The French carbonated orange drink Orangina has been widely accepted in Japan as one of the top sodas. In fact Japanese beverage company Suntory now owns the beverage in all Asian and European markets.

So it was with great anticipation that Japanese consumers welcomed the new lemon flavor, dubbed Lemongina, on 31 March. However, that warm welcome lasted barely a few minutes as Twitter was flooded with complaints that the new drink “tastes like dirt.” This was followed shortly thereafter by a flood of complaints that it “doesn’t taste like dirt” when drunk after hearing that it did.

Had Suntory made a major blunder in their artificial flavoring, or is part of Japan undergoing mass hysteria? We headed down to the supermarket to find out.

■ Divided opinions

A few days ago there was a lot of talk about the unintended flavor of soil in Lemongina.

▼ “I drank some Lemongina, but it had an earthy aftertaste.”

 “I bought some Lemongina on 31 March and drank it, but the aftertaste was like stag beetle soil.”

▼ “When I ate dirt, it tasted like Lemongina.” 

However, currently many are flocking to Twitter in defense of the drink, saying that there is nothing weird about its flavor whatsoever.

▼ “Lemongina didn’t taste especially like dirt, but it didn’t taste good either.”

 “My impressions of Lemongina: Dirt tastes good.”

 “Well, I tried Lemongina. It doesn’t taste like dirt!!! It tastes like regular lemon!!! I was fooled!!!!!”

■ Taste Test

After purchasing a bottle of the controversial beverage, I returned to the office and immediately poured a few glasses, which I gave to those around me before trying it for myself…because, you know, it apparently tastes like dirt. Everyone who tasted of the Lemongina reacted as you’d expect anyone would who had just tasted lemon soda. “It tastes like lime” was that strangest reaction, followed by “I don’t usually like lemon but this doesn’t taste so sour.” So it would seem the soil-flavored drink was all just some internet urban legend after all.

Feeling at ease I poured myself a glass and sat down to write. However, after taking my first sip I was hit with the unmistakable taste of soil. Actually, the drink still had the taste of lemon and was sour with a little sweetness much like a lemon soda. However, in nearly equal balance there was also a heavy taste of fertile earth.

It was kind of like the aroma you get when walking into a greenhouse. Actually to say it simply “tastes like dirt” isn’t doing the flavor justice. It tasted more like fresh soil well suited for planting flowers or a small vegetable garden. It wasn’t altogether disgusting, but it also wasn’t really what I was looking for in a sugary drink.

This just leaves one question…

■ WTF?

Much like a certain dress a while back, there seems to be a clear divide between those who taste soil in Lemongina and those who don’t. One theory has been floating around that it has to do with the physical condition of the person drinking it.

▼ “People who taste soil in Lemongina are exhausted. When fatigued the taste of foods with citric acid seems to change. It would seem that if you are very tired and drink Lemongina, you will taste dirt.”

The writing in the tweet’s images was taken from an article on The Citric Acid Cycle Society in Japan and describes how the taste of citric acid can change depending on the condition of the person. However, the actual article talks about citric acid’s variation between sweet and sour. It doesn’t make any mention of causing a dirt-like flavor. After looking around I couldn’t find any connection between citric acid and a soil flavor at all.

There could be something to the theory of exhaustion playing a part in the taste of Lemongina perhaps with another ingredient or combination, but for now the cause of this phenomenon remains a mystery.

Source: Twitter, Hamusoku, The Citric Acid Society in Japan (Japanese)
Top Image: RocketNews24, Wikipedia – Hans Hillewaert, M Tullottes (Edited by RocketNews24)