© Denzil Green
Coca-Cola™ is a soft-drink sold throughout the world.
The exact ingredients and proportion of ingredients are a trade secret. However, the largest ingredient in it is water — It takes nearly 3 litres of water to make 1 litre of Coke. The second largest ingredient is sweetener. The taste has a citrus note to it, which is believed by most people to be orange. The presence of cinnamon in the drink also gives the taste a sharpish edge.
The Coca-Cola, based in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, makes a concentrated, unsweetened syrup, which it then provides to licenced bottlers throughout the world. Each bottler has a monopoly on their geographical zone. The bottler adds carbonated water to the syrup, as well as sweetener according to preferences for that area of the world, then packages it in cans or bottles. A version of the concentrate is also sold directly to fast food chains, etc for dispensing from soda machines.
The classic bottle shape is sometimes referred to as “contour”, sometimes as “hobble skirt.”
In the American south, the word “Coke” is used generically in conversation to refer to any kind of soft drink. If you ask a waitress for a Coke, she will ask you what kind of Coke you want: “We got orange, Dr Pepper, Mountain Dew, root beer …”
The mixed drink “Fernet con Cola” is popular in Argentina. It is Coca-Cola mixed with Fernet Branca.
In 2006, the Coca-Cola company sold more than a billion servings a day worldwide, and spent 2 billion US worldwide on marketing that year.
Sweeteners in Coca Cola
In the United States, corn syrup has been used as the sweetener by some bottlers since at least the 1930s. [Ed: a PBS documentary dating the introduction of corn-based sweeteners to the early 1980s was incorrect.] When Classic Coke was reintroduced in July 1985, all American bottlers made the switch to high fructose corn syrup.
Outside the US, Coke still uses sugar in most countries. Sugar is more expensive in the US owing to price supports for US farmers who produce sweeteners such as sugar cane in Louisiana, and beet and corn growers in the midwest.
So, the use of corn syrup as the sweetener is based on cost considerations, which also leads to the one American exception: in Hawaii, where the sweetener used is still cane sugar, because cane sugar there is cheaper to use than importing in corn syrup sweeteners from the mainland.
There is another exception in America. Coca-Cola has been certified kosher, as well as kosher for passover, since 1935. Corn syrup is not deemed kosher for passover. So, if you live within any area that has a high Jewish population, you can get sugar-sweetened Coke for the month leading up to Passover. KP or UP will be stamped after the plant code (not the UPC code) on the bottle or can.
Diet Coke was introduced in America on 9 August 1982 (1983 in the UK.)
It is not a modified version of Coke, but an entirely different recipe.
Bottled and canned versions in the US and the UK use 100% NutraSweet. Soda fountain versions in those countries contain some saccharin as well to extend shelf life.
In countries other than the US and the UK, the product might use a blend of cyclamates, aspartame and acesulfame potassium as the sweetener.
New Coke was a new formulation of Coca-Cola, based on the Diet Coke recipe, using high fructose corn syrup as the sweetener. [Ed: note this was not the first time corn syrup had been used as a sweetener; it was already being used in the 1930s. See Kosher Coke section.]
New Coke went through countless focus groups, trials and testings, and was finally launched 23 April 1985 in the US, Canada, and in overseas American territories. Many people actually liked it, but those who didn’t, were very vocal and influential. Mass consumer rejection was spearheaded by the American south, resulting in the Coca-Cola company getting over 400,000 letters and calls of complaint.
Finally, after New Coke had been on the market less than 2 ½ months, in July Coca-Cola president Roberto Goizueta, who had championed the new Coke, decided that the company had no choice but to capitulate, and he announced the reintroduction of the old formula.
Some consumers in some regions suspected they still detected a taste difference, they were right. But it wasn’t in the formula. Bottlers take the syrup, add sweetener to the preferences for their region, dilute it with carbonated water, and bottle it. The difference they detected was that any regional bottlers who hadn’t yet made the switch from the sweetener being cane sugar, to using high fructose corn syrup, now made the switch.
The original formula was reintroduced under the name of Coke Classic, to allow “new” Coke to still be sold as just plain “Coke.” In 1992, new Coke was renamed Coca-Cola II but it still didn’t fly off the shelves. Even so, because Goizueta had been its champion and was still at the helm, it was kept in the product line. The next President of Coca-Cola kept it alive as well, but finally in 2002, under President Douglas N. Daft, the product was discontinued, except in Yap and Samoa, the only places where sales of it were good.
The original coke remained branded as “Coke Classic” for a few more years. Finally, in 2007 in Canada, and then 2 years later in 2009 in America, the “classic” part of the name was dropped, as it had come to mean nothing to younger people entering the soft drinks market who remembered nothing about New Coke. Coke became once again just “Coke.”
Analysts now way that the company underestimated the part of their customer base that would feel alienated and betrayed by the switch — particularly how strongly their feelings were held, and how much they were willing to act on those feelings.
Some people suspect the whole “débacle” (as some now call it) was a ploy, because it re-energized consumer attachment to the traditional product, and sales went up when it was reintroduced. But research and history from the period seem to show that it was indeed what it actually was — the company honestly thinking it was making a good move, but which ended up biting them on the arse.
Cherry Coke (aka Coca-Cola Cherry)
© Denzil Green
Cherry Coke was launched officially in 1985. But it wasn’t “new.”
Many places with soda fountains had already been making their own versions by adding syrup with cherry flavour to the Coca-Cola mix they served, and the company had previously tested an official version at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Diet Cherry Coke was introduced in 1986, and renamed in 2005 to Diet Coke Cherry. Coca-Cola Cherry Zero was introduced in 2007.
Sales of Cherry Coke did not do well in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, so the product was discontinued there.
Coca-Cola has been certified kosher, as well as kosher for passover, since 1935.
At the time, Rabbi Tobias Geffen was a Orthodox rabbi at Congregation Shearith Israel in Atlanta, Georgia. In fact, he was a rabbi there from 1910 to 1970 (he died age 99.)
Since Geffen was in Atlanta, home base for Coca-Cola, various people had been writing to him, asking if he knew if it was okay to drink Coca-Cola under Jewish dietary laws. They figured if anyone knows, he would. Well Geffen didn’t, so in 1934, he contacted the company and asked for the ingredients, not realizing the extent to which the company went to keep the formulation a tightly-guarded secret. Surprisingly, after some negotiations, the company actually did decide to let him in on the secrets somewhat, with two conditions:
(1) he see the list of ingredients, though not the ratios;
(2) he had to agree to keep the ingredients they revealed secret.
He found amongst the ingredients a glycerin that was being made from non-kosher beef tallow, and so he told the company that observant Jews shouldn’t be drinking it. The company found a substitute vegetable-based glycerin (made from cottonseed and coconut oil by Proctor and Gamble), and implemented it. Geffen then approved Coke as kosher — for most of the year, that is.
Kosher for most of the year is one thing; kosher for passover, when standards are stricter, is another thing. Anything with even a trace of leavener or yeast in it is forbidden at passover. The ingredient list contained small traces of a sweetener syrup that was made from corn, which involved fermenting the corn to get it. Consequently, the company agreed to Geffen’s suggestion to use a substitute made from sweeteners produced from beet sugar and cane sugar for several weeks before passover each year.
At the end, Geffen was happy, and recorded, “Because Coca-Cola has already been accepted by the general public in this country and Canada and because it has become an insurmountable problem to induce the great majority of Jews to refrain from partaking of this drink, I have tried earnestly to find a method of permitting its usage. With the help of G-d I have been able to uncover a pragmatic solution in which there would be no question nor any doubt concerning the ingredients of Coca-Cola.” [The Kashering of Coca-Cola. Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved March 2011 from http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Kashering_Coke.html . Carrell, Severin. Coke: Campaigners demand action against feelgood drinks firm. London: The Independent. 19 March 2006]
Per 12 oz / 355ml of regular Coke: 39 g carbohydrates. 50mg sodium, 140 calories. There are about 10 teaspoons of sugar in a standard-sized can.
As well, there are 46 mg of caffeine per 12 oz / 355ml. You can also get caffeine-free versions. (Kola nuts contain about 2 percent to 3.5 percent caffeine,)
Coca-Cola is kosher and halal.
Coca-Cola: Acicity Myths
There are so many healthy myths about the “acidity” of Coke, which circulate as urban legend. You’ll hear that Coke is so acidic it can clean toilets, dissolve meat, clean blood off highways, etc. Coke does contain three acids in it: carbonic acid (present in all carbonated water), citric acid (far less citric acid than pure orange juice) and phosphoric acid (the amount of phosphoric acid is miniscule, .2 percent of the total volume.) Even if the combined acids were multiplied in quantity many, many times, the strength of them would still be nothing compared to the acidity of everyday household white vinegar, never mind that of the gastric acid in your stomach, as anyone who has ever suffered from a bout of acid reflux can tell you.
It’s a myth that combining Coke and aspirin is deadly; in fact it has no effect on you, other than the effect each would have separately.
Coca-Cola: Cocaine Content
Pemberton’s original formula for Coca Cola contained some cocaine, though it is impossible at this point to determine how much.
By 1891, a public debate in America on cocaine was just beginning to make itself heard. To get ahead of the curve on public opinion, the Coca Cola company had the cocaine component cut down to the merest trace. They didn’t try to eliminate it completely: it was the feeling of Asa Griggs Candler, the owner at the time, that some trace must remain in order to avoid other legal difficulties. He felt that in order to protect the trademark “Coca-Cola”, the name had to be descriptive and accurate to an extent defensible in court, should the occasion arise.
By 1902, per oz of syrup, the amount of cocaine was 1/400 of a grain of cocaine per oz of syrup. By 1929, the formula went totally cocaine free [Ed: it’s doubtful the technology to do so existed much before that, anyway, without dropping a key flavouring ingredient, the coca leaves.]
Today, the coca flavour from the coca leaves is made for them in Maywood, New Jersey by the Stepan Company. The company first extracts all the cocaine from the leaves, which is then sold for medicinal purposes. The processed leaves are then used to make the flavouring for Coke. The only traces of the cocaine alkaloid left in the leaves are at the molecular level. The leaves come from Peru, and Bolivia. The Stepan Company is the only company in the US legally allowed to import and process the leaves.
Coca-Cola was first created in Atlanta, Georgia by John Stith Pemberton (1830-1888.) He was a pharmacist, and owned the Eagle Drug and Chemical Company drugstore in Atlanta. Pemberton had previously created other syrups and elixirs. One he called “French Wine of Coca”, made from red wine, coca leaves, damiana leaves, and caffeine from kola nuts. [Ed: It was a copy of a French product, called “vin Mariani.”] His intention was that the stimulation from the cola leaves would help ease people like himself away from morphine addictions (acquired during medical treatment, particularly during the American Civil war.) He advertised the flavoured wine as a nerve tonic and stimulant. He sold it for several years, doing very well off it up into summer of 1885. But then on 25 November 1885, voters in Fulton County, of which Atlanta is a part, passed a referendum approving for the county the prohibition of the production, sale or consumption of alcohol. [The referendum passed with a majority of 219 votes, out of 9,000 votes cast altogether. A Prohibition Victory: An exciting Election in Fulton County, Georgia – 25 Nov. New York Times. 26 November 1885.]
Clearly, Pemberton was going to be out of business locally unless he did something. While he couldn’t use alcohol anymore as a main ingredient, he still believed strongly in the benefits of Coca leaves. In a speech he gave to the Georgia Pharmaceutical Society in 1886, he said, “The use of the coca plant not only preserves the health of all who use it, but prolongs life to a very great old age and enables the coca eaters to perform prodigies of mental and physical labor.”
Consequently, he decided to create a new, non-alcoholic drink that he could use to carry the benefit of Coca. He came up with a drink syrup formula using citric acid, sugar, and essential oils from various fruit. It was a syrup from the start, meant to be diluted in carbonated water. A druggist named Willis Venable helped him test and refine the new recipe as it developed. Pemberton’s bookkeeper, Frank Mason Robinson, came up with the name for the syrup, “Coca-Cola”, and he created the white handwriting on a red background that would become the logo still used today. Robinson based the name on the two main selling-feature ingredients, Coca leaves, and Kola nuts.
The drink first was sold on 8 May 1886 at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, for the price of 5 cents a glass mixed up. On 29th May, Pemberton ran his first ad for it, in the Atlanta Journal:
“Coca-Cola, Delicious! Refreshing! Invigorating!
The New and Popular Soda Fountain Drink,
containing properties of the wonderful coca plant and the famous cola nuts.
For sale by Willis Venable and Nunnally & Rawson.”
The actual ownership of the new syrup business was a bit of a mess at first. Pemberton partnered with Frank Robinson and David Roe, promising them some shares. Then Pemberton sold stakes in his interest in Coca-Cola to five people. Pemberton was so enthusiastic that he appears to have even sold off Robinson’s promised shares. One of the people that bought shares in 1887 was an Asa Griggs Candler (1851 – 1929), at the urging of Robinson.
All the while, Pemberton’s own son, Charley Pemberton, had begun selling his own version of the drink. Pemberton said he wanted the rights to the name to be Charley’s but that the other parties could use the formula, under different names. In early 1888, Candler was trying to sell it as Yum Yum and Koke, but the names didn’t catch on, so in mid 1888, he purchased exclusive rights to the formula from Pemberton, and consolidated all the other claims by purchasing them, so no one else could make it. The total purchasing cost was $2,300 US. Candler incorporated the consolidated business as the “Coca Cola Company.” He hired Robinson to work for him, and put him in charge of marketing and advertising.
Candler got it organized just in the nick of time, as Pemberton died in August of that year. At the time of his death, Pemberton was working on a new drink that he had dubbed “celery cola.”
Thus, while Pemberton created the original formula (much changed since then), Candler became the founder of the company.
With the core business confusion eliminated, Candler set to work to build the product’s recognition and reach. By 1895, he had established additional syrup plants in Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles for sales to soda fountain counters in the area.
But pressure to sell in bottles had already started. In 1894, a Joseph Biedenharn in Mississippi was the first, it is believed, to sell the syrup already mixed up as a drink in bottles. He sent a dozen bottles to Candler to look at. Candler wasn’t enthused by idea. In fact, he opposed it outright. He didn’t want the Coca-Cola company to lose focus by becoming a bottler — it’s soda fountain trade was booming. Nor did he like the idea, proposed by his nephew Sam Dobbs, of selling the syrup to bottlers and letting them do the bottling. Candler didn’t trust bottlers to uphold the product quality and standards [Ed: many commercial bottled products at the time had the reputation at the time of being a bit dodgy. See biography on Henry Heinz, who started the innovation of selling in clear glass so housewives could see for themselves that, for instance, the horseradish made by Heinz had no sawdust in it.]
After a few years, Candler started to come around to the idea of Coke in bottles. But he still didn’t think the idea was worth much. In 1899, he sold the rights to sell bottled coke to two Chattanooga lawyers, Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead, for the sum of one dollar. (The contract was loosely written, though, and the company later found itself able to contract to other bottlers as well.)
In 1900, Asa’s son Charles brought syrup samples to England. It was first sold in England on 31 August 1900 as a special promotional trial, but regular sales in England didn’t actually start until the early 1920s, in stores including Selfridges and the London Coliseum.
In 1916, the Coca-Cola company introduced the contoured bottle, designed for them by the The Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana.
In 1923, at the age of 72, Candler sold the Coca-Cola company to an Ernest Woodruff. Woodruff made his son Robert (December 6, 1889 – March 7, 1985) president. It was Robert who began overseas expansion.
In 1928, the company sponsored their first Olympics, in Amsterdam.
In the 1930s, Coke began using Santa Claus in their Christmas advertisements. Some feel they created the modern image of Santa Claus as a man in a red and white suit. However, early in 1923, White Rock Beverages had already used a red and white clad Santa Claus in its Christmas ads for its ginger ale.
Despite efforts at overseas expansion, prior to World War Two, Coke really only was popular in America, Canada, Cuba and Germany. And with the outbreak of the war, they would lose access to the German market.
In 1940, the company introduced the slogan, “It’s The Real Thing.”
In 1941, the company began promoting the word “Coke” as an alternative for “Coca-Cola.”
In the 1940s, the company started testing Coca Cola in 16 oz and 32 oz (475 ml and 950 ml) cone-topped steel cans. The cans had a red, green and white logo on them, accompanied by wording that said “canned specially for use at home and on outings.” For the next few years, material restrictions owing to the Korean War (1950 to 1953) caused the expansion of Coke in cans to be slowed down. But then, with the end of the war, in 1955, they sold Coke in steel cans for use overseas to the American armed forces, and then later in 1959, test marked cans in five American cities. At this time, one of their competitors, Royal Crown Cola, had sewn up the canned soft drink business, so the company did a massive push to establish themselves in the canned soft drink business.
The company has always spent great sums on promotion and building their brand. In the 1960s, they paid for big name stars at the time such as Tom Jones, Nancy Sinatra, and the Supremes, to appear in their TV ads. In 1966, they introduced the Harlequin design of a pattern of diamonds. In 1971, the company’s advertising budget paid off big time with the pop culture success of their “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke” commercial, filmed in Italy.
In 1985, “New Coke” was introduced. It used a new formula that people loved in taste tests, but hated once it hit the market. The company was forced to revert to the old formula.
In 1993, the company introduced the “Always Coca-Cola” campaign.
Along the way, the company introduced other flavours of soda pops: Fanta (invented in Germany by Coca Cola employee Max Keith during World War Two when supply of the Coca-Cola syrup was cut off; introduced into America in the 1950s), Sprite (1961), TAB (1963), and Fresca (1966.)
Coca-Cola Company Presidents
(as of 2011)
Asa Candler (1888 – 1919)
Samuel Candler Dobbs (1919 – 1922)
Robert Winship Woodruff (1923 – 1954)
William E. Robinson (1955 – 1961)
J. Paul Austin (1962 – 1971)
Charles Duncan, Jr. (1971 -1974)
J. Lucian Smith (1974 – 1979)
Roberto Goizueta (30 May 1980 – 18 October 1997)
Douglas Ivester (18 October 1997 – 2000)
Douglas N. Daft (2000 – 2004)
E. Neville Isdell (2004 – 2008)
Muhtar Kent (2009 – )
Coca-Cola: Revealing of “Original” Formula
The writers at Thisamericanlife.org claim in 2011 to have discovered a photograph in an old newspaper article of a recipe book at Coca-Cola, opened to show the recipe for the drink – either the original recipe, or a precursor to it, or a trial of an improved version of the original recipe (it is almost certainly not the recipe used today.) The photo was in the 8th February 1979 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The page of the book photographed showed ingredients, plus measurements. One of the ingredients, the core flavouring, listed as “Merchandise 7X”, had to be prepared in its own right from different flavour oils.
Background to this is that the original owner of the Coca Cola company, Asa Candler, had his various ingredient suppliers send him their invoices with the ingredient in question just indicated by a number, not mentioned by name, as part of the discipline to maintain trade secrecy. Consequently, the company would refer to ingredients by their merchandise number. Bellow is a table of which each actually was:
- Merchandise # 1: sugar
- Merchandise # 2: caramel
- Merchandise # 3: caffeine
- Merchandise # 4: phosphoric acid
- Merchandise # 5: coca leaf & cola nut extract
- Merchandise # 6: possibly lime juice, but came to be incorporated into the flavouring mixture below
- Merchandise # 7X: the flavoring mixture
- Merchandise # 8: vanilla
- Merchandise # 9: glycerin (no longer used)
This is a transcription of the recipe that was photographed:
- Fluid extract of Coca 3 drams USP
- Citric acid 3 oz
- Caffeine 1 oz
- Sugar 30 # (no one is certain what the # stands for)
- Water 2.5 gal
- Lime Juic 2 pints (1 qrt)
- Vanilla 1 oz
- Caramel 1.5 oz or more to colour
This is the separate recipe for the core flavouring, “Merchandise 7X”:
“7X flavour (use 2 oz of flavour to 5 gals syrup)”
- Alcohol 8 oz
- Orange oil 20 drops
- Lemon oil 30 drops
- Nutmeg oil 10 drops
- Coriander 5 drops
- Neroli 10 drops
- Cinnamon 10 drops
Original Recipe. ThisAmericanLife.Org. 11 February 2011. Retrieved March 2011 from http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/427/original-recipe.
[Ed: Coca-Cola now claims to be halal, so clearly the alcohol must have been dropped from the flavouring base.]
Byrne, Ciar. A new front is opened up in the cola wars: diet-conscious men. London: The Independent. 1 February 2005.
Henderson, Barney. Coca Cola recipe ‘discovered’: A website claims to have uncovered Coca-Cola’s top secret recipe. London: Daily Telegraph. 15 February 2011.
Introduction to William E. Robinson papers 1935 to 1969. Dwight D. Eisenhower Library. Abilene Kansas. Retrieved March 2011 from http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov/Research/Finding_Aids/PDFs/Robinson_William_Papers.pdf
Mikkelson, Barbara. Coca-Cola used to contain cocaine. Snopes. 13 March 2007. Retrieved March 2001 from http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/cocaine.asp
Mikkelson, Barbara. Claim: Combining Coca-Cola and aspirin will get you high or kill you. Urban Legends Reference Pages. 13 March 2007. Retrieved 2011 from http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/aspirin.asp
Mikkelson, Barbara and David P, “Claim: The acids in Coca-Cola make it harmful to drink. ” Urban Legends Reference Pages. 13 March 2007. Retrieved March 2011 from http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/acid.asp
Mikkelson, Barbara and David P, Claim: Coca-Cola came to be bottled when a stranger sold a remarkable two-word idea to the company: “Bottle it.” October 2005. Retrieved March 2011 from http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/bottleit.asp
New Boss of Coke (William E. Robinson.) Time Magazine. 14 February 1955