“A Refreshing Salad Drink”: Does Balsamic Vinegar and Sparkling Water Really Taste Like Healthy Coke?

Some swear it tastes like Coca-Cola, others choke in disgust.

A simple homemade concoction of sparkling water with a splash of balsamic vinegar has gone viral 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 over 5.9 million times. It’s since become a trend on TikTok and beyond, as people film their reactions while sipping their fizz and vinegar.

“I’m not kidding, it tastes like a coke,” said Jones, who used guava-flavored soda water to make the drink. “And it’s healthy, and it’s good for you.”

“It’s too much vinegar,” said Hoda Kotb, a USA Today host, who mixed it with a black cherry flavored soda, then gagged in disgust after her first sip.

Dietitian Dr Rosemary Stanton says, “It might be better for your waistline, but it might not be better for your teeth.

“But if you use flavored sparkling water and it has sugar in it, it’s bad for your teeth and your waistline.

“So the only thing you would avoid is caffeine, and that’s probably the least of the three problems with Coke.”

Oral health expert Dr. Mikaela Chinotti says that even though there is no sugar in sparkling water, the drink is still a problem. The acidity of balsamic vinegar and sparkling water wears away tooth enamel.

“I don’t know where they get the healthy part from,” she says. “Nowhere is anyone recommending drinking either of these things for your health, let alone mixing them.”

We took the Guardian Australia office on a round of ‘healthy coke’ with regular sparkling water to put it to the test. Verdict: it’s an acquired taste.

“The weirdest thing is I can actually understand why people think it tastes like Coke…all the bad things about Coke,” a staff member said. Of eight tasters gathered, he was the only one to see the resemblance. “There’s this weirdly artificial sweet aftertaste.”

“It tastes like a salad dressing, like a refreshing salad drink,” said another staff member, who happily polished the entire glass. “I would drink it if given to me, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to treat it to a treat.”

A few staff pursed their lips in disgust after the first few sips. “I thought initially it was pretty good, but now I think it’s disgusting,” one said. They were happy to see the rest of their glasses go down the drain.

Other staff would drink it again but recommend adding a little something extra. One made her homemade version, with a vanilla balsamic that “had been haunting my pantry for years.” Although she likened the result to a nice, alcohol-free spritz, she said “there’s a ton of sediment in the vinegar, so… [the drink] was disturbingly granular.

Balsamic vinegar is poured into a glass of sparkling water and ice.
Sommelier Samantha Payne said of the ‘Healthy Coke’ trend on TikTok: “My first reaction was ‘Oh God, why is that a thing?'” Photograph: Blake Sharp-Wiggins/The Guardian

Another staff member said, “It’s pretty good. Surprisingly good. It smells like balsamic vinegar, though. I would do it again, of course. I think it could do with something else, like a squeeze of lime.

If you want to try the drink for yourself, sommelier Samantha Payne suggests using sparkling water with a floral or fruity flavor, such as strawberry or raspberry.

“When you think from a food standpoint, we’ll be poaching strawberries and things like that in balsamic vinegar all the time, so we know that works really well.”

“Balsamic vinegar already has that caramelized sweetness built in,” Payne says. Which “gives it that gorgeous dark brown color and you get those really nice sweet caramel notes.”

But she’s unlikely to add it to a pairing menu anytime soon. “My first reaction was ‘oh lord, why is that a thing? “”

Payne’s verdict is that vinegar-based drinks aren’t new, especially when it comes to apple cider vinegar and “to some extent” kombucha. In Korea, drinking vinegars, made to be diluted like syrups, constitute a category of products in their own right.

“I just think for me personally there are better examples of ‘healthy’ Coke out there,” Payne says. “Which are made by real beverage producers.”

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