Review: Pepsi Colachup Is Sweet And Surprising

On June 27, Pepsi announced a new product as part of its #BetterwithPepsi campaign: A Pepsi-infused ketchup called "Pepsi Colachup." Our first instinct upon hearing this was to laugh — partially because we couldn't figure out how to pronounce the word (Is it cO-la-chup, or col-A-chup? Which pronunciation of ketchup is this even attempting to rhyme with?), and partially because the idea sounded absolutely ludicrous. We wondered whether this was one of those publicity stunts where a brand puts out something scandalous on purpose to keep its name current like Mountain Dew's charcoal-colored Legendary flavor or when Taco Bell partnered with Cheez-Its to make tostadas on a massive version of the cheese cracker. We were further intrigued by the fact that, apparently, reigning champion hot dog eater Joey Chestnut is also backing the product; in a press release, he shared, "People might be surprised, but outside of competition I love eating hot dogs at a more leisurely pace, and there's no better way to eat a hot dog — steamed, grilled, or fried — than with a perfectly cool and crisp Pepsi."

Despite all of our doubts, there was also something in us that wanted to listen to Chestnut. We were genuinely curious about this new product and found ourselves wondering: Can Pepsi-infused ketchup possibly taste good? So we set out to try it, hesitantly excited by the concept of an alternative hot dog condiment. 

What is Pepsi Colachup?

We can probably guess your biggest question about this new product: Does the Pepsi Colachup actually have Pepsi in it? Well, consider your worst fears answered, because this ketchup is indeed made from a base of the popular soda. According to an interview that Pepsi senior director Jenny Danzi did with CNN, this ketchup is made by reducing Pepsi. A reduction is made by simmering liquid at a high temperature until the water content evaporates. That means that what's left after reducing the soda is a sort of super-Pepsi that's no longer carbonated but is much more concentrated. 

After creating the Pepsi reduction, which is the main source of sweetness in this mixture, the Pepsi Colachup recipe also adds smoked tomatoes, onions, and spices like cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and paprika. This is an uncommon spice mix for ketchup: Our ketchup recipe sticks with spices like allspice and paprika. Ketchup also typically includes a more acidic element like vinegar.

How Pepsi Colachup was developed

In order to make this new condiment happen, Pepsi actually enlisted some help. This recipe was created with the assistance of Culinary Institute of America Consulting, which is connected to the real CIA (No, not that CIA — the real Culinary Institute of America). In Pepsi's Colachup press release, David Kamen, the director of client experience for CIA Consulting, said, "The distinctive flavors and vibrant citrus blend of Pepsi enhances the bright and tangy characteristics of ketchup, offsetting the smokiness of the hot dog." He says that the solution of creating the Colachup is "both creative and simple," and labels the product as a "whole new way to enjoy two American classics."

Clearly, Pepsi put some actual thought and research into this recipe — it's not just a publicity stunt. Of course, that still doesn't necessarily mean that it tastes good. But the involvement of a big name like the CIA certainly carries weight and made us less fearful about what might await us upon our first bite.

How does Pepsi Colachup taste?

Three friendly folks showed up at our door at 10 a.m. grasping a forbidden blue bottle filled with the Pepsi Colachup. They offered us hot dogs to sample the Pepsi Colachup with. We took the dogs, the Pepsi representatives loaded them up with the sauce, and then they left as quickly as they'd appeared — giving us an awfully good impression of how it would feel to sample these dogs at a ballpark instead of at home. 

Our first impression of the Pepsi Colachup was that this condiment was a lot deeper in color than most of the kinds of ketchup we're used to: The ketchup was a molasses-y brown, much like the color of the drink upon which it was based. At first taste, it was super sweet, with notes of citrus. We found that the dominant taste was cinnamon. Overall, the depth of flavor made the Colachup feel more like barbecue sauce than ketchup. Maybe they just decided to call it ketchup because of the cola pun? In any case, taking a bite of hot dog with Pepsi Colachup on it wasn't a negative experience in and of itself — the only negative was the aftertaste, which tasted like a chemical mix (also not unlike the experience of drinking a Pepsi, come to think of it). As much as we wanted to hate the Colachup, it was ultimately fairly pleasant.

Pepsi Colachup v. Heinz Ketchup

It was very tempting to compare Pepsi Colachup to the brand that many think of automatically when they hear the word "ketchup." Heinz is the tastemaker when it comes to ketchup: This brand has pretty much stuck to its guns since it was first founded in 1869. It created its iconic ketchup in 1876 and sells everything else you might possibly want to put on a burger or a hot dog.

The color of Heinz ketchup is much more vibrant than Pepsi Colachup — it's a pure red rather than the color of dried blood. Heinz ketchup also has a distinctly sour taste which adds some drama to hot dogs and burgers. The official Heinz recipe includes distilled vinegar to attain that sour tang and gets its sweetness from corn syrup. The spice mix Heinz uses is somewhat secretive; all that's listed on the label are "spice" and onion powder.

Meanwhile, the new Pepsi Colachup stands in contrast to the Heinz classic. It's darker and much more complex. The biggest distinction between these ketchups, though, is the sweetness: Heinz ketchup has just a touch of sugar to it, while the Pepsi Colachup is much, much sweeter, which reinforces the feeling that you're eating barbecue sauce. 

How to try Pepsi's new ketchup

On July 4th, Pepsi Colachup is set to make its grand debut nationwide. However, it won't be headed straight to supermarket shelves: If you want to get a taste of this special condiment, you need to head to a good old-fashioned ball game. 

That's right: To celebrate the Fourth of July, or perhaps to prevent the hordes from judging the Pepsi Colachup all at once, Pepsi has partnered with a few select baseball teams to offer the new product during home games. There are teams serving up the Pepsi Colachup on Independence Day: the Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, and Arizona Diamondbacks. At these stadiums, look for a sampling cart hiding away in various corners of the stadium and snag your own taste of the Pepsi Colachup.

If you're not going to be in the vicinity of these stadiums on the weekend of the Fourth, you're not totally out of luck: Pepsi has another creative initiative to "reinforce just how well hot dogs and Pepsi go together," per the press release. If you buy a hot dog and a Pepsi anywhere in the U.S., text "FREEPEPSI" to 81234 to get reimbursed for the cost of your Pepsi. 

Is it worth buying?

Unfortunately, you can't currently go out and buy your own bottle of Pepsi Colachup, since it's under lock and key at the baseball stadiums. Yet even if it was more widely available, we can't fully get behind a product we only feel so-so about.

For this reason, we're not predicting that Pepsi Colachup is going to replace other ketchups in our hearts by any means. It probably won't make it to the shelf of your fridge, and it definitely won't be our go-to condiment moving forward. With that said, we genuinely enjoyed getting a chance to taste this innovative flavor, and our fears about how gross it had the potential to be were not realized. The Pepsi Colachup wasn't exactly ketchup-y, but we liked that — it was still sweet and surprising, and it truly did complement the hot dog. So perhaps this ketchup isn't worth buying a bucket of, but it's definitely worth trying — and if you're headed to a baseball game anyway, it's easy to get some Pepsi Colachup on your dog just to see how you feel about it.