linked by various medical professionals to obesity, hyperglycemia, and type-II diabetes.

Pepsi Throwback, on the other hand, simply replaces HFCS-55 with regular 'ol sugar. The name is derived from the fact that the original recipe of Pepsi, changed little until the early 1980's in the US, used more expensive cane sugar as a sweetener. Fans of Pepsi often enjoy this sugar formulation far more than its HFCS-55 substitute as sugar is said to give the drink more "snap" and less rebound thirstiness.

Since Pepsi Throwback was a limited-release beverage, released to coincide with the NFL Super Bowl in 2010, it is no longer distributed. "Leftover" cases can sometimes be found at Costco or other wholesale stores.

However, hard-core Pepsi aficionados know that they need only wait until Passover season to purchase Pepsi made with sugar instead of HFCS-55 since the CRC does not consider HFCS-55 a kosher ingredient. "Passover Pepsi" is (usually) easily identifiable by the bottler using yellow caps (on the 2l bottles) that have a K with a circle surrounding it printed on their tops. This author knows that the Coca-Cola Company uses the same procedure to identify Coke made with kosher sugar on their 2l bottles--yet has no idea if either Pepsi or Coca-Cola is available in its kosher (HFCS-55-free) form in 12oz cans...or how these are identified if so.

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