Revealed at Last: Coca-Cola’s Secret Formula ‘Discovered’

Coca-cola’s original recipe, under wraps since 1886, was revealed by radio program “This American Life,” which reported the recipe had been hiding in plain sight since the 1970’s in an Atlanta-Journal Constitution article.

"Many third parties, including 'This American Life,' have tried to crack our secret formula. Try as they might, they've been unsuccessful because there is only one 'Real Thing,'" said Coca-Cola spokeswoman Kerry Tressler. Photo: Unevenstylish/Flickr

Coca-Cola recipe secrets have been guarded since the inception of the company more than 125 years ago (since 1886), but a radio station recently said it has found the secret to the soda giant’s elixir.

This American Life,” a radio program produced by Chicago Public Radio, said it discovered a 1979 article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which has what they believe is a credible ingredient list for Coke.

“I am not kidding,” the show’s Ira Glass said, according to ABC News reporter Brian Braiker, who listened in. “One of the most famously guarded trade secrets on the planet: I have it right here and I am going to read it to you. I am going to read it to the world.”

Ira Glass said that he discovered the list in the Constitution, which is the nearest newspaper to Coca-Cola headquarters, and noted that on page 2B on February 18, 1979 edition, there was a photograph for an old pharmacists’ recipe. The article received little attention at that time.

But, producers say, that’s because no one realized the photo used to illustrate the story is a hand-written copy of John Pemberton’s original recipe, jotted down by a friend in a leather-bound recipe book of ointments and medicines, and passed down by friends and family for generations.

“The long story of Coke’s secret formula begins with Pemberton, a veteran from Georgia who emerged from the Civil War with a morphine addiction.” writes Time’s William Lee Adams.

“Hoping to cure his ailment, he dreamed up Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, a brew that included kola nut and coca wine. But in 1886, as Atlanta passed prohibition legislation, he reformulated the drink without alcohol, renamed it Coca-Cola, and began selling it in Georgia pharmacies.”

He continnued: “Asa Candler, an early president of the Coca-Cola company who bought the formula in 1887, worried rivals would obtain the recipe so insisted no one ever write it down again.”

“Staff removed all labels from ingredient containers and identified them by sight and smell only. Candler even went through the company mail so he could shred invoices that employees might attempt to sell to other drink makers.”

As ABC News reported, when Glass tried to get the ingredients made into a soda by Jones Soda Co., it didn’t taste the same. This is likely because Coca-Cola is one of the few companies in the world, that have access to liquid coco leaf extract that is stripped of cocaine. Here is the ingredient list from “This American Life”:

The syrup: * Fluid extract of Coca 3 drams USP; * Citric acid 3 oz; * Caffeine 1oz; * Sugar 30 (it is unclear from the markings what quantity is required); * Water 2.5 gal; * Lime juice 2 pints 1 qrt; * Vanilla 1oz; * Caramel 1.5oz or more to colour.

The 7X flavor (use 2oz of flavour to 5 gals syrup): * Alcohol 8oz; * Orange oil 20 drops; * Lemon oil 30 drops; * Nutmeg oil 10 drops; * Coriander 5 drops; * Neroli 10 drops; * Cinnamon 10 drops.

This essentially means that if the recipe is indeed the original, many of the ingredients (caffeine) that make Coke less-than-healthy now were always there. But notably missing was the oft-scorned high fructose corn syrup, which had not yet been developed.

Also different in the original recipe was the presence of the namesake ‘coca’ in Coca-Cola, which is part of cocaine. So yes, cocaine – in some form – was an original ingredient on Coca-Cola.

Nowadays, there’s a plant in New Jersey where manufacturers remove the cocaine from the coca leaf, something that’s been done since 1903, the year that Coca-Cola nixed cocaine from its recipe.

And while companies like Pepsi have deduced the general ingredients on their own, none have unlocked the “Merchandise 7X flavoring” that gives Coke its unique taste and bubbly burn.

“The company has always said, and as far as I know it’s true, that at any given time only two people know how to mix the 7X flavoring ingredient,” Mark Pendergrast, historian and author of For God, Country and Coke told This American Life.

He added: “Those two people never travel on the same plane in case it crashes; it’s this carefully passed-on secret ritual and the formula is kept in a bank vault.”

Coca-Cola Inc., the world’s largest soft drink maker, denied that the formula is the same as the one for its cola, which is kept in an Atlanta bank vault.

“Many third parties, including ‘This American Life,’ have tried to crack our secret formula. Try as they might, they’ve been unsuccessful because there is only one ‘Real Thing,'” said Coca-Cola spokeswoman Kerry Tressler. [This American Life via Huffington Post, Time and MSNBC]

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