Dr Pepper and Its Mysterious 23 Flavors

Dr Pepper is one of those enigmatic consumable products that are either loved or hated by any given person, with no middle ground. Like Circus Peanuts, or, for another soda example, Mountain Dew. I like Dr Pepper. However, I don’t like that Dr Pepper recently began touting its unique secret blend of 23 flavors. Surely you’ve noticed it–the “23 flavors” mark now appears prominently on every Dr Pepper label, and this quality was the theme of some ad campaigns in the last two years or so.

This piece was originally conceived as a look at an ad campaign gone wrong. Dr Pepper has 23 flavors? That’s kind of gross, even mildly disturbing. And we’re to believe that this carbonated high fructose corn syrup in an aluminum can is more complex than the finest of carefully crafted old-world wines perfected through centuries of tradition? Even the most pompous of wine tasters, with the bouquet and the hints and the overtones and the undertones and the subtle resonances, won’t come up with more than six or seven flavors. 23 flavors? Are you serious, Doc P?

But I am, alas, an inquisitive person. Foolishly so, some say. This writing will undoubtedly do little to dissuade them of this belief. I decided, instead, to attempt to unlock the mysteries of Dr Pepper’s 23 flavors. To me, this 23 flavors business amounts to nothing less than a taunt, a dare, a worthy Dr Pepper challenge.

Here is the document of my journey.

In case you’re unaware, the 23 flavors that comprise the Dr Pepper recipe is a supreme secret of the Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages (CSAB) group. Depending on which account you trust–there’s no official word from the company–either only a very few people know the Dr Pepper recipe or, in the slightly more extreme version, a few people know half of the recipe while a few others know the other half.

I decided to bring in some help on my mission to identify Dr Pepper’s 23 flavors. Who better to turn to than a few friends who happen to be highly-trained restaurant professionals? I settled on a sous chef, a sautee chef, and, yes, an apprentice sommelier, from three of the best restaurants in Philadelphia. I simply told them all I’d like to buy them a drink.

Only a month later, a day arrived when all four of us could get together at the same time. They were a bit puzzled when I brought them into a diner. One that just so happens to have fountain Dr Pepper. I ignored their inquiries and shrugged off their protests as we sat. When I ordered a round of Dr Peppers, I was met with quizzical, even suspicious glances.

Why should I be accountable for their misinterpretation of my offer?

There we sat. And a more discerning collective palette at one diner booth would be hard to find, if I do say so myself. Optimistically, I explained our task of identifying as many, if not all, of Dr Pepper’s 23 flavors. We raised our glasses, and my attempt at a toast was shouted down and cursed out.

Though I’m tempted, I won’t lie; wine-tasting techniques were employed. Noses were in the Dr Pepper glasses. Sips of Dr Pepper were taken while air was sucked in. Mouths did roll and swish Dr Pepper around amidst contemplative expressions. Were I not so committed to my mission, I might’ve considered it an absurd scene.

I knew going in what the most formidable obstacle would be: that we were dealing with artificial flavors. In all likelihood, Dr Pepper’s 23 flavors are no more than 10 or so different chemicals that approximate some vaguely familiar tastes. But this foregone conclusion was just so unsatisfying. If Dr Pepper says it has 23 flavors, then 23 flavors I would identify.

So here, in all its glory, is my final product, one man’s earnest, albeit somewhat sad, attempt to define the secret 23 flavors of Dr Pepper (in no particular order):

1. Cherry

2. Vanilla

3. Almond

4. Plum

5. Blackberry

6. Raspberry

7. Apricot

8. Coriander

9. Clove

10. Amaretto

11. Anise

12. Caramel

13. Molasses

14. Birch Beer

15. Allspice

16. Ginger

17. Sasparilla

18. Sassafras

19. Juniper

20. Spikenard

21. Wintergreen

22. Burdock

23. Dandelion

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