Cooking with Coke: a sacking offence

Posted: September 10, 2008 in General
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Samak Sundaravej gives a cooking demo for Thai media at his residence in Bangkok 

Samak Sundaravej gives a cooking demo for Thai media at his residence in Bangkok. Photograph: Narong Sangnak/EPA

The Thai prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, is a man of many talents. This week he was forced to resign – along with his entire cabinet – over his sideline in presenting TV cookery shows, which in the eyes of the supreme court constituted illegal moonlighting. The man in charge was apparently famed for his pork leg stewed in Coca-Cola, a technique popularised by our posh lady of the pans, Nigella Lawson. This recipe is in fact neither of their inventions, but an old American concoction, one of many unearthly things the Yanks can do with their favourite national drink. The official Coca-Cola website has tonnes of recipes, from oven-baked nachos to French onion soup, some of which were created by the Culinary Institute of America.

I can vaguely understand why Americans might cook with Coke; after all, their traditional Thanksgiving meal sometimes runs to a dish of roast sweet potatoes baked with marshmallows with a crunchy topping of blitzed-up crackers. But in Thailand, where the very essence of their food is fresh, zippy, healthy and light, surely there are better ingredients for the prime minister to employ?

For that’s what the people at Coca-Cola are trying to promote it as – an ingredient just like Worcestershire sauce, or a splash of wine, or a stock replacement. The trouble is that the theory just doesn’t hold water: the ingredients that go into a bottle of Coke include sugar, caramel, caffeine flavouring, carbonated water and what the company describes as “natural flavourings – a unique blend of spices and extracts from around the world”, which could include just about anything. And did I mention the sugar?

Any cook will tell you that there are parts of a pig that have always liked a bit of sweetness – a traditional glazed ham wouldn’t get that glossy look without the help of brown sugar or honey. But those two sugars are a world apart from the refined sweeteners that go into Coke. I’m all for having a laugh in the kitchen, but this gimmick really does come at a price too high for me and, it seems, for Sundaravej too.

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