In the proud tradition of uniquely flavored items released during the holiday season, 7Up Plus joined us around October of 2004. Along with such wonderments as snot flavored jelly beans, turkey flavored soda, and eggnog flavored liquor, we got this wonderous rotten egg flavored soft drink.
Wait, maybe that wasn't intentional.
Walking through the soda aisle in my local grocery store, I was looking for a two liter to use over the coming day. In my younger years, I drank mostly milk, finishing about two gallons of the mildly sweet stuff a week. In college, my drinking habits changed as I packed most of my meals, and soda became more easily available than milk, especially once I moved out of the dorms. It didn't help when the price of milk rose dramatically in 2004.2,12 The first portable solution available was soda from a vending machine which ran $1.25 for a 20 oz drink. Meanwhile, a two liter (67 fl. oz.) of pop cost between 75¢ and $1.25.
For comparison, a gallon of milk (128 fl. oz) fluctuated up and down a quarter from $4. But there was no convenient way to carry around even a half gallon of milk. Thermoses have a fragile glass lining that I'd shattered before. There were 16 oz plastic milk bottles with screw on tops for $1.19, but their flavor was damaged by being kept in a warm bag all day. In the fight between convenience, low price, and healthy, low price was the perennial victor, and so I found myself...
Walking through the soda aisle these concerns were doing battle in my mind. Skimming the dozens of available brands what did I spy but a soda bottle proclaiming "Fruit Juice - Calcium - Vitamin C", colored in quite the lovely pink. Turning over the bottle to the nutritional information led to only mild disillusion.
"Mixed Berry 7-Up Plus"
"Fruit Juice - Calcium - Vitamin C"
(contains 5% Juice - low sodium)
Serving Size: 8 fluid ounces
Total Fat 0g 0%
Sodium 130mg 5%
Total Carbohydrates 2g 1%
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 10%
*Precent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 caloried diet
Carbonated water, apple juice from concentrate,
Contains less than 2% of:
calcium gluconate, calcium lactate, ascorbic acid (vitamin c),
sucralose (splenda ® a non nutritive sweetener)
acesulfame potassium (sunett ® brand, a non-nutritive sweetener)
fruit and vegetable juices (for color),
malic acid, potassium sorbate, sodium hexametaphosphate, and
calcium disodium EDTA (to protect flavor)
Bottled under the authority of Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc., Plano, TX 75024
(Information also available online.)5
Using the same scale, a single 8 oz glass of orange juice provides 100% of Vitamin C for the day.1 Less impressively, milk provides about 25% of one's calcium.3:pp.20-21 Still, at the low, low opportunity cost of 99¢ plus tax, I clearly had no choice but to purchase a bottle.
Upon arriving home for the evening, I commenced the ritual of soda opening. First, a few seconds of careful drumming of the fingers on the outside of the bottle, to calm the carbonation gods and coax them back within the liquid matrix. Second, a careful twist of the cap to release the few still-angered titans of carbonation, listening to their spiteful hiss. And third — *sniff* *sniff*. Oh dear carbonation gods, what is that?
Each time I opened the bottle to take another draught, the smell of rotten eggs wafted up and made me cringe a little. On occasion, I had the foresight to hold my breath prior to opening the bottle. My breath held, the soda tasted like, well, carbonated apple juice with berry flavoring. And then my breath would escape, I would inhale, and a pinch of rotten egg purée would be added to the flavor. Despite the strong sulfurous smell, I did consume the entire two liter that evening. After all, I did pay tax. But the smell persisted to the very end of the bottle. I wondered for quite some time what could have caused such a smell.
My first suspicion, being as I'm not a large fan of diet drinks, was the artificial sweeteners. In the search for a low-calorie, good-tasting soft drink to cash in on dieters in general and adopters of the latest Atkins craze in particular many products have been fielded with a variety of artificial sweeteners. One of the most common sweeteners in drinks is sucralose. Sucralose is a no calorie sweetner with a nice taste but a bit of a bitter aftertaste.9 To combat this, it is often combined with small amounts of other sweetners, such as Nutrasweet®, corn syrup, or good old-fashioned sugar.
Acesulfame potassium, aka Acesulfame K, is one of those other sweeteners. It's been around in food in the U.S. since 1988. However, the FDA approves additives and drugs for specific uses11 so it wasn't until 1998 that acesulfame potassium, aka Sunett®, became legal for use in drinks in the United States.9, 10 Being a habitual reader of nutritional information, I've noticed acesulfame potassium in several products I've consumed in the past few years. But 7Up Plus is the first case I've tasted of acesulfame potassium in a carbonated beverage. Could the smell I experienced be due to the combination of carbonation and acesulfame potassium, aka prime suspect?
Rotten eggs and natural gas gain their smell from hydrogen sulfide which is naturally evolved by bacteria in the first case and ethyl mercaptan generated by man in the second. Both feature a hydrogen-sulfur bond which is thought to trigger this sort of smell.7,8 There is sulfur in acesulfame potassium, as one might guess from its name. But it's in an SO2 group, which is firmly attached to an aromatic ring. Careful tests were done on acesulfame K prior to its approval by the FDA, and under anything approaching normal pH and temperatures it doesn't chemically break down.6 In addition, it is noted by the FDA as an odorless powder.6 All of my research led me to believe that this was not the source of that weird smell.
Further, the very smell defied belief. A product sold exclusively as a diet food might turn a profit while containing an olfactory assault with every swallow, but it was simply too low cost to be intended as a diet food. And the marketing was decidedly mainstream. That is, marketing aside from the very pink color of the soda and its packaging. Should Cadbury Schweppes's PR be believed, 7Up Plus is aimed at women aged 25-49, who would likely mind a terrible smell.4 One commercial for 7Up Plus involves two women enjoying themselves at a spa, calmly reclining and treating men as objects. Clearly, these are woman who would not tolerate hydrogen sulfide.
Having come to a dead end in research, I was left with only one option to apease my continuing curiousity. Walking down to my local grocery store, trudging through the soda aisle, I found the product, now marked up to $1.25 (plus tax). I purchased one two liter, went through the standard soda opening ritual. Drumming, twisting the lid, hissing, *sniff* *sniff* Hmmm, berries., close the lid, more drumming, twisting the lid all the way off. Still...berries.
I bought a third two liter. Anticlimatically, it smelled of rotten-eggless berries. What was the cause of the smell in the original, malgotten bottle? My contention is that some weirdness occurred with the carbonation machine at the bottler one day, and perhaps it was no more widespread than one or two bottles. I guess I got a holiday special.
- Tips for Getting Vitamin C, Leslie, Mitchell, 2000 June 19, http://my.webmd.com/content/article/17/1668_50597.htm, accessed 2005 March 08
- Consumer Price Index Summary, January 2005, Bureau of Land Statistics, 2005 February 23, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cpi.nr0.htm, accessed 2005 March 08
- USDA Nutritive Value of Foods, Gebhardt, Susan E., Thomas, Robin G., United States Depratment of Agriculture, 2002 October, http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/Data/HG72/hg72_2002.pdf, accessed 2005 March 08
- 7 UP PLUS Makes a Splash With Breakthrough Advertising Campaign..., Press Release, 2004 October 20, http://www.dpsu.com/nr_7upplus_oct2004.html, accessed 2005 March 08
- 7UPPLUS.com, Nutritional Information, Macromedia Flash required, http://www.7up.com/Plus/index.aspx, accessed 2005 March 09
- Acesulfame Potassium, Twenty-fifth report of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, Geneva, Wld Hlth Org. techn. Rep. Ser., 669, 1981 April 1, http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v16je02.htm, accessed 2005 March 08
- How we smell - new theory reported in Elemental Discoveries, Bradley, David, 2004 March, http://www.sciencebase.com/elemsmell.html, accessed 2005 March 09
- Researchers identify new sulfur-containing scent molecules in sweat, Firmenich SA Press Release, 2004 October 7, http://www.news-medical.net/?id=5398, accessed 2005 March 09
- Sugar Substitutes: Americans Opt for Sweetness and Lite, Henkel, John, FDA Consumer, 1999 November-December Issue, Revised 2004 December, http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/1999/699_sugar.html, accessed 2005 March 09
- New artificial sweetener approved for U.S. diet drinks, Nutrinova Press Release, 1998 June 30, http://www.archive.hoechst.com/english/news/98/01132600.html, accessed 2005 March 09
- Food Additives, Purdue University, 2003 April 21, http://www.four-h.purdue.edu/foods/Food%20additives%20frame1.htm, accessed 2005 March 08
- Dairy Production and Trade Developments, United States Department of Agriculture, 2004 December 22, http://www.fas.usda.gov/dlp/circular/2004/04-12Dairy/dairyprd.htm, accessed 2005 March 08