I knew this day would come. This is one of the foundations of America, and now the secret is out. What a sad, sad day.
According to the Guardian:
For almost 125 years, the secrecy surrounding the recipe for Coca-Cola has been one of the world’s great marketing ploys. As the story goes, the fizzy drink’s famous “Merchandise 7X” flavourings have remained unchanged since they were concocted in 1886 and are today only known to two Coke executives, neither of whom can travel on the same plane for fear that the secret goes down with them.
Now one of America’s most celebrated radio broadcasters claims to have discovered the Coke secret. Ira Glass, presenter of the public radio institution This American Life, says he has tracked down a copy of the recipe, the original of which is still supposedly held in a burglar-proof vault at the Sun Trust bank in Atlanta, Georgia.
The seven-ingredient formula was created by John Pemberton, an Atlanta chemist and former Confederate army officer who crafted cough medicines and other concoctions in his spare time. In 1887, he sold the recipe to a businessman, Asa Griggs, who immediately placed it for safekeeping in the then Georgia Trust bank.
Glass came across a recipe that he believes is the secret formula in a back issue of Pemberton’s local paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, while he was researching an entirely different story. Tucked away on an inside page of the 8 February 1979 edition, he stumbled on an article that claimed to have uncovered the closely guarded 7x formula.
The column was based on an old leather-bound notebook that belonged to Pemberton’s best friend and fellow Atlanta chemist, RR Evans. Glass was intrigued and, after some digging, found the notebook had been handed down the generations until it reached a chemist in Georgia called Everett Beal, whose widow still possesses it.
The rediscovered recipe includes extract of coca leaves, caffeine, plenty of sugar (it specifies 30 unidentified units thought to be pounds), lime juice, vanilla and caramel. Into that syrup, the all-important 7x flavourings are added: alcohol and six oils – orange, lemon, nutmeg, coriander, neroli and cinnamon.
The formula is strikingly similar to the recipe deduced by Mark Pendergrast who wrote a history of the drink in 1993 called For God, Country & Coca-Cola.
Coke’s secret recipe is, in fact, part mythology. Contrary to the mystique surrounding it, the soda has in fact changed substantially over time.
Cocaine, a legal stimulant in Pemberton’s day, was removed from the drink in 1904 after mounting public unease about the drug. Extract of coca leaves have still been used but only after the cocaine has been removed.
In 1980, the company largely replaced sugar, squeezed from beet and cane, with the cheaper high-fructose corn sweetener that has become ubiquitous in American food and drink. Coke purists were not impressed.
Despite such occasional controversies, one element has remained constant: Coke’s commitment to keeping its own secret. Speculation about the recipe has been a popular talking point for more than a century, proving good for business.
True to form, the company has treated the This American Life story with the disdain that has marked its commercial strategy since the 19th century.
“Many third parties have tried to crack our secret formula. Try as they might, they’ve been unsuccessful,” Coca-Cola’s Kerry Tressler said.
The recipe: how to make your own Coca-Cola
Fluid extract of coca: 3 drams USP
Citric acid: 3 oz
Caffeine: 1 oz
Sugar: 30 (unclear quantity, possibly pounds)
Water: 2.5 gallons
Lime juice: 2 pints, 1 quart
Vanilla: 1 oz
Caramel: 1.5 oz or more to colour
Into every five gallons of syrup, add 2oz of the following seven-part flavouring:
Alcohol: 8 oz
Orange oil: 20 drops
Lemon oil: 30 drops
Nutmeg oil: 10 drops
Coriander oil : 5 drops
Neroli oil: 10 drops
Cinnamon oil: 10 drops