LaCroix: An In-Depth Flavor Analysis
Over the past few years, LaCroix Sparkling Water has made a rapid ascent to the top of the fizzy water food chain. It was created back in the 1980’s as an approachable bubbly water (in opposition to the “snobby” sparkling brands like Perrier and San Pellegrino that ruled the market at the time), but has in recent years turned into a pop culture phenomenon. Not only is LaCroix arguably the most widely sipped sparkling water on the market today, but it has also evolved into more than a beverage: LaCroix is a status symbol, a lifestyle, and a big, fat addiction.
With twenty-one flavors in their repertoire and millions of die-hard fans snatching them up by the colorful case-full, you’d have to be living under a rock not to know about LaCroix. Plus, their flavor portfolio is vast. LaCroix covers the basics with flavor varieties such as Lemon, Lime, Orange, and Berry, but they also cross cultural boundaries when it comes to creating a titillating bubbly water experience: their essenced line mixes flavors from France and Spain and somehow fits the palate-pleasing combos into a sleeker, more slender can. And did you know? Instead of lame old grapefruit LaCroix calls this one by its French name, Pamplemousse. C'est bon! Plus, who could forget the exciting additions of Apricot, Passionfruit, Mango, and Key Lime, which truly push the envelope on traditional fizzy flavors.
But with so much hype and publicity, with so much popularity and proliferation in our culture, we’ve found ourselves wondering: is the juice really worth the squeeze?
Which flavors merit the $3.00 per case pricetag (when you use your Kroger Plus card, that is. Without it, they skyrocket to a questionable $3.99!) and which should stay far, far away from our thirsty lips? We sat down with Henrietta Red’s Allie Poindexter, sommelier and general manager, and Julia Sullivan, executive chef, to pick their brains, test their palates and figure out exactly that.
“KEY LIME IS THE FUCKING BESSSSST,” Julia texted to me, after I’d posted a photo of the new flavor on my Instagram story. “It tastes like lime skittles! So much better than the regular lime. I don’t know why they still make that. I’m a chef. I know.”
I’d never thought too deeply about it before, but Julia’s comment did make me wonder: What is the best flavor of LaCroix? Did Key Lime universally reign supreme? Was Julia’s status as the executive chef of a James Beard Award-nominated restaurant reason enough to take her opinion on the subject and consider it fact? Or could there in fact be other flavors out there that in reality wore the gilded crown?
I had to find out.
“So here’s the plan,” I said to my guinea pigs. (That being the two women of Henrietta Red, both of whom have refined and discerning palates and both of whom were literally born to assist me in this kind of hard-hitting journalism.) “I’ve got 8 different flavors here but I’m not going to tell you what they are. I’ll go behind the bar and pour you a little taste of each, one-by-one; you’ll just taste it like you would a wine or a beer or something. Offer your notes, and then we’ll move on to the next one. I’m recording this. When we’re all done, I’ll reveal what each one was, and then we’ll rank our favorites!”
“I’m going to know what every single one of them is, immediately,” said Julia.
“Yeah, and I’m not,” said Allie.
When it comes to LaCroix, you could call Julia a standard fanatic. She imbibes the beverage daily, guzzling down more than one can per day — heck, maybe even more than one can per shift! — and feels she has superior flavor knowledge in this realm. Her favorites are grapefruit (okay, okay, pamplemousse), tangerine and the newest member of the family: key lime.
Allie, on the other hand, has never had a LaCroix. As a matter of fact, before we began our analysis, she was under the impression that LaCroix was a sugary soda — something similar in vein to Sprite or Orange Crush — and felt quite anxious about having to imbibe so much sweet and syrupy beverage in one sitting. I quickly set her straight.
“It will be a fun juxtaposition!” I said to them. “Because I know you, Julia, are really familiar with all of [the flavors of LaCroix], and Allie you don’t have any prior knowledge or tasting notes so you can just use your sommelier background and palate to guess the flavors.”
And so we began.
1. GRAPEFRUIT / PAMPLEMOUSSE
“Okay, this smells like a grapefruit...I think,” says Allie as she lifts the wine glass to her nose.
We’ve decided to use wine glasses for this tasting since that feels kind of “official” and since I didn’t bring any blindfolds and since I didn’t think Allie and Julia would really like being blindfolded at 11:25 on a Friday morning before their day has really even begun. But that being said, we do come to realize that the use of a wine glass changes the typical LaCroix experience by adding a heavy nose to a canned product that typically has a non-existent one. Because we’ve already begun the experiment as such, and because we don’t really have the time to pack it all up and start it all over, we decide to soldier on. But I do think it’s something worth noting here.
Julia takes a sniff and a sip. She says immediately and with certainty, “Tangerine.”
“Bluh!!” says Allie after her first taste. “I don’t like this at all. They don’t add any sweetness?” She swirls the drink around and takes in the aroma again. “It smells like a grapefruit to me. But honestly when you taste it, you can’t taste the flavor very much — you can just smell it so strongly. It’s just too citrusy though. Like, it’s acidic and citrusy.” She finishes, “I wouldn’t drink this.”
Julia’s guess: Tangerine
Allie’s guess: Grapefruit
Allie: Lime. Lemon lime. Yeah, it smells like Sprite. It gives me a little PTSD from 7th grade when I had a Sprite obsession.
When she was young, Allie used to enjoy a Sprite alongside hummus and pita every day after school, but then one day in the 7th grade it became too much. On a Tuesday afternoon, in the middle of enjoying her daily snack, she realized that Sprite was gross; that it was disgusting. And so she quit cold-turkey. She hasn’t consumed a full can or bottle of soda since.
Julia: Uhg. I dunno, I’m doubting myself! You better have gotten some Key Lime for us, Maddie.
I’m not going to reveal my hand.
Allie: Oh, is [key lime] a flavor? Because if so, I think this is that. This is some kind of lemon lime.
Julia the LaCroix expert asserts her superior flavor knowledge: “No, this isn’t key lime. This is just lime-lime.”
Julia’s guess: Lime
Allie’s guess: Lime
3. PEACH PEAR
“Oh shit, this is peachy!” says Allie when she takes her first whiff.
“Peach pear,” says Julia almost immediately thereafter. “Peach pear. Peach pear. Peach pear IS the flavor.”
“Have you tasted it?” I ask.
“No, but it’s peach pear,” she retorts.
“It sure smells like peach to me,” says Allie. She takes a sip. “…Oh! But pear! I do get pear too!”
“Yeah, and peach-pear is a flavor,” says Julia. “Sooo…..”
“Well, if peach pear is a flavor then that is what that is.”
Julia’s guess: Peach-Pear
Allie’s guess: Peach-Pear
“Fuck LaCroix! How did they get so popular?” Allie insists.
“Because they’re sooooooo gooooood,” says Julia.
Julia: Oh, this is my least favorite flavor. I know what this is.
Allie: Strawberry? Maybe?
Julia: Uh uh uh. I regret this one every time I accidentally buy it!
Allie: It’s kinda floral. Fuck! What is that? I want to say some kind of berry. Maybe raspberry? Actually no...shit! Maybe it’s a grape? Okay, final answer: raspberry grape
Julia: Cran-Raspberry. I hate that flavor. It tastes like bubblegum.
Allie: Seriously, what’s the point of these? I still don’t understand what the point of these is. You can barely taste the actual flavor when you drink it! But you can smell it. I can smell it a hell of a lot more than I can actually taste it.
Julia’s guess: Cran-Raspberry
Allie’s guess: Raspberry Grape
5. CUCUMBER BLACKBERRY
“Oh! This one is strawberry. Smells like strawberry to me,” says Allie. She takes a sip. “Oh! Maybe not. Mmmm...watermelon. Is watermelon a flavor?”
I remind her that I don’t want her to know the flavors — that it almost makes it better that she doesn’t know, since she has a palate that is more or less trained to do this kind of thing. “I want you to smell and taste and pull out the flavors that you think are in there,” I tell her. “And then we’re just testing Julia to see if she knows LaCroix as well as she claims.”
Allie pushes forward. “It’s watermelon! Watermelon!”
On the other side of the table, Julia is frowning. She’s looking at her wine glass of clear bubbly water with a furrow in her brow. “I am stumped,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve had this one. You’re throwing a curveball at me.”
“Can I say strawberry watermelon?” asks Allie.
“It kind of tastes like that watermelon Bubbliscious gum,” says Julia. “Remember that? But I don’t think I know this flavor.”
“I’m leaning towards watermelon,” Allie asserts. “What say you, chef?”
Allie’s guess: Strawberry Watermelon
Julia’s guess: Passionfruit
Allie: Nooooooo! Uhg! It smells like um...cherry something.
Julia: I do not like this one.
Allie: Yeah, it’s like cherry or grape. Like a cough syrup that I cannot stand. It smells like Robitussin to me.
Julia: Like, a Luden’s cough drop…
Allie: I want to say cherry.
Julia: Or is this cran-raspberry? Uhg, I don’t know! But I don’t like it.
Allie: Or it’s an artificial grape.
Maddie: Julia, you know it’s not mango.
Julia: I know its not mango, but I know it’s not GRAPE. That’s not a flavor. Hmm...okay, dig deep, Julia. Dig deep. I dunno!
Julia’s guess: stumped
Allie’s guess: Cherry or Grape
7. KEY LIME
I sat the glasses down in front of Julia and Allie and this time Julia got to it first. She went right in for a sip and almost as soon as the liquid touched her tongue, a smile spread across her face and her eyes doubled in size. “Ohp! I know what this iiiiis!!!!!! It’s the BEST one!!!”
Without even talking a sip out of her glass, Allie asks, “Oh, is this the Key Lime?”
“Yep. Tastes like a lime skittle. That’s my tasting note.” Julia takes another glug out of her glass.
“This takes EXACTLY like a lime skittle,” Allie confirms. “I like this better than every single other one that we’ve tasted. And you know, this is more fun than I thought it was going to be. I was not really happy about this before, but it’s fun!”
Allie’s guess: Key Lime
Julia’s guess: Key Lime
We’ve done it. We’ve made it. We’re down to the final flavor and I am happy to see that my subjects aren’t yet tiring of my superfluous game. With seven wine glasses lined up in front of each of them, we marvel over how far we’ve come; over the flavors we’ve sampled; over the vast amount out there that we’ve yet to explore (there are 13 others, to be exact). But they’re eager to find out the big reveal, so I crack open one final can, pour about an inch of liquid into two wine glasses and set them down on the table.
Julia: I know what this is!
Allie: This is an orange. It tastes like oranges. It smells like an orange.
Allie: Yeah, clementine...tangerine...orange...something in that family.
Maddie: Final answers?
Allie’s guess: Orange
Julia’s guess: Tangerine
When the experiment has officially reached its conclusion and it comes time to reveal what’s what, I am surprised by both women’s levels of enthusiasm. “I’m actually really excited,” says Allie. “I think you picked two good people. I think it’s good that Julia knew the flavors before and that I had no idea.” As we go down the list, revealing each flavor one by one, there are a few shocks, an equal amount of proud high-fives and plenty of emotion all around.
Some of the revelations dishearten my test subjects: after disclosing flavor number two as Lemon (as opposed Lime, which both women had guessed) Julia becomes distraught. “LEMON!?” she shrieks, her face turning red. “Maybe I’m not as big of a LaCroix enthusiast as I thought I was...”
Other revelations bring out a certain amount of disapproval; Julia and Allie become almost insistent that they must be right, and that LaCroix is wrong. I threw a curveball at ‘em with the Cucumber Blackberry, courtesy of LaCroix’s Essenced line, but these women didn’t buy it: “I still say watermelon,” said Allie, after the truth had been revealed. In an effort to support her friend and colleague, Julia responded, “Well, watermelon and cucumber do have similar flavor characteristics so…”
And yet, further discoveries elicited a more emotional response than one might display while watching the season finale of The Bachelorette. Both were absolutely disgusted by the berry flavor, spitting out descriptors such as “Terrible!” and “Horrible!” and then an echo of “Horrible!” again.
But in the end, we all decided that Julia was right: we agreed that Key Lime is hands down, no bones about it, one hundred percent the best flavor there is.
“My top three remain: key lime, pamplemousse and tangerine” said Julia, with a sliver of satisfaction.
“I’m proud!” Allie responded. “I kinda like that cucumber blackberry one. And the tangerine was good-ish. But the berry? That thing was horrible. It tastes like a bad cough syrup.” She shuddered.
Allie + Julia’s La Croix Flavors, ranked:
Key Lime - winner, winner, winner!!!!
Tangerine - citrus and yum!
Cucumber Blackberry - tastes like watermelon :D
Pamplemousse - very citrusy and not super sweet
Peach Pear - yep, accurate flavor description
Lemon - slightly artificial tasting; slightly limey tasting
Passionfruit - kind of like cherry with some floral notes
Berry - bad, bad cough syrup. Bluh!
To learn more about LaCroix and its meteoric rise to fame, click here. To be honest, it’s actually kind of fascinating.