For Cold and Flu Season: Which Cough Syrup Tastes Best?
General holiday stress, wildly schizophrenic weather and two weekends in a row of driving to Dallas-Fort Worth has taken its toll on me: I have a cold.
It happens once a year, despite my best efforts. And I'm not alone: Texas's cold and flu season generally runs from December through February, so I'm guessing a few of you poor bastards out there are down for the count too right now.
It's okay, though: We're all in this together. And, as I told one of my editors, the worst part of being sick isn't the sore throat or the stuffy nose or the aching joints or the mucus sliding slowly and stubbornly past my epiglottis. The worst part is the medicine.
I hate cough syrup. I hate "Cold & Flu" syrup. I hate all of it. If there is anything else in the world more capable of triggering my gag reflex, I've not yet met it.
"How can people get addicted to this stuff?!" I asked my editor over email. "It's disgusting." And then she had a brilliant idea: a taste test to find the least offensive-tasting syrup for cold and flu season.
On one hand, I didn't want to leave the house -- especially to buy any more of the nasty Mucinex that I was already forcing down my throat. But on the other hand, if I went to Randall's to get it, that meant I could also get an Antone's po-boy, which is about the only thing that sounded good to eat. And there was also the remote chance that I could find a decent-tasting cough syrup and realize my dreams of getting well and becoming the first food critic to get addicted to purple drank.
Off to Randall's I went.
I was a little surprised, frankly, that no one at the store had a problem with me buying four jugs of cough syrup and a po-boy. I was asked for my Texas driver's license, which I provided even though it's been expired for well over a year, and that was it. Shit, if I'd known it was this easy, I could have been making meth for years...
Back home, I lined up the bottles and the taste test began.
Tylenol Cold & Flu, honey and lemon flavor ($5.99): This tastes like fertilizer. I mean, like straight-up industrial-grade fertilizer. How does this even happen? There are no detectable honey or lemon notes anywhere in here.
Mucinex Cold & Flu & Sore Throat ($9.99): It tastes like berry-flavored drain cleaner. I described it on Twitter as being aggressively berry-flavored, in fact, like a fruit bomb Cabernet from California. Except imagine that Cab mixed with Liquid Plumber. Piquant.
Safeway-brand Nighttime Cold & Flu ($4.99): ...cherries? That's all I taste? What...what...what miracle is this?! Is someone screwing with me? This has absolutely no bad aftertaste, no burn going down the throat, nothing. It just tastes like extra-thick cherry syrup. Unreal.
Vicks Nature Fusion Cold & Flu ($7.99): You know this one; it's the one in all those commercials lately, advertising that it's made with all-natural flavors and a bunch of other bullshit. Instead, the ads claim, it's flavored with honey. It certainly tastes like honey, but more like the packets of "honey" you get at McDonald's when you ask for it (and packets of grape jelly, natch) with your sausage biscuit. It's overly honey-flavored. It's creepy. It's the uncanny valley of honey flavors. I dislike this one intensely.
Vicks NyQuil Cold & Flu ($8.99): This is the OG of cough syrups. It has no "flavor" other than A Bunch of Chemicals That Will Make You Feel Better So Shut Up. I appreciate that in a cough syrup. It's a vile flavor, for sure, but less vile somehow for not trying to mask itself in berries or honey. This is a close second to the Safeway-brand Nighttime Cold & Flu.
Safeway-brand Nighttime Cold & Flu and its remarkably smooth cherry flavor won this round handily. It also gets huge bonus points for being the cheapest of the lot at only $4.99 a bottle.
A close runner up, however, would have to be the Tylenol Cold & Flu purely because it's the only cough syrup I could drink without getting really loopy, like someone had crushed a handful of Benadryl into my Sprite. Mucinex is good for staying awake, too, except for that godawful taste.
I still can't fathom how anyone can get addicted to any of this stuff, though. But I don't understand this guy either. I guess it takes all kinds.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Houston dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.