The food and beverage world is full of mysteries. What is Coca-Cola's secret formula hidden in that vault? What is KFC's secret blend of 11 herbs and spices? And what exactly are those amazing "natural essences" that have turned everyone into seltzer-loving LaCroix addicts? When it comes to answering that final question, plenty have tried and everyone has failed. Last December, Wired attempted to get the bottom of LaCroix's definition of "natural flavor" and essentially walked away with the answer that "there's no way to know for sure."
Uncontent with these non-answers, the Wall Street Journal became the latest publication to see if it has the prowess to finally crack the LaCroix case. Non-spoiler alert, not only was the WSJ unable to uncover the definitive answer, but the paper also determined that people who love LaCroix don't even care in the first place! (You already knew that!) If there is a silver lining, however, it's that they may have gotten just a step closer than we've known before.
What LaCroix was willing to tell the WSJ is that all 20 of its flavors are derived from "natural essence oils"—an answer akin to a baseball player telling you he got to the big leagues by "swinging a hunk of wood." A few more details would be nice. However, turns out, those details are more obtuse than the original answer itself. "Essence is our picture word," LaCroix spokesman Rod Liddle wrote back to the WSJ. "Essence is—FEELINGS and Sensory Effects!" Yeah, what we're feeling now is just more confusion.
So the WSJ took a different approach: Instead of talking to LaCroix, talk to a company who makes essences. Indeed, this provided the clearest answer so far. "Essence is created by heating at high temperatures the skin, rinds or broken down remnants of fruits or vegetables," the paper explains. "Alcohol is sometimes added to the mixture. The vapors that rise off the stew are captured, condensed and eventually sold by the 55-gallon barrel." "It's a hyper-complicated chemical, but it's all natural and we see it every day," said Tony DeLio, chief innovation officer of Ingredion, a company that makes these essences. LaCroix, coy as always, wouldn't admit that this is the method behind its seltzers, but the brand also didn't deny that it was the case.
So though we still haven't officially gotten to the bottom of the "What makes LaCroix so special?" question, the Wall Street Journal would appear to have come closest yet. But what may be the biggest secret to LaCroix's success is that its fan base doesn't even seem to care. "It's a little intangible, which is kind of the appeal," said one customer who claimed he drinks ten cans a day. Apparently, nothing is as drinkable as the intangible.
This story originally appeared on Foodandwine.com.