I was looking up sweet pork recipes and every one of them call for Coke or Dr. Pepper.

I avoid soda as much as possible because of questionable ingredients: specifically GMO corn syrup, sodium benzoate and caramel color.

Are there any safer substitutions I could use to achieve the same/similar flavor?

  • 17
    Presumably the ingredients of these products are all perfectly safe, so I think you'd have to clarify what you mean by 'safer'.
    – Strawberry
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 14:48
  • 5
    Hey y'all, if you're tempted to criticize the OP's choice of dishes to cook, may I suggest: don't. If this isn't the kind of food you like, just move on.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 2:42
  • Since the comment chain continued to grow, I would suggest that everybody also stop posting suggestions for how to find a cola that might have only a subset of the ingredients mentioned here. We have to assume that the OP meant what she said, and that she wants something that is not a soft drink. Comments are for clarification requests, not for half-answers or for admonishing the OP for their choices of what to eat.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 18:59

6 Answers 6

  1. Apple juice is good with pork. The frozen cans of concentrate are cheap and perfect for this use.

  2. Apple juice lacks the dark notes of cola. To get those I propose you add hoisin sauce. It is very sweet, a great mix with pork (I have some boneless ribs soaking in some right now awaiting the grill) and will lend the apple juice more of a dark sweet tone.

  3. If you want to stay pure to your recipe, sub in one of the organic root beers on the market. They are easy to find and they will brag about how they don't do the stuff you dislike about Big Cola. Whole Foods has a store brand one you could use. Root beers vary a lot; try some first to make sure it has flavors you want for your pork.

  • 15
    An off-the-shelf hoisin sauce is likely to contain all the ingredients the OP is concerned about and then some.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 10:38
  • 7
    A quick perusal of 3 common brands - all 3 I checked have caramel color, none have corn syrup, and only Kroger's (not Kikkoman or Lee Kum Kee) has sodium benzoate.
    – Willk
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 19:22
  • 1
    Huh, I'm surprised about the lack of chemical preservatives. Well done, hoisin sauce manufacturers!
    – Sneftel
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 21:04
  • @Sneftel Willk said no sodium benzoate, not no chemical preservatives. Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 21:41
  • I know. I checked my own Lee Kum Lee brand hoisin sauce. Acetic acid is the closest it gets
    – Sneftel
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 21:43

The main function that soda adds in these recipes is as a flavored syrup that also has an acid. So make your own. Add your preferred sweetener to water with some form of acidulation (I prefer apple cider vinegar with pork) and a few spices and you will have something suitable to use.


I learned a recipe for a chicken dish from my mother. Her recipe also called for cola to create a sticky and caramelised sauce.

She taught me, however, that the cola could be replaced with fruit juice. Her preference was a mix of pineapple, mango, and orange juice. Shops where I live call this juice mix "tropical fruit" juice. It stands to reason, though, that any of the above juices individually, and maybe others, will work, too.

Here's an example of a recipe similar to what my mother taught me, supporting my claim of the juice helping to create the property sought by your question


What about something like Hansen's? It's available at the local store here in Nowheresville, MN population ~7k so it shouldn't be too hard to find.

  • 1
    While it doesn't use corn syrup, Hansen's does list caramel color as an ingredient (on their regular cola; i haven't checked the others). This is one of the questionable ingredients that the Asker was attempting to avoid. That being said, there might be an 'all natural' or 'old fashioned' cola available that does meet the criteria, even though Hansen's as a brand does not. Commented Mar 3, 2019 at 23:39
  • @Roddy-of-the-Frozen-Peas Ah, I must have missed that on one or the other. Sorry!
    – spock74
    Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 18:30

The flavors in Coke are cinnamon, vanilla, and citrus. I personally taste cinnamon the most. Dr. Pepper has a lot of other spice and berry flavors, and is similar to root beer. You could try to recreate the cola taste by using apple cider vinegar and adding cinnamon, vanilla, and molasses.


Depending on how much time you have, how often you would like to use this (or similar) recipes, how much you like the idea(s), and how involved you want to get... you could try making a cola syrup recipe*. You could even reconstitute it with club soda, or carbonated or sparkling water, or use water, a sprinkle of yeast, and some time to turn your syrup into a cola you can directly sub into the recipe.

This does require a much higher up-front investment, but it might be fun on one hand, and work for other recipes (and, yanno, drinking sodas) on the other.

*example link was randomly chosen

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