Controversy over the sugar content of sweetened tea beverages, popular among Taiwanese, is heating up again after recent tests revealed that a number of companies are using “high-fructose corn syrup” and “inverted sugar syrup” instead of cane sugar, as advertised.
Common Health Magazine conducted the test by purchasing tea beverages at three stores from each of the nation’s six leading tea beverage chains and sending them for analysis at certified testing service laboratories.
“All the tested beverages were excessively sweet, over the normal healthy level,” magazine editor-in-chief Lee Se (李瑟) said.
“The Jade Lemon Green Tea from King Tea (清玉) stores had the highest sugar content. One large cup contains 74.5g of sugar, equal to 15 sugar cubes. This is 1.7 times over the daily recommended amount per person of 45g, or 9 sugar cubes,” she added.
Other beverages tested were 50 Lan (50嵐), Tea Top (台灣第一味), Orange Tea (橘子工坊), Chatime (日出茶太) and Tea Plus (水巷茶弄), all of which had sugar content of 9 to 10 percent, she said.
Most of the stores’ advertising stated they only use the “natural ingredients” of cane sugar and lemon, but tests revealed 50 Lan and Tea Top stores used “inverted sugar syrup” — a commercial sweetener made by converting a sucrose solution to glucose and fructose with the catalytic aid of enzymes or the addition of an acid, she said.
Chatime store utilized a mixture consisting of high-fructose corn syrup and cane sugar, she said, adding only Orange Tea, Tea Plus and King Tea used cane sugar as advertised.
Wu Ying-jung (吳映蓉), chief executive officer of the Nutrition Foundation of Taiwan said that for these tea drinks, the higher the lemon juice content, the more sugar is needed to reduce and balance out its acidic sour flavor.
“That is how the King Tea’s claim of ‘golden ratio’ was achieved, by hiking up both its sweetness and lemon sourness levels,” Wu said.
“But no matter if the sweetening is done by cane sugar, pure fructose, or high-fructose corn syrup, too much of it will lead to obesity, fat deposits on the liver and other organs, and high uric acid content leading to hyperuricemia diseases.
In response, Hsu Ya-ting (許亞婷), public relations officer at King Tea, said on Friday that the Jade Lemon Green Tea with its “golden ratio” is a tried and tested formula by the company’s technical team, and that each consumers can choose their own “golden ratio,” by requesting “no sugar,” “half sugar,” or “full sugar” levels.
A spokesperson for Tea Top, meanwhile, said the sugar solution used by its stores was made from ingredients consisting of water, with Taisugar Company’s special granulated white sugar and liquid sugar. Taisugar’s liquid sugar product has its basic content as sucrose, fructose, glucose, with water, and thus consumers need not worry about chemical additives, the spokesperson said.
50 Lan’s parent company responded through a statement, saying its stores changed from fructose to sucrose in May, as Taisugar officials recommended using their liquid sugar product, which was thought to be made of natural cane sugar. Its stores took down its advertising from Aug. 29, so as not to mislead consumers, it added.
Wu Shu-ping (吳書平), marketing manager of La Kaffa Group, the parent company of Chatime, said fructose was indeed added for sweetening, but added that their advertising did not claim the use of 100 percent cane sugar.
“The reporting by Common Health Magazine is wrong to suggest that Chatime is misleading the public. We have contacted the magazine, and requested them to make the correction,” he said.
Additional reporting by Huang Wen-huang