Monday, November 1, 2010

TASTE-TEST - Guaraná Jesus

Back in May, Guaraná Jesus, the iconic soft drink of the northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhão, was featured in this post on Flavors of Brazil. In its home territory, this locally-invented soft drink is reportedly more popular than either Coca-Cola or any of the national brands of Guaraná. Outside of Maranhão it is generally unobtainable unless it's been brought from there by a Guaraná Jesus-addict, or by someone who's suffering from homesickness for that remote state.

 In many ways Guaraná Jesus is like Vernor's Ginger Ale, which for most of its history was only distributed in its native Michigan and a few neighboring states, and which today still sells 80% of its volume in Michigan. You could say that Guaraná Jesus is to Maranhão what Vernor's is to Michigan, even more so.

The other day I went to a small shop that sells regionally produced food products here in Fortaleza. I was looking for some homestyle hot sauce as a birthday present for a friend. While perusing the shelves I spotted a bright pink-and-blue can of Guaraná Jesus. I'd never actually seen one, but I remembered the can from the photos I'd posted here earlier. I asked the clerk where it came from, and he told me that a friend of his had recently returned from Maranhão with a few cases of the drink, and that he was selling them (at a very nice price, I have to say).

I couldn't resist buying a can, as I'd never tasted the stuff myself - I'd only heard second-hand reports of what it tasted like. So, this morning, I decided to give Guaraná Jesus an official Flavors of Brazil taste-test. Here are the results:

Color: A truly shocking pink. It's a stronger color than I had been expecting based on the photos I'd seen. It's not a pale rose, it's a strong hot pink, verging on red in certain light.

Carbonization: The drink is very highly carbonated, with large CO2 bubbles in the glass. When poured, the drink doesn't develop a head, as Coca-Cola or other drinks sometimes do. The carbonization, to me, is similar to the way most lemon-lime soft drinks are carbonized.

Sweetness: Very intense. Like all Brazilian soft drinks, Guaraná Jesus is sweetened with cane sugar, not HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup). The label gives a calorie count for the 350 ml (12 oz) can as 170, which indicates a large quantity of sugar.

Flavor: Guaraná Jesus tastes nothing like the national brands of guaraná. The first flavor I picked up was a strong artificial-banana flavor, similar to the flavor of banana gum or banana popsicles. Next up, I detected some tutti-fruti (bubblegum flavor), and finally hints of spices - cinnamon and cloves. The flavor is complex, and the drink is highly flavored. 
Verdict: Interesting, but it wouldn't become a "beverage of your choice" for me.

I enjoyed drinking Guaraná Jesus, though for me I think it's a drink that I could only take in small quantities due to the combination of high sugar content and strong flavor. I'm sure that in larger quantities, it would quickly begin to cloy. I can't say it was a revelation for me, or that I'd buy more at premium price. Probably, since I wasn't born and raised in Maranhão, what I didn't detect in my taste test was nostalgia, and that's the ingredient that keeps the mystique of Guaraná Jesus alive.

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