Coke Resto Dispenser - ©

‘Spicy’ Sprite At McD’s: Is It All In Your Mind?

I have experienced the situation described in this morning’s post several times in my life and wondered if others have also. Now I know: They have. But the stranger angle on this mystery remains: Others – maybe many others – say they haven’t. Or maybe they can’t. But, as usual, I have a theory…

Just one of the soda flavours cursed with the ability to occasionally taste
like motor oil or paint. Lots of theories; no (stated) cause, yet.
Fortunately, the canned version is made in a totally
different way, with stiffer quality control…

I recently read a story on the Net which related the account of an online poster concerning a baffling experience with a popular Soda Fountain beverage. The post, which appeared on Eat This – Not That last week, and was echoed on Yahoo! Style, all started when somebody on Twitter posted that they had suffered the worst taste experience ever at a McDonald’s where the Sprite dispenser on the fountain machine apparently malfunctioned, serving him (and, we assume, other patrons that day) a cup of weird-tasting Sprite.

I hasten to observe that the problem can surface with any flavour of fountain drink, not just Sprite.

About the Sprite, though: the original poster complained that the beverage he/she received tasted ‘spicy’ and very strong. I’ve heard this abominable beverage described many ways before, but never as ‘spicy’. Anyway…

The crux

I first had one of these Soda ‘hot shots’ at an Arby’s several years ago. It was a totally-serve-yourself location where they give you an empty cup at the counter and you are responsible for pouring (blending, mucking up) your own beverage at a customer-side fountain. This can be fun, and has (I’m told) been the start of a beautiful friendship between various unlikely suitors such as Coke plus Fanta Orange reported in the fan community. But when something goes wrong, all Hell can break loose.

“The observation started making the rounds on social media in 2017, and many have since agreed that the McDonald’s Sprite is indeed … funky, to say the least,” Mora Dominko wrote in her Yahoo! post. ” ‘Electronic’ and ‘spicy’ have often been used to describe this specific version of Sprite, while some say it has the ability to hit you like alcohol.”

Some commentors on Twitter have had other, harsher things to say:

“That Sprite from McDonald’s can probably fry fish,” one speculated.

“Why does McDonald’s Sprite burn so good?” another wondered.

My observations on ‘overstated’ fountain beverages

I can see why one of the posters above hinted that the yucky Sprite tastes like ‘oil’. Others have described the edge on the stuff as ‘alcoholic’ or ‘metallic’. The way paint smells.

My first guess as to what caused the ‘off flavour’ of my Coke that first time at Arby’s was that the syrup the supplier had sold the resto operator to flavour the fountain drink had been made too strong. Virtually all fountain fizzies have been made the same way since time immemorial – as in, when it all started, over 100 years ago – when real soda jerks actually mixed your drink for you by adding a teaspoon of flavour syrup to a glass of plain Soda Water. Now, fizzy (CO2-laced) water is mixed in the dispenser nozzle with a pre-determined amount of syrup as it flows down into your cup. It’s hard to say whether something like that is going on without calling a service tech and waiting the hours (or maybe days) it takes for them to get there.

The ‘too strong’ explanation could also have been true if the dispenser nozzle was broken or jammed, allowing too much syrup into the blend as your drink was being poured. But that would be easy enough to confirm.

Many folks opined as some foreign substance (such as cleaning chemicals or fountain machine lubricants or something like that) had contaminated the dispenser head. But that was quickly ruled out as the cause of the problem.

It could also be even a relatively small overdose of artificial sweetener; anyone who has a sensitivity to the taste of non-sugar sweeteners will tell, those taste metallic or ‘chemicaly’ to them…

What makes it all so suspicious?

In most cases, my companions on several trips to the various Fast Food joints where I’ve had ‘bad’ fountain drinks have insisted that they can’t taste anything ‘off’ about what was in my cup at all. Which brings me to postulate that, like some folks – called supertasters – may be involved. Those rare individuals, who may be able to taste certain chemicals and foods that others can’t, are genetically endowed with the ability to taste certain exotic components of soft drink syrups because they have been endowed genetically with several times more taste buds than the rest of us, or have a genuine sensitivity to one or more of the fundamental tastes (Sweet, Sour, Salt, Bitter and/or Umami) that may peak in concentrated fountain syrups.

What do you do about it?

The experts say that soft drink dispensing machines are notorious for getting dirty – often because employees of the restos they’re in do their best to avoid cleaning them as often as the manufacturer recommends. The theory is that built-up super-concentrated flavouring components (‘gunk’) gets mixed in with the usual flavour shot as the drink is dispensed.

Others say that the syrup has been mis-formulated at the bottling plant, and too much of one ingredient or another (artificial sweetener has been villainized in this role by more than one commentor) has been added to the syrup bend. Given the common comment that the ‘bad’ drinks taste chemicaly or metallic makes me tend to agree with the latter. Such mis-formulations could be the result of ‘pilot error’ or mechanical error, either of those possibilities making the glitch harder to trace and fix.

My take

If I get a bad pour at a fast food joint, I just take the rest of the cup back up to the counter and tell the order-taker something’s wrong with the (soft drink name here) on such-and-such a dispenser. And I don’t drink it. Instead, I ask for a new cup and go pour myself some other flavour. I’ve never been denied the switch-out.

One odd quirk I’ve developed since this ‘bad beverage’ business all started, back a few years ago? I’ve started taking only a tiny test sip of any fountain beverage at the beginning of a meal to be sure the stuff is not screwed up.

And concerning the cause of the funky flavour experience? It has apparently not yet been mailed down. At least not to any cause that the resto ops have opted to disclose to customers. On the plus side, I haven’t heard of anybody going to the hospital, much less dying, because of the ‘bad’ soda’ either.

~ Maggie J.