What fresh hell can this be! It's not often I feel the need to quote Dorothy Parker when researching this column. Over the years I have tasted some pretty horrible things, yet I have never felt the need to say it. Until now.
This drink was bought on the run while driving up north on a hot summer's day. All I saw were the words "lightly sparkling water" and immediately thought: "Mmmm. Bubbles and water equals refreshing." Had I been wearing my glasses I might have seen the small picture of berries and the words "mixed berry" but I didn't.
I downed a huge gulp, only to spit it out on the ground. This tasted like really sweet cough mixture mixed with something extremely bitter and I was left with a terrible taste, so terrible I had to rush back into the dairy and buy a proper bottle of water to clean it out. A closer look when I got home revealed the culprit - stevia.
Pure NZ Lightly Sparkling Water $2.29 for 500ml
Ingredients ( in order of greatest quantity first):
Carbonated spring water
Yay for spring water. We need more of it and we should drink lots of it.
Okay I'll accept that there are natural flavours in here because it says so but it tasted very unnatural to me. The flavour was quite overpowering and the smell even when the bottle was empty was still very strong days later. This could be a case of simply overdoing the natural flavouring.
This is sodium benzoate which is the sodium salt of benzoic acid. It occurs naturally but can also be made by chemical synthesis.
Acidity regulator (malic acid)
This occurs naturally in fruits and provides a tart taste.
Natural sweetener (stevia)
And here we have the new wonder sweetener. Stevia is a plant that looks similar to mint and is native to South America. It is about 300 times sweeter than sugar, but with no calories. The Japanese have been using it for years but it can have a very bitter aftertaste. Which is why you will often find it mixed with other artificial sweeteners or with erythritol in food products. Or as Coke did with their new Coke Life (the one in the green bottle) with sugar to reduce sugar consumption.
In this product you can clearly get the bitter aftertaste, but hey you don't get any calories - or do you? On the front label of this drink it clearly says "low calorie" and in the blurb on the side of the bottle it clearly says "no calorie" which is confusing. A look at the nutrition panel reveals that you will get five calories per serving.
Finding just water in the drinks cabinet of dairies and gas stations is becoming much harder to do, especially if, like me, you are half blind. The market has exploded in recent years and the urge to provide a water which is lightly flavoured is strong.
If you're looking for plain water remember to take your glasses and read the labels carefully.
If you want something with a little flavour make it yourself by chucking a couple of berries in the bottle and giving it a shake or squeezing lemon or orange in. And if you're going to drink something with stevia, you're probably best to get someone to taste it for you first.
• Low calorie or no calorie?
• Labelling unclear.
• Uses stevia as a sweetener.
• Tastes bad.