Weird Food

Weird Food 7: Baikal (Байкал)

Okay, I lied. I wanna do one more weird food before I get back to thought experiments for a while, because I wanted to drink another Russian soda, and figured I might as well get a review out of it.

And, I guess if you’re going to name a soda after something, might as well name it after a gigantic, pretty lake. There’s something charming about Baikal soda. The label is all rustic and inviting. See?

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I’m cheating a little bit, because I’ve tried Baikal (Байкал) in the past, and I already know that it’s one of the best sodas I’ve had. But I’m gonna crack this one open and have some more.

Байкал smells like cinnamon and rosemary when you first open it. Maybe a little eucalyptus. The flavor is very smooth. It’s mostly cola, but after a second, I taste lemon, and it finishes off with aromatic herbiness, like tea with lemon and rosemary.

Don’t worry. I’m not turning into some sort of horrible wine-snob. I’m not about to start babbling about “lacings” and “nose” and “bouquet.” Mainly because I have a palate like the underside of a sheep. But I really do taste all those things in Байкал, and it leaves behind a pleasant herbal aftertaste.

One of the reasons Байкал is one of my favorite sodas is that the flavor is complicated. Baikal is made with at least five different herbs. There’s Siberian ginseng (no relation to actual ginseng), black tea, cardamom, eucalyptus, and lemon. The Siberian ginseng is actually a berry from Chinese medicine called Eleutherococcus senticosus. At first, I thought it was kinda weird that a Russian soft drink contains Chinese berries. Then I remembered that Russia is gigantic, and that Lake Baikal is on the eastern end, right over by Mongolia and China.

I really like Байкал, partly because it feels more wholesome to drink than most American sodas, many of which are just over-flavored sugar water. I mean, Байкал is still a soda. It’s still flavored sugar water, and like the Тархун (Tarkun) I tried previously, it’s a little too sweet. But I’d much sooner drink over-sweet Байкал, which tastes like tasty herbs and sugar, than over-sweet Orange Crush, which tastes like fake oranges and sugar syrup. So I guess I am kind of a snob. I wish I had a big bottle of Baikal, because I’d love to make a slush puppy out of it. I bet that’d be amazing.

The Verdict

Baikal (Байкал) is a very tasty soda with a smooth, complicated, herby flavor. It’s similar enough to a standard American cola that I think most Americans would enjoy it. If you can find it, you should try it. I don’t think you’ll regret it. Unless you’re, like, a type-2 diabetic, in which case, why the hell are you drinking soda? Quit it! I’m talking to you, cousin Kerry! And put down that bag of gummy bears!

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Weird Food

Weird Food 6: Tarkun (Тархун)

I know I’ve been doing a lot of weird food posts lately. Don’t worry, this isn’t becoming a weird-food-only blog. This’ll be the last one for a while, so I can get back to ridiculous thought experiments. But, frankly, I don’t want to end this string of weird foods on something nasty like surströmming. So, I hit up my local international market and got, among other things, some Chernogolovka (Черноголовки)-brand Russian sodas.

Let me first say that the two Russian sodas I’ve had before came from the same company, so I had high hopes when I decided to try Tarkun (Тархун, yes, I am going to keep doing that, because Cyrillic is awesome). Sure, the color is a little too much like the green flavor of those horrible ice pops, but Chernogolovka haven’t steered me wrong so far.

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Then, I read the back of the bottle, and the main ingredient (besides carbonated water and sugar) was tarragon. I started to get concerned, because I’d seen the guys at awesome YouTube channel Cult Moo try a Russian soda that had the same bizarre color, and they weren’t very fond of it. Still, I had high hopes, so I opened it and smelled it. What came out was a shocking smell almost exactly like black licorice. I’ve had absinthe before, but I don’t remember what it tastes like very well (imagine that), but I’m pretty sure this is the soda equivalent.

Smell-wise, at least. When I actually tasted it, it was pretty damn tasty. I like Тархун. Тархун doesn’t taste nearly as strongly of licorice as it smells, and the flavor is made up of multiple subtle flavors. That’s something I’ve noticed about Russian soda: its flavors are a lot more complicated than you get in American sodas (even the good-quality ones). At some point in the future, I’ll be reviewing Baikal soda, which has cola, lemon, and weird Chinese herb flavors, and is also delicious. Another selling point for me: none of that damn over-sweet high-fructose corn syrup. I haven’t done my research to find out whether there’s any truth to the claims that high-fructose corn syrup is especially bad for you, but now that I’ve switched over to drinking sodas made with proper sugar, I don’t wanna go back, just because real sugar tastes better.

I will say, though, that as much as I was pleasantly surprised by Тархун, it was too sweet. Luckily, it comes in small bottles. I’d bet money that it’d make a delicious cocktail with vodka, or rum, or maybe even tequila. You could make a sort of weird tarragon mojito!

The Verdict

Tarkun (Тархун) is a good soda if you don’t mind black licorice, but I wouldn’t drink a lot of it at once, since it’s so sweet. Then again, that’s kind of true of all soda, isn’t it?

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