Pepsi Shiso: Soda pop meets a minty Japanese herb

Pepsi Shiso: Soda pop meets a minty Japanese herb

Move over Pepsi Ice Cucumber: Another wacky and improbable seasonal offering from Pepsi becomes the flavor event of the summer
Pepsi Shiso
A glass of algae-green Pepsi Shiso invites you to sample its tangy herbal sweetness. Mega bonus points to those who can finish the whole bottle.

The Japanese marketplace is cluttered with goods. So in order to satiate Japanese consumers' constant demand for new products, manufacturers can no longer wade safely on the shores of convention and common sense. Merely adding cherry or vanilla is not enough to spark national interest nor win the fiercely-challenged shelves at convenience stores across Japan.

Two years ago, Pepsi upped the ante in the flavor war with its summertime-only Pepsi Ice Cucumber. The public pool-colored beverage did not really taste like cucumber, but had a mild melon taste. Reviews were mixed.

This, however, was just prologue to the 2009 Pepsi attack on our taste buds: Pepsi Shiso. Shiso is the Japanese word for the mint-like perilla herb, but its heavy use in Japanese cuisine means most non-Japanese are probably much more familiar with it as "shiso." Although not normally an herb to show up in Japanese beverages, there is a popular shiso-based shochu called Tantakatan, which perhaps paved the way for a shiso-based soda.

However, everyone in Japan -- locals and foreigners alike -- have been generally mind-boggled by the flavor combination, falling right into Pepsi's trap. This kind of anomalism is exactly how products become King of Snack Nation. How could one possibly resist buying a bottle of shiso-flavored Pepsi?

Everything about the product is shocking. First up, the color of the soda is an uneasy shade of yellow-green: somewhere between stagnant algae pond and the universal chromatic representation of "sour apple." When it comes to taste, true to its name, Pepsi Shiso tastes like shiso. There is a cinnamon-like zing that segues smoothly into the standard carbonated burst of liquid sugar. My brain, however, had a hard time disassociating the shiso flavor with all its previous encounters in Japan: pickled plums, chicken, sashimi, salads and garnish on Japanese-style pasta. As far as my mind's taste categorization is concerned, Pepsi Shiso may as well be "soy sauce soda."

But by the time I vow to never again buy Pepsi Shiso, the drink will no doubt have shuffled off this mortal retail coil, never to be seen again. Thus is the tragic product life cycle of Snack Nation.