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Is Coke Better Than Pepsi? Here’s the Science of the Debate

Pepsi or Coke? The Pepsi Challenge. “…is Pepsi OK?”

The Pepsi vs Coke debate is one that existed since the brands themselves. And everyone has their favorite, and most take a hard-line approach to their opinions. That’s why the question “Is Pepsi OK?” draws ire from staunch Coke lovers and has become common enough to enter popular vernacular. It’s also part of why that Vine where a boy smugly pours Pepsi into a Coke glass was so popular in 2014.

Everyone knows about the Pepsi Challenge. Someone places two identical-looking drinks in front of an unsuspecting person and asks the participant to pick which drink they prefer. One cup contains Coke and one contains Pepsi. In the famous commercials, the participants reliably choose Pepsi. But is this a good test of opinion? No.

I don’t drink soda. Not for health reasons, I just don’t like soda in general. I have no stake in which is better, and I am not trying to prove one is better or worse. I’m just writing about something I think is interesting. So rest assured that this article is as unbiased as possible.

People may choose Pepsi in blind taste tests, but that does not reflect consumer activity. In 2018, Coca-Cola had a 43.3% market share of soft drinks in the U.S. PepsiCo had little over half of that, at 24.9%. This disparity in market share has also been relatively stable over the last decade. At least in terms of economic performance, Coke clearly wins.

Now onto the more important debate — taste. Pepsi wins blind taste tests, but people buy Coke more and overwhelmingly prefer it. Why? It’s sweeter. In blind taste tests for wine, the sweeter varieties consistently win over their drier counterparts. When judging on one sip, we are naturally drawn to sweeter things (there can be an evolutionary piece to this, as sugary foods help to store fat and avoid starvation, but I won’t get into that). The short tasting experiences of Pepsi Challenges advantage the company. But when drinking a full glass or can, people more often reach for a Coke because an overly sweet drink is unsustainable. For comparison, there is 39g of sugar in a standard 12 fl oz can of Coke. In a same size can of Pepsi, there is 41g.

Not only do the sugar contents vary, but so do the overall flavors. As Malcolm Gladwell describes in his book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” “Pepsi is also characterized by a citrusy flavor burst, unlike the more raisiny-vanilla taste of Coke. But that burst tends to dissipate over the course of an entire can.” So, Pepsi is sweeter and has a flavor that fades over time. It makes sense for it to win in blind tests, but overall, Coke is the clear winner. Gladwell says “Pepsi, in short, is a drink built to shine in a sip test,” but not a battle between brands.

  • Which do you prefer?

    • Coke
    • Pepsi

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Written by Abby Sacks

Student at the University of Virginia studying Psychology and Media Studies. When not writing or hanging out with my cat, can be found watching too much bad TV and being too old for TikTok but enjoying it anyway.

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