People who have been dieting to lose weight for years can convince themselves of anything. They can be convinced that frozen pureed fruit tastes “just like” ice cream, and that Lean Cuisines can adequately approximate any edible entree. And so it’s not exactly surprising that a large contingent of TikTok wellness creators seem to legitimately believe that a combination of seltzer water and balsamic vinegar can taste identical to a Coca-Cola.
In the past couple of days, the hashtag #healthycoke has gotten more than 1.5 million views on the social media platform. The origin of the trend remains unclear to me — the top Google result for “balsamic vinegar healthy Coke” is a 2016 recipe from a supplement-shilling doctor. But there’s a slew of TikTokers of all stripes trying out their own versions of the trendy new drink, with user @mandyvjones racking up 4.7 million views (as of publication time) for her video that credits her Pilates instructor as inspiration. Of course, pouring vinegar into seltzer isn’t really that weird of an idea: Shrubs and kombucha are beloved, and vinegar isn’t a particularly uncommon ingredient in cocktails. Perhaps dubbing this concoction a “Coke” is a response to the sugar-laden dirty soda fad from earlier this year, but either way, there’s no denying that the idea of finding a “healthier” soda option is clearly appealing to plenty of TikTok users.
Because I cannot resist the allure of a bizarre TikTok trend, I decided I had to see whether or not these influencers were onto something. My own version of this shockingly popular concoction was simple: a few glugs of Costco balsamic vinegar (it’s imported!) and a Topo Chico. Most of the “recipes” on TikTok call for a flavored seltzer, but we work with what we have. And because Topo Chico is a superior mineral water, I assumed that it would serve as a solid backbone for a simpler version of this drink. After cracking open the bottles and pouring the mixture together, though, it became immediately clear that this was not going to be an addition to my nonalcoholic beverage repertoire.
Combining seltzer and balsamic vinegar does, visually, resemble a Coke. It’s nice and fizzy, and appropriately 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 that the mixture was still light in flavor while still maintaining the assertive fizziness of Topo Chico.
But because TikTok kept insisting that this was a “healthy Coke” alternative, I couldn’t get that comparison out of my head. Instead of just positioning this as a healthy summer sip, insisting that it’s an improved version of Coke is just setting what could be an otherwise enjoyable beverage up for complete and total failure. The sour notes of the vinegar don’t come anywhere close to approximating the weird chemical flavors of America’s favorite soda. Even though there is assuredly less sugar in this concoction than a classic Coke, it somehow manages to still be cloying and overbearing.
The worst part, though, is the smell. No one wants their drink to smell like a bottle of salad dressing, and this combination recalls a vinaigrette, not the spicy, slightly fruity aroma that everyone associates with Coke. As the cup sat on my desk, nearly completely full, the smell only intensified. It reminded me of those tiny dishes of vinegar and dish soap that I sometimes put out in the summer to catch fruit flies, not anything I’d want to serve to my dinner guests.
And truly, why would I bother? The soda market is more interesting than ever right now, even if you’re looking to get health benefits from your favorite fizzy beverage. Instead of swilling fizzy vinegar water, I could be calming down my brain with CBD and adaptogens or allegedly nourishing my gut with probiotics. But mostly, if I wanted to drink a soda with less sugar, I’d just go back to good old fashioned Diet Coke, chemicals and all.