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I Can’t Shut Up About ‘Healthy Coke’

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

I am a yucky girl who enjoys gross things. Left unsupervised, I would subsist solely on sour beer that verges on barf-y, ripe kombucha, and hearty spoonfuls of lemon curd. My taste is bad, but I know it is bad, which actually makes it very good. Thus, it was only a matter of time before I tried the “healthy Coke” recipe currently ravaging TikTok.

Earlier this week, Amanda Jones (@mandyvjones) posted a TikTok about a “healthy alternative” to Coca-Cola that was puzzling, to say the least. She says she learned about the drink from her Pilates instructor, which makes everything I’m about to say self-explanatory. Per her recipe, you add a few splashes of balsamic vinegar — yes, the brown, stinky salad-dressing base — to a glass with ice. Then, you top it off with your sparkling water of choice; she uses a guava LaCroix. Jones promises the concoction tastes “just like a Coke.”

To her and her Pilates instructor’s credit, it does look a lot like Coke. It’s brown and fizzy and seems like it should be refreshing. That said, I’m pretty sure if you mixed any dark liquid with a clear carbonated drink, it would also look a lot like Coca-Cola — 7 Up with some juice from a can of black beans, hot tar and a mango Bubly. Regardless, over just a few days, Jones’s TikTok has amassed 5.1 million views and inspired hundreds if not thousands of videos under the hashtag #healthycoke, mostly from people baffled by the idea that this pungent vinegar could magically become a sweet soda.

“Healthy Coke” is not to be confused with dirty soda. Dirty soda, which also had a brief and delicious chokehold on TikTok, is an equally confounding mixture of milk (or coffee creamer) and Coke. It’s particularly popular in Utah, where there’s a sizable Mormon population and, in turn, a sizable population of people looking for alternatives to coffee and alcohol. I tried and enjoyed this milky soda beverage, as my generally indiscriminate palate is wont to do. However, healthy Coke is not dirty soda. It is its sinister older sister. Where dirty soda was overly sweet and vaguely Christian, healthy Coke is self-flagellation masquerading as wellness. Dirty soda is meant to taste delicious. Healthy Coke, by name, is meant to taste healthy.

Before making my own healthy Coke, I wanted a bit more guidance. Jones’s initial video didn’t provide exact measurements, and I didn’t want to completely ruin my esophagus with vinegar. One company that specializes in olive oil and imported balsamic vinegar has a similar recipe for balsamic soda that appears to predate the TikTok recipe. (Outside of its Pilates-teacher lore, it’s unclear what the exact origins of this “healthy Coke” are. However, it’s reminiscent of a strawberry-balsamic shrub, which is typically added to prosecco or liquor, or a switchel, which is made with ginger, vinegar, water, and honey.) This company’s balsamic-soda recipe calls for one to two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar added to sparkling mineral water. Because I am a scared little baby, I started with a half-tablespoon of balsamic vinegar over a glass of ice and added plain seltzer water until it resembled Coke.

And, folks? It was … fine. It was light and refreshing in the way sparkling beverages are usually light and refreshing, but you could definitely taste the vinegar. I added some lime juice because I didn’t have any lemon juice — improvisational queen! — which did make it a little more tolerable. I also tried a combination of balsamic vinegar and pamplemousse LaCroix, which admittedly was a bit better. The citrus-adjacent flavor made me briefly forget what I was drinking before being hit with the subtle, sour aftertaste of balsamic vinegar. To be clear, I say this as a compliment. This balsamic-seltzer combination tasted, as its ingredients imply, like balsamic vinegar mixed with sparkling water. It was not greater than the sum of its parts, but its parts, when mixed, are not a completely repulsive combination.

Does it taste “just like a Coke”? Absolutely not. The flavor of Coca-Cola is intentionally hard to pin down. It kind of tastes like the eponymous kola nut combined with citrus, cinnamon, and vanilla, but that’s about as helpful as saying “chocolate tastes like chocolate.”  The flavor of this “healthy Coke” is, as mentioned above, extremely identifiable. Also, Coke and its ilk serve a variety of purposes: a quick caffeine hit, a reliable mixer for cocktails, a reason to live. This balsamic-vinegar spritz is none of the above. It could be a fun mocktail, depending on what you consider fun. It could also be a “healthy” alternative to Coke if you’re simply looking for a drink with less sugar. But you know what also has less sugar than regular Coca-Cola and doesn’t have a vinegar aftertaste? A lot of things — sparkling water, still water, Diet Coke.

I found this balsamic-vinegar drink weirdly pleasant, though I have no intention of ever recreating it. If you aren’t entirely opposed to apple-cider-vinegar drinks or shrub cocktails, you probably won’t hate “healthy Coke.” Still, for legal purposes, I will not go on record as saying this drink is actually “good.”

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I Can’t Shut Up About ‘Healthy Coke’