Pocari Sweat...The Isotonic Drink of Japan

Pocari Sweat is a non-carbonated isotonic drink (also called an ion supply or rehydration drink) produced by Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. in Japan and is intended to be consumed whenever we “sweat”. Usually used as a sports drink, you may be surprised at how often people consume this beverage, even when they are not exercising. Well, they did say “sweat” and not “exercise”, after all. Even the Pocari Sweat can was sweating!

I had a chat with my Japanese friend the other day about this product, as it seemed to be a popular drink in Japan. While I only thought that Pocari Sweat was a sports drink, I was surprised to find that it was also used to aid those who are sick, particularly when one is having a cold. Apparently, Pocari Sweat contains nutrients which were thought to be good for helping to heal a cold. This makes sense, though, since it DOES contain minerals such as sodium and potassium as well as sugars, of which have the potential to increase water absorption and speed up the recovery process. Anyway, I was further shocked when I was told that the original concept of the drink was along the lines of “drink as I.V.” or “drip drink” (飲む点滴), as in, intravenous drink…What!?!

Here’s a story about Pocari Sweat which may help explain this bizarre correlation. Although it was launched in 1980, Pocari Sweat, as any other invention does, started as an idea. While on a business trip in Mexico, an Otsuka researcher (Mr. Researcher) was unfortunately hospitalized due to diarrhea. Being told by his doctor to get sufficient water and nutrition, he was then handed a carbonated drink. An idea struck him that it would be great if there was such a drink that could provide both water and nutrients to those who needed it, such as himself. Several years later, witnessing a surgeon actually drinking a bag of I.V. fluid after his surgery (here’s where the “bizarre” came in), Mr. Researcher was inspired to create a “drinkable I.V. solution”. Thus began the years of research and thousands of trial products to develop the content, refine the taste, promote the drink, and to gain acceptability among the public. You can check out the full story at their website (Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.).

What is an isotonic drink?
An isotonic drink typically contains water, electrolytes (minerals such as sodium, potassium and calcium) as well as carbohydrates (sugars such as glucose and fructose) and is originally used by athletes to replenish the water, electrolytes and energy lost when they exercise, or “sweat”. In the case of Pocari Sweat, the appearance of the packaging (whether can or PET bottle, or otherwise) says it all. Just the blue colour of the packaging was enough to depict the refreshing feeling of the scenic sky as well as the hydration of a glass of water. Yup, that definitely fits the description of the purpose of an isotonic drink.

And now, the taste!
Smooth, non-carbonated, and a sweet-salty-sour combination, it somehow reminded me of the flavour of pomelo or some sort of fruit juice. True enough, there WAS an added citrus flavouring in the mix, but I can still taste the “water” component in it, like flavoured water. Does it taste like sweat? Maybe the salty part of it gives that impression. Just kidding, it doesn’t taste like sweat, rest assured. At first sniff, it definitely smelled like an isotonic drink. In terms of intensity, Pocari Sweat was sweet, salty, and a little sour, in descending order. By the way, this was drunk when it was cold (refrigerated). Afterwards, I left a half can of the drink for an hour at room temperature, and tasted it again. It seemed to have become a little more sour than it was before. Perhaps it’s because the tastebuds on our tongue becomes partially numbed when we drink cold beverages, thus impairing the sensitivity of our tastebuds, making us less able to “taste”? Hmm...

What's the difference?
How about comparing it with the Singapore brand but a Malaysian favourite, “100PLUS”?
Well, if you compare the contents of the two drinks, they are pretty similar, except that 100PLUS is carbonated (it has carbon dioxide in it which gives it that fizz as well as bubbles) while Pocari Sweat is not. Even the minerals are similar, but with slight variations (100PLUS has sodium citrate, sodium chloride, potassium phosphate and calcium phosphate; while Pocari Sweat has sodium chloride, potassium chloride, calcium lactate and magnesium carbonate).

Comparing the taste, here’s what I found. Upon snapping open the can of 100PLUS, you can instantly hear the fizz of the drink. This one is carbonated, for sure, and with a stronger aroma too. Feeling the fizz in your mouth, you would taste the saltiness right away. It was definitely different from Pocari Sweat. While 100PLUS was more on the salty side, Pocari Sweat was more on the sweeter side. The texture of 100PLUS felt rougher than Pocari Sweat (well, it IS carbonated after all), but that carbon dioxide carbonation gave a sense of freshness to the drink. This one was salty, sour, and sweet, in descending order of intensity. An hour later, it was still a little fizzy, with not much change in the taste.

As a conclusion to this battle of isotonic drinks, in terms of variety of ions contained in the drink as well as palatability (tastiness), Pocari Sweat wins, but in terms of consistency and the feeling of being refreshed, 100PLUS may have an upper hand. Then again, that may just be me.

For more information, check out their website. You can also check out some FAQ (frequently asked questions) about Pocari Sweat to know more about it.

Ps. Did you know that you can drink it hot too? Strange but true. Try it out and see what it tastes like when it is HOT!


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