Taste-Test: Which Diet Energy Drink Is Most Like The Real Thing?

Diet energy drinks are all the rage right now. From Coke's Red Bull pretender 'Mother' to the Kiwi born-and-bred 'V', most energy drinks now come in sugar-free versions for the fitness set. But do any of them actually taste like the real thing? A caffeine addict investigates...

As the various energy drink articles under my byline will attest, I'm a big fan of highly caffeinated beverages. Some people do drugs, others imbibe in alcohol but my poison of choice has always been Red Bull and its sugary kin. It's a genuine addiction -- and whenever a new flavour hits the shelves I absolutely have to try it.

For the most part though, I've rigorously avoided sugar-free versions due to the sweeping assumption that they're all rubbish. Call me prejudiced, but whenever something deliciously bad for you is reformulated for health nuts, it usually ends up tasting atrocious. (Just look at Burger King's recent 'Satisfries' abomination for proof.)

However, the unfortunate combination of a slowing metabolism and endless 'takeaway truth' articles has forced me a reassess my politics. There's also the possibility of a federal soft drink tax to consider, which would see sugar-based drinks becoming more expensive.

Over the past week, I've been sampling popular diet energy drinks in a bid to find something that tastes remotely similar to its sugary sibling. If you're in a similar boast as me, hopefully the below taste-test will help you find a drink to your liking. [Note: In a bid to keep things as objective as possible, each score represents how closely the drink resembles the non-diet version, rather than a general critique on flavour.]

Red Bull Zero (500ml)

"Red Bull Zero is a functional beverage that has zero carbs and zero sugar. Like all Red Bull products, Red Bull Zero vitalizes body and mind."

Key Ingredients: Caffeine, Taurine, Glucuronolactone, B vitamins, Aspartame, Sucralose & Acesulfame K.

Nutritional info: Energy: 37kJ, Carbohydrate: 0g, Caffeine: 151mg

Taste Verdict: Red Bull Zero is the "blokey" counterpart to Reb Bull Sugar Free (see below). It purports to be a "fresh twist" on the taste of regular Red Bull, which should set your alarm bells ringing. It's actually not that terrible, but from the moment it hits your mouth it's obvious you're not drinking Red Bull. Mildly disappointing. 6/10


Red Bull Sugarfree (250ml)

"Red Bull Sugarfree is Red Bull Energy Drink without sugar. It is a functional beverage with only 3 calories (14 kilojoules) per 100 ml."

Key Ingredients: Caffeine, Taurine, Glucuronolactone, B vitamins, Aspartame, Sucralose & Acesulfame Potassium.

Nutritional info: Energy: 34kJ, Carbohydrate: 0g, Caffeine: 80mg

Taste Verdict: Red Bull Sugarfree shares many of the same ingredients as Red Bull Zero which makes the flavour quite similar (the only differences we could spot on the back of the can were Magnesium Carbonate and Glucuronolactone). In an odd reversal of Diet Coke/Coke Zero, Red Bull Sugarfree tastes most like the real thing than the Zero release. Still not a patch on the real thing though. 6/10


V Energy Sugar Free (350ml)

"When you need to pack a punch without the calories, it’s all about V Sugarfree. For that mental boost minus the sugar guilt."

Key Ingredients: Sucralose, Guarana, Caffeine, B Vitamins, Taurine.

Nutritional info: Energy: 44.4kJ, Carbohydrate: 0.39g, Caffeine: 109mg

Taste Verdict: Before embarking on this experiment, I was expecting V Sugar Free to taste the foulest due to its reliance on sweetness. While Red Bull, Mother, et al could hardly be described as bland, they pale in comparison to V's concentrated sugar overload. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to discover it was one of the closest tasting matches of the bunch. The Sucralose has a slightly dodgy aftertaste but otherwise the flavour is very similar to regular Green V. Huzzah! 8/10


Mother Sugar Free (500ml)

"The Mother of all energy hits."

Key Ingredients: Taurine, Guarana extract, Caffeine, Sweeteners (950, 955).

Nutritional info: Energy: 96kJ, Carbohydrate: 1g, Caffeine: 160mg

Taste Verdict: Mother Sugar Free shares a reasonable likeness to its sugary counterpart. However, like its V Sugar Free rival (and most of the other drinks on this list) there's an unpalatable aftertaste of artificial sugar that diminishes the enjoyment somewhat, Nonetheless, it remains a pretty faithful approximation that fans of 'full strength' Mother will probably enjoy. 7/10


Monster Absolutely Zero (500ml)

"With a re-tooled energy blend, new sweetener system and after hundreds of failed flavors, we absolutely got it right!"

Key Ingredients: Caffeine, Taurine, Panax Ginseng, L- Carnitine, Glucuronolactone, Inositol, ace k and Erythritoll.

Nutritional info: Energy: 34kJ, Carbohydrate: 0g, Caffeine: 135mg

Taste Verdict: Monster Absolutely Zero purports to have zero calories, which seems a bit odd given its high caffeine levels -- just where does all that energy go? Of the six drinks tested, Monster is my least favourite in its regular form. This made it difficult to judge purely on a comparative level as both versions taste like toxic swill to me. However, if you happen to enjoy the taste (what's wrong with you???) Monster Absolutely Zero is a reasonable substitute. 6/10


28 Black Sugarfree (250ml)

"A different kind of energy drink."

Key Ingredients: Caffeine, Acai extract, B vitamins, natural sweeteners (erythritol, steviol glyconsiders), lemon & carrot concentrate.

Nutritional info: Energy: 29.5kJ, Carbohydrate: 8g, Caffeine: 80mg

Taste Verdict: 28 Black's main claim to fame is that it uses all-natural ingredients. This is a pretty big bonus; especially if you hold stock in the rumoured dangers of artificial sweeteners. It also assists hugely in retaining the same flavour as regular 28 Black, as there's no unusual synthetic aftertaste. That said, both versions of 28 Black are something of an acquired taste and not everyone will like it. In terms of flavour retention though, the sugar-free version is nigh on perfect. 9/10


So there you have it. Some diet energy drinks are actually pretty decent doppelgangers if you can live with a slightly off aftertaste. While 28 Black retained the best likeness, I'll be sticking to V Sugar Free due to personal flavour preference. As soon as they bring out a sugar-free 'Blue' version I'll be all set!

What do you think of my scoring? Are there any other diet energy drinks that I should try out? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. I'll also be doing a bulk taste-test of diet (non engery) soft drinks in the future. Feel free to nominate your favourites below!


Comments

    "Monster Absolutely Zero purports to have zero calories, which seems a bit odd given its high caffeine levels — just where does all that energy go?"

    Caffeine has no (or negligible) energy, it is a stimulant!

      I'm no expert and I'm not going to look this up to check, by my first-pass-thoughts are that calorific content and stimulant properties can easily have nothing to do with each other.

      For instance a substance may be both things (dark chocolate) , one or the other things (meth / olive oil), or neither thing (water).

        lol glad I wasn't the only one confused by this haha..

        As far as I know, calories on food generally refer to the number of calories your body actually absorbs from it, rather than any kind of raw material energy content. Most artificial sweetners are simply not absorbed by the body as I understand it. That, or they are not processed and excreted.

    I'd love to see you add the "Low Carb" versions which have some calories but not as many as the real thing. I always thought this was a reasonable compromise on taste vs. becoming a blimp.

    I hate the taste of the "diet" varieties, you get that disgusting chemical after taste which makes me feel sick. I mean if you're going to drink Energy drinks than why not drink the original's after all you are drinking something that is already unhealthy, I admit I drink purple rockstar on a daily basis lol since they are awesome.

      Caffeine isn't inherently unhealthy, it depends on a more holistic examination of your intake.

      I have a limit of caffeine I desire to intake and a limit of total calories and monosaccharides I desire to intake. The sugar free versions allow me to more easily reach my dietary goals.

      Regarding the taste that is probably a legit issue. I made the switch to diet soft drinks over a decade ago and I can't drink sugary drinks now as they taste weird to me and make me feel sick. It's definitely going to be an issue for people heading in the opposite direction.

    I've been buying Pepsi Max Kick lately, and it follows a formula nobody else seems to be doing:
    1) Take a drink people already buy and enjoy
    2) Bump up the caffeine level

    I'm not sure why everybody seems to aim for a flavour as close to red bull as possible, since as a whole energy drinks taste terrible. Do we only trust something to work if it tastes bad?

    (my second prize goes to rockstar sugar-free, but if you feel adventurous you can just buy pure caffeine powder online and turn any liquid you like into an energy drink)

    Last edited 10/10/13 5:11 pm

      Yeah, Pepsi Max Kick has a decent cola flavor and actually contains more caffeine per 100ml than Red Bull.

      But aren't these cans smaller than the regular version? You're effectively getting around the same amount of caffeine as a bottle of Pepsi Max, but by ingesting less liquid.

        They have 355ml cans, larger then several that you've got listed there but with similar caffeine density.

        you could certainly buy a litre or so of pepsi instead, but that's a bit hard to get down with your lunch.

          you could certainly buy a litre or so of pepsi instead, but that's a bit hard to get down with your lunch.

          You're not trying hard enough.

      I think Pepsi Max kick is a great product but it's a tad pricey for me. I'm not a big energy drink consumer these days so on the occasion I want one its basically to chase the frankly ridiculous taste of them.

      Other than that I just drink regular diet soft drink (coke zero/pepsi max mainly). If I could get Pepsi Max Kick on the cheap I'd be all over it like white on rice. It's fantastic.

        Pepsi Max Kick has twice the amount of caffeine per 100ml than regular Pepsi Max though. Based on the prices I've seen it's also better value than Red Bull in terms of caffeine content.

    Oh god!! They're all so awful! It doesn't matter if they're diet or not!!

    I'm surprised that the author rates V Sugar Free highly, I reckon it tastes bad - either because it has too much Sucralose in it or because normal V heavily relies on sugar.

    Red Bull Zero does taste a bit different but I like it, it's not as artificially-sweet as Red Bull Sugarfree which is very noticeable when you sip it.

    Mother and Monster both taste bad to begin with. Never tried 28 Black.

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