Published August 1, 2005. From Cook's Country.
Great lemon flavor alone doesn't define a winner.
Lemonade is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a seemingly natural, kid-friendly alternative to soda with about the same sugar content as Coca-Cola, which has 27 grams of sugar in every 8 ounces of cola. Of course, that is probably why it is so popular with young and old alike; Youngsters love the sweetness, and us grown-ups like to think we’re drinking something somewhat healthy (it’s juice!). But given the reality—lemonade is a treat—it better taste pretty good.
To find the best choices, we held a blind tasting of nine popular brands of frozen concentrate and prepared lemonades (skipping the powdered mixes) and found that despite the near-equivalent sugar content among the brands (26 to 28 grams per 8 ounces), flavor differences were vast.
At their core, all brands contain lemon juice, water, and sugar, though never in that order and not always in those forms; high fructose corn syrup, lemon juice concentrate, and natural lemon flavors made numerous appearances. The purest brand of the bunch was well-rated, with a short ingredient list of just water, lemon juice, sugar, and grapefruit pulp. Compare that with the ingredients in our lowest rated brand: water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, lemon juice from concentrate, gum acacia, natural lemon flavor with other natural flavors, salt, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), beta carotene (for color). No wonder one taster described it as “not lemonade-y.” Tasters clearly wanted a “natural” lemon flavor.
But great lemon flavor alone isn’t enough; there’s a reason we drink lemonade and not lemon juice. Winning brands were consistently described as “sweet/tart,” with a “middle-of-the-road blend of sweet and sour,” while low-ranked lemonades were “unbalanced,” “too tart,” and sickly sweet.” Brands with too much or too little lemon failed the test.