Wednesday, June 20, 2007


IN THE REGION OF THE CUCUMBER BALLPARK


The cucumber conundrum has been weighing on my mind for the past few house/garden-busy days, but finally, on my way back from a visit to a small town up the road I got a chance to stop in at a little combini (convenience store) and grab a coupla cucumbers-in-a-bottle (didn't look like they were selling too well), took 'em home and cracked one to see what a giant corporation's idea of liquid cucumber tastes like.

To tell the truth, as one who damn near never drinks soda (though a genuine root beer (haven't seen one in years) could still wrap me around its little finger) I was expecting-- well, you know, something like a juicy cucumber without the cucumber-- no crunch, no seeds and no long green vegetableness; also, we usually eat our cucumbers the Japanese way, with miso (morokyu), so you can see some of the psychobaggage I was bringing to the objective of buying, opening and drinking a cucumber soft drink.

And as usual in such radical product situations I was hoping that, despite the baggage, and against my expectations, I'd be pleasantly surprised by a fragrant, refreshingly proportioned and agreeably cucumbery drink, however odd that may sound. (I feel good when a big corporation gets something right.) When I opened the bottle, I was indeed surprised, but not pleasantly. Fizzy cucumber? I'd expected something further along the lines of one of Japan's more notorious fizzless soft drinks, Pocari Sweat, which for my money should be carbonated so that it less resembles its fluid namesake.

The liquid itself, the cucumber embodiment, was greenish blue, sort of like Aquamarine shaving lotion used to be (still is?) and like no cucumber juice ever was, I'll wager - if there ever was a cucumber juice - but these were small matters; the taste would tell whether or not the guys with the flasks had truly succeeded in nailing the delicate savor of the cucumber to the wall of Japanese consumer taste.

Sniffing at the opening of the cucumber-in-a-bottle bottle, I detected something cucumberish, but it wasn't as though someone had gotten the essence of cucumber and put it in a bottle-- it was more like marketing-committee cucumber, the lab guys reading the pages of specs and aiming not for the cucumber ballpark per se, but for the region of the country in which the ballpark is located. They sort of got the c and the r, and maybe some u in there.

I tilted the bottle to drink and my mouth filled with bubbles. Cucumber bubbles? Not those big, old-time fun bubbles like sodapop had when I was a kid, playful bubbles that faded with an agreeably quick and zingy fizz, but the tiny, newfangled, sinister nanobubbles, that go down secretly with the swallow, fizz slowly all the way down and then elbow their way back up again, making exclamations difficult. Sweet, blue-green bubbles, sweeter than any cucumber I'd ever tasted. Sweet cucumber? What were they thinking? This was getting complicated.

I turned the bottle to squint at the ingredients listed in tiny, jumpy print jammed up in a label corner, then I put my glasses on and then I got my magnifying glass: greatest in quantity was "Fructose," which brings to mind an item I read recently about making your own soda pop, how the author had concluded that it was basically like filling a container with sugar, then adding just enough liquid to hold the sugar in solution. Readers of PLM have seen over and over again that I am not anti-sugar, but this was too sweet a drink for me. Besides, I never dip cucumbers in sugar before I eat them.

Then again, no way am I your average consumer, toward which this product is aimed I suppose, with a shiver, and even though I love cucumbers I wouldn't have thought that the average consumer was subconsciously yearning for a cucumber drink. Second in ingredient quantity was simply: "Flavoring." Encompassing not merely the region of the ballpark, but the entire galaxy; anyway, for marketing reasons they don't want to tell you. Next in quantity, just: "Souring agent"...? Hmmm. Then, preservative: sodium benzoate; then coloring: a factory blend of Blue #1 (a petroleum-derived triphenylmethane) and Yellow #4 (which appears to be Japan's term for FD&CYellow #5 (a coal tar derivative).

So here was a cucumbrous product that didn't look like cucumber, didn't smell like cucumber, didn't taste like cucumber, didn't contain cucumber, yet was labeled cucumber. We've come a long way from the days of actual cucumbers, all the way to what in my case could be called cucumbrage.

Damn. I really was hoping I could say something nice about the naturally named "Ice Cucumber." It was nicely chilled?

(And oh, yeah, I forgot: it has a good shot of caffeine in it too. Kept me awake all night.)

4 comments:

Winston said...

Someone else wrote about this recently, though not from Japan. Must be a global phenom. I love cukes, but can think of nothing much less palatable than a sweet cucumber drink. Oh, but just you wait... the Egg Plant Fizz coming later this summer promises to be a great marketing success... with hints of celery and taro root.

vegetablej said...

Reminds me suspiciously of those ester experiments we did in high school in chem lab. Bananas from Mars join cucumbers from...Earth. :X

Bob Brady said...

Bananas from Mars, Eggplant Fizz... now those are some things worth looking forward to. I Suppose some corporate lab is working on them now...

Trace said...

I just knew this drink would be a disapointment. Now, how would I know that? I mean, wouldn't everyone want to drink cucumber pop? Pfft...