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FOOD AND DRINK

Is Diet Coke really banned in Europe?

Video footage of an American tourist arriving in Europe with a giant suitcase filled with nothing but Diet Coke to drink on her holiday has been causing much hilarity - but is it true that Diet Coke is banned or restricted in EU countries?

Is Diet Coke really banned in Europe?
Photo by SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

The footage of American social media influencer Jill Zarin arriving on a holiday with a giant suitcase of Diet Coke because “they don’t sell it in Europe” has been causing much hilarity online. 

@allyshaps Any other diet coke girlies travel with an entire suitcase of diet coke? Luckily it made it safely! #dietcoke #flying #airport ♬ original sound – Ally Shapiro

And naturally there were plenty of people ready with a joke

But is it true that Diet Coke tastes different in Europe than it does in the US? Are there really some Diet Coke ingredients outlawed by the EU? And what’s the difference between Diet Coke and Coke Light?

Different types of Coke

Once we discount atrocities like Cherry Coke there are basically three types of Coca-Cola – the full-sugar Coca-Cola,  Coke Zero and Diet Coke.

However, in non-English speaking countries Diet Coke is usually sold branded as Coca-Cola Light – as the parent company explains: “In certain countries, the term ‘diet’ is not used to describe low-calorie foods and beverages. In these countries, we offer Coke/Coca-Cola light.”

The idea being that ‘light’ is a more internationally recognised word so that Coke doesn’t have to offer dozens of different translations for ‘diet’ in different European countries. 

The two products are interchangeable, although sweetener levels vary in different countries (more on that later).

READ ALSO Did Spain make Coca-Cola before the USA?

Coke Zero is also sometimes branded in the local language, for example France sells it as ‘Coca-Cola Sans Sucres‘ (no-sugar Coca-Cola) but the Coke Zero branding is always on the bottle.

Likewise the full-sugar product is sold everywhere as Coca-Cola (although again some countries add their own branding – in France it’s Coca-Cola Goût original – original flavour Coca-Cola).

Coke Zero – launched in 2007 and intended to taste the same as the original but without the sugar – is gradually muscling Diet Coke/Coke Light out of the market and in many countries Diet/Light Coke is not widely available or only available as an import.

The standard choice in McDonald’s, for example, is Coke or Coke Zero. 

Diet/Light Coke is not, however, banned in any European countries (despite many US-based blogs confidently asserting that this is the case). 

But does it taste different in the USA?

But while the same branding might be available through the world, the actual ingredients are different in some countries, which could lead some Coke connoisseurs to notice a difference in taste between the products in the US and those in the EU. 

The biggest difference is between the regular Coke – in the US this uses high fructose corn syrup while in Europe cane sugar is used to sweeten the product, resulting in a significant difference in taste. 

Some European countries have or are working towards restrictions on sugar – for example increasing taxes on sugary food or requiring sugary food or drink to carry a health warning – but there is no limit on the amount of sugar that a food or drink can contain. 

When you’re looking at sugar-free products, the biggest difference is likely to be if you are expecting Diet Coke and get Coke Zero, as these have very different flavours. According to the parent company, the two use the the same sweeteners – a blend of aspartame and acesulfame-potassium – but Coke Zero “uses a different flavour base and delivers the great taste of Coca-Cola with zero sugar.”

Despite several studies linking it to an increased risk of cancer, the use of aspartame is not restricted in the EU, although any product that includes it must indicate this on the label.

If you compare the ingredients list between American Diet Coke and Coke Light sold in Europe, the only difference is the addition of sodium benzoate in the American product. Although this preservative is not banned in Europe, the European Commission does impose a limit on how much can be used in food and drink. 

The actual recipe for all types of Coke is of course a closely guarded secret, but Coke does say that “sweetness levels are altered according to local preferences”.

Coke is also manufactured in different factories around the globe and it’s been suggested that differences in the water used to make the local product may also affect the flavour – although frankly if you can detect the difference in water through the layers of artificial sweeteners and flavourings then you’re clearly a genius and should begin training as a sommelier.

Now, do you want ice in your Coke? Because that’s a whole other USA v Europe story . . .

Member comments

  1. I hope your branding of Cherry Coke as an “atrocity” applies only to the canned or bottled version. Actual cherry Coke, which is older than I am (and I’m 79) and is created by adding cherry syrup to Coke at the fountain (yes, this requires a “soda jerk” working at a “soda fountain” or “luncheonette”). It was no atrocity; it was nearly the only way I, as a child, found Coke drinkable!

  2. I learned years ago that Nescafé manufactured 40+ versions, each one attempting to match the coffee available locally. This was why, when I lived in South America, I loved Brazilian Nescafé but detested the US variety. At that time, coffee in Brazil was far superior to US coffee.

  3. You couldn’t make it up!! It has long been said that Americans don’t believe human life exists west of San Francisco or east of Long Island and this just about proves it! How dumb do they get?

  4. Cherry Coke is awesome. Vanilla Coke is an atrocity. I was disappointed to learn aspartame is primarily used in Europe as I prefer sucralose as studies have shown it to be a better sugar substitute than aspartame.

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READER QUESTIONS

How are non-EU PhD students affected by Sweden’s work permit rules?

Sweden’s work permit salary threshold has increased by almost 120 percent since October last year. How are non-EU PhD students affected by this?

How are non-EU PhD students affected by Sweden's work permit rules?

Students admitted to doctoral studies in Sweden to earn their PhD here

PhD students on a residence permit for doctoral studies are not affected by the work permit salary requirement (currently a minimum of 80 percent of Sweden’s median salary), but they do have to prove that they have enough money to support themselves.

As of January 1st, 2024, this means they must have at least 10,314 kronor a month for a single adult plus 4,297.50 kronor a month for an accompanying spouse and 2,578.50 kronor a month for each child. 

This can be covered by savings, salary or a stipend.

There are discounts if your employer offers you free food or housing: a discount of 2,865 kronor per month if food is provided or 4,584 per month if housing is provided.

You can find more information about the requirements on the Migration Agency’s website.

What about researchers?

A researcher permit is different from a PhD permit, but researchers aren’t directly affected by the work permit salary requirement either.

According to the Migration Agency, a researcher is a person who has a PhD or is qualified to begin doctoral studies and has been invited by a research funding body that is approved by the Swedish Research Council to conduct research in Sweden. A research funding body can be a Swedish university, institution or a company.

Researchers are exempt from the work permit salary requirement, but they still need to show they have sufficient funds in order to be granted a permit. They must have enough money for the duration of their stay in Sweden as well as enough funds to pay for their travel home – defined as at least 9,700 kronor per month.

More information on the requirements for researchers is available in English on the Migration Agency’s website.

What about when I apply for permanent residency?

PhD students who qualify for permanent residency must, among other things, be able to support themselves financially through either employment or self-employment. This is defined as having at least 6,090 kronor a month left over after paying housing costs.

Unfortunately for PhD students, the only type of employment which counts towards this is legal employment as a work permit holder (unless you have an exemption from the work permit requirement, for example if you are in Sweden on a so-called sambo permit as a family member of someone already in Sweden).

This essentially means that the vast majority of PhD students applying for permanent residency need to meet the new salary threshold in order for their application to be granted. There are plans to exempt newly-qualified PhD students or other graduates from this requirement, but it looks like they won’t come into force until June 1st, 2025 at the earliest.

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