People who have been dieting for weight loss for years can convince themselves of everything. They can be convinced that frozen fruit puree tastes like ice cream and lean cuisines can adequately approach any edible dish. And so it’s hardly surprising that a slew of TikTok wellness creators seem to legitimately believe that a combination of seltzer water and balsamic vinegar can taste like a Coke.
Over the past two days, the hashtag #healthycoke has gotten over 1.5 million views on the social media platform. It’s unclear to me where the trend originated – Google’s top result for “healthy coke with balsamic vinegar” is a 2016 recipe from a supplement-shilling doctor. But there is a slew of TikTokers from all walks of life trying their own versions of the new trendy drink, with user @mandyvjones accumulate 4.7 million views (at time of publication) for her video who credits his Pilates instructor as inspiration. Of course, pouring vinegar into seltzer water isn’t really such a strange idea: shrubs and kombucha are popular, and vinegar isn’t a particularly rare ingredient in cocktails. Maybe calling this concoction “Coke” is a response to the sugar load. dirty soda fashion from earlier this year, but either way, there’s no denying that the idea of finding a “healthier” soda option is clearly appealing to many TikTok users.
Because I can not resist the lure of a weird TikTok trend, I decided I needed to see whether or not these influencers were onto something. My own version of this insanely popular concoction was simple: a few sips of Costco balsamic vinegar (it’s imported!) and a Topo Chico. Most “recipes” on TikTok call for flavored seltzer water, but we work with what we have. And because Topo Chico is a superior mineral water, I assumed it would serve as a strong backbone for a simpler version of this drink. After opening the bottles and pouring the mixture together, however, it became immediately clear that this was not going to be an addition to my soft drink repertoire.
The combination of seltzer and balsamic vinegar visually resembles a Coke. It’s nice and bubbly, and suitably sweet, and I was pleasantly surprised by the taste, which was remarkably complex. I couldn’t bring myself to add two whole tablespoons of vinegar, as some recipes suggest, which meant the mixture was still light in flavor while retaining the assertive sparkle of Topo Chico.
But since TikTok kept insisting it was a “healthy coke” alternative, I couldn’t get that comparison out of my head. Instead of just positioning this as a healthy summertime sip, insisting it’s an upgraded version of Coke only sets up what could otherwise be an enjoyable drink for complete and utter failure. The sour notes of vinegar come nowhere near the weird chemical flavors of America’s favorite soda. While there’s definitely less sugar in this concoction than a regular Coke, it somehow manages to stay cloying and overbearing.
The worst, however, is the smell. No one wants their drink to smell like a bottle of salad dressing, and this combination is reminiscent of salad dressing, not the spicy, slightly fruity aroma that everyone associates with Coke. As the mug rested on my desk, almost completely full, the smell only intensified. It reminded me of those little dishes of vinegar and dish soap that I sometimes take out in the summer to catch fruit flies, not something I would want to serve to my dinner guests.
And really, why would I care? The soda market is more interesting than ever right now, even if you’re looking to get health benefits from your favorite soft drink. Instead of running bubbly vinegar water, I could calm my brain with CBD and adaptogens or supposedly feed my gut with probiotics. But mostly, if I wanted to drink a soda with less sugar, I’d go back to good old Diet Coke, chemicals and all.