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Is it the real thing?
February 15, 2011 12:57 PM   Subscribe

TAL says it's got Coca Cola's top-secret recipe. The radio show This American Life found a 1979 newspaper photo of a hand-written copy of John Pemberton's top-secret original Coke recipe. Presto: the secret ingredients of 7X. Coke says no way.

How secret? "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," said Coke historian Mark Pendergrast."Those two people never travel on the same plane in case it crashes."
Now I guess they can.

(Interest in this story is apparently causing the TAL site to crash periodically, sorry.)
posted by CunningLinguist (192 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was just listening to this ep this morning. (Haven't finished the second segment which is damned interesting as well, about forgeries of JFK documents.)

The taste test at the supermarket seemed to indicate that the formula is imperfect at best, but I do wonder why they didn't try to do the modern substitutions that they mentioned, i.e. phosphoric acid for citric acid, HFCS for sugar. That would be a much more fair and interesting test.
posted by kmz at 1:02 PM on February 15, 2011


Obviously the TAL's servers were taken down by the Coca Cola corporation's crack security team. The secret will never get out!
posted by octothorpe at 1:02 PM on February 15, 2011


Of course they say that.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 1:02 PM on February 15, 2011


"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.

Oh god I just for a moment imagined what it might be like to be Kerry Tressler and now I just want to eat a tube of cookie dough and watch True Blood until I can't feel emotions anymore.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:02 PM on February 15, 2011 [83 favorites]


Does it include the original secret ingredient?
posted by bearwife at 1:03 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Forget Coke. PM me when they actually find out Dr Pepper's secret recipe so I can buy store brand Dr Pepper that actually tastes like Dr Pepper as opposed to some black cherry and vanillin abomination.

I prefer Royal Crown when it comes to cola drinks, anyway.
posted by Dreamcast at 1:04 PM on February 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


Seriously? I thought everyone knew Coke's secret recipe: 1 part delicious nectar of the gods, 1 part soul saving caffeine, and 2 parts tooth decay.

I've known this for years.
posted by quin at 1:04 PM on February 15, 2011 [15 favorites]


As if Coca-Cola would ever admit that someone else could make Coke? Their whole schtick is being the 'genuine article'.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:04 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much value there is in keeping the recipe secret anyway, aside from corporate pride and hype? Even assuming it is secret and impossible to deduce by examining their product in a lab I doubt their business particularly depends on a unique taste at this point.
posted by ghharr at 1:04 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actual secret ingredients: mix of soylent green, cocaine, and goose fat.
posted by CNNInternational at 1:04 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


The website went down this morning while I was listening to back episodes (haven't heard the new one yet). I was really curious why...
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 1:05 PM on February 15, 2011


I for one am appalled that one of my favorite radio shows has aimed its sights at this poor company.

I would never ever want to know the actual ingredients of my favorite cold beverage, and if this information were made public, I would do all I could to discourage its dissemination.

Shame on you, Ira.
posted by Danf at 1:05 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's the thing. People like Coke. Or most people do. And they're curious. "How do you make Coke?" This American Life wanted to explore that...
posted by Joe Beese at 1:06 PM on February 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


I was really curious why...

It was a Denial of Syrup Attack.
posted by CNNInternational at 1:06 PM on February 15, 2011 [54 favorites]


Fuck that, how do you make RC Cola is what I wanna know.
posted by not_on_display at 1:06 PM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've drunk two cokes since I heard that god damn story. I never drink soda. Coke is lapping up the mindshare this story is getting them and despite knowing that I *still* want to walk to the corner store and buy one.

bearwife: They actually buy de-cocained cocao leaves online for their version.
posted by ChrisHartley at 1:06 PM on February 15, 2011


So the secret formula was published in a newspaper in 1979 and somehow it went unnoticed until just now?
posted by bondcliff at 1:07 PM on February 15, 2011


Google Cache link to the recipe

Does it include the original secret ingredient?

It contains coca extract, yes, but I can't help noticing that this recipe does not seem to have any kola nut.
posted by XMLicious at 1:07 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


In case the TAL website keeps acting up, the published recipe contains:

Main: Fluid extract of coca, citric acide, caffeine, su gar, water, lime juice, vanilla, caramel. 7X Flavor: Alcohol, orange oil, lemon oil, nutmeg oil, corriander oil, neroli oil, cinnamon oil

Still tastes like sugar water.
posted by Nelson at 1:08 PM on February 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Does it include the original secret ingredient?

That actually ties into one of the more interesting (to me) bits in the episode. There's a company in New Jersey that has some kind of special federal permit to import coca leaves (normally a Schedule I controlled substance) and "de-cocainize" them for use in Coke.

Ah, here we go.
posted by kmz at 1:08 PM on February 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


I *knew* there was coriander in it; I've always been certain of it.
posted by aught at 1:08 PM on February 15, 2011


I could always taste the cinnamon.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:09 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The secret ingredient is love.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:10 PM on February 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


There's a company in New Jersey that has some kind of special federal permit to import coca leaves (normally a Schedule I controlled substance) and "de-cocainize" them for use in Coke.

...And then the CIA gets the extracted cocaine to go fund their dirty ops?
posted by dunkadunc at 1:10 PM on February 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


Nutmeg! THAT'S the secret flavor in Coke! GOD is that obvious!
posted by theodolite at 1:11 PM on February 15, 2011 [13 favorites]


"Here at Coca Cola, we just shrug and laugh when we think about our past. Consider this: at first, our product actually contained cocaine. It was a truly different time. By today's standards, it seems ludicrous. Now we use meth!"
posted by defenestration at 1:11 PM on February 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'll bet some small sums of money/bottles of Veuve Clicquot just traded hands over at the PepsiCo labs.
posted by theodolite at 1:13 PM on February 15, 2011


Another interesting bit from the show: Coke was basically invented because local prohibition meant Pemberton couldn't keep selling his first beverage hit: French Wine Coca, a combo of cocaine, wine, and caffeine. Gee, whoda thunk that would sell well?
posted by kmz at 1:13 PM on February 15, 2011 [15 favorites]


Yeah. Coke's pretty worried about open source cola makers slaving away in their kitchens. They're shivering in their money bin they're so worried.
posted by jefficator at 1:14 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Those ingredients are way too wholesome and natural for that to be the actual recipe. Where are the creepy chemicals?
posted by something something at 1:14 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


"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," said Coke historian Mark Pendergrast."Those two people never travel on the same plane in case it crashes."

Hogwash. Who mixes the formula? Who obtains the ingredients? How does quality control ensure it's being mixed correctly? That's just one of those stupid urban legend things companies spread to lend their product mystique, and perhaps defend against obscure legal threats. Like Parker Bros/Hasbro continuing to promote Charles Darrow as the definite creator of Monopoly.

There is an article in the Feb. 14 New Yorker about the Church of Scientology. New Yorker articles are extensively fact-checked of course, so for every fact and assertion given in the article someone has checked it. In this case this undoubtedly produced a large number of check-up calls to CoS, and they dutifully denied, ridiculed, pooh-poohed or otherwise disparaged every negative statement made about them.

There must have been like 20 or so statements they reacted to. And most of those reactions sound a lot like Coke saying "no way." It's a case where they're the only ones who could really confirm the story, and being in a position where doing so would damage their business, they deny it as a matter of course.
posted by JHarris at 1:14 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


The secret ingredient in Coke is whiskey. Or it should be. So says my um, sources.
posted by MadamM at 1:16 PM on February 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


"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,"

I don't see how that is practically possible. How on earth could you produce that sort of volume of a drink with only two people knowing the proportions? Surely the programmers on the mixing vats know it as well as the guys loading the raw material into the machine (it's not rocket science to work out if you put in x vats of one thing, y vats of another etc., etc). That's even assuming they mix it all in one place.

Besides, what happens to the people that knew it, yet retired? Does Coke just kill them off? I mean it's possible that they'd maintain secrecy afterwards but honestly. 2 people in the world at any one time? Unworkable and hence bollocks, methinks.
posted by Brockles at 1:16 PM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Which ingredient is the secretion of the Slurm Queen?
posted by kyrademon at 1:17 PM on February 15, 2011 [17 favorites]


Ah, I see JHarris has been stealing my thoughts while I hammer slowly away at the keys with both thumbs and my forehead.
posted by Brockles at 1:18 PM on February 15, 2011 [12 favorites]


Battery acid. Carbonated battery acid. Take my word for it.
posted by koeselitz at 1:18 PM on February 15, 2011


special federal permit to import coca leaves (normally a Schedule I controlled substance)

Coca leaves are Schedule II. Cocaine has several well-recognized medical uses.

...And then the CIA gets the extracted cocaine to go fund their dirty ops?

No, it's sold to a pharmaceutical company that sells cocaine for medical use (it's used as a vasoconstrictor and local anesthetic for nasal procedures, for example).
posted by jedicus at 1:18 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another interesting bit from the show: Coke was basically invented because local prohibition meant Pemberton couldn't keep selling his first beverage hit: French Wine Coca, a combo of cocaine, wine, and caffeine. Gee, whoda thunk that would sell well?

I understand the Blue Raspberry flavor was particularly popular.
posted by theodolite at 1:19 PM on February 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


As the ep also points out, at this point a lot of Coke's appeal is purely from marketing, mystique, nostalgia, etc. It doesn't matter if somebody has the perfect formula for replication.

And yeah, the "only two people know it" thing is obviously bullshit.
posted by kmz at 1:20 PM on February 15, 2011


Where's the high fructose corn syrup?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:20 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]



I prefer Royal Crown when it comes to cola drinks, anyway.

The secret ingredient in Coke is whiskey. Or it should be. So says my um, sources.


Royal Crown and Crown Royal it is then.
posted by Kabanos at 1:22 PM on February 15, 2011 [25 favorites]


Another problem with the "only two people know it" factoid: this would cause issues getting insurance and investments.
posted by XMLicious at 1:22 PM on February 15, 2011


"Wrong animal. Think smaller. Think more legs."
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:23 PM on February 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


The secret ingredient is the only two people who know the recipe.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:23 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ice-cold Coke, on the edge of freezing, in a can (not a glass bottle, and certainly not a plastic bottle) is my favorite hangover palliative.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:24 PM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Actual secret ingredients: mix of soylent green, cocaine, and goose fat.

Oh god, why am I drooling?
posted by Theta States at 1:25 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nobody messes with the Coco-Cola company. Even during Armageddon.
posted by Skygazer at 1:25 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The secret ingredient is Oompa Loompa adrenal extract.
posted by zippy at 1:25 PM on February 15, 2011


But does it cure morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, and impotence?

Anyway, this is "secret recipe" #4.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:25 PM on February 15, 2011


I've always lived in the northeast and midwest, and never liked Coke. Haven't been a big fan of soda, generally, since adolescence.

And then one time in the late 80s, I was in Virginia, had a Coke, and felt like I got what the whole Coke thing was about, because it tasted totally different than the Coke being bottled up north. It tasted good. I didn't want a second one because it was still too freaking sweet, but I can tell you that, yeah, it's possible for Coke to be delicious.

And then the bastards screwed with the recipe, introduced New Coke and used the ensuing kerfluffle to reintroduce Trad Coke, which was basically New Coke only slightly different enough to help convince people who believe in blind taste test crap.

So the few things I learned around that time:
1. Soda pop can be pretty good, sometimes.
2. Even Coca Cola.
3. Coke's recipe is, in fact, about as consistent and traditional and sanctified as any damned plastic tub that Wal-Mart replaces with another one because they get better margins from some manufacturer upriver from the old manufacturer in China. And always has been. The whole thing about two guys, secret safe, airplanes, etc., is bullshit; if they exist at all, they're holding quarterly meetings in some posh top-floor hotel conference room to plan the next reformulation.
posted by ardgedee at 1:26 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Coca-Cola contains alcohol? Have they told the Muslim World about this?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:27 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


battery acid, caramel color and sugar.
posted by telstar at 1:27 PM on February 15, 2011


zippy: The secret ingredient is Oompa Loompa adrenal extract.

No, you're thinking of Four Loko (Now Banned in Kansas and on Many University Campuses!TM)
posted by filthy light thief at 1:28 PM on February 15, 2011


Huh. William Poundstone wrote a book, Big Secrets, some twenty-five years ago, in which he gave the formula--essentially the same as TAL's--which he got from a lawsuit brought by Pemberton against an imitator. His revelation was that there was such little kola nut and coca extract in the syrup that one could leave it out; it was put in there originally for stimulant purposes--kola nut used to be a cheap source of caffeine--but since the natural caffeine was replaced by artificial, and the cocaine was taken out, the recipe had long since stopped using more than token amounts of either. Could be true!
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:28 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Pepsi Throwback >>> Coke
posted by milarepa at 1:31 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


All soda is disgusting; Coke especially so.

I have spoken.
posted by Decani at 1:31 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pepsi Throwback >>> Coke

Close, but I think this is what you meant to say:

Dublin Dr. Pepper >>> Pepsi Throwback >>> Coke
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:33 PM on February 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


By the way, Pepsi "Throwback" is in the stores again, so grab it and avoid the the rush for Passover Coke in April.
posted by not_on_display at 1:33 PM on February 15, 2011


I'll believe it when Nilsson writes a song about it.
posted by timsteil at 1:34 PM on February 15, 2011


CubeCinema in Bristol has been (was?) manufacturing their own cola for a few years.
notes on making cola
further notes
article in Guardian from 2006
I've been meaning to try their recipe myself.

Good man Darcy, at Art of Drink, played with the OpenCola formula.
He also recommends the Ammonia Coke.
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 1:35 PM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


battery acid

Worse: TSP (it is buffered though).
posted by bonehead at 1:35 PM on February 15, 2011


In retribution, Coca-Cola will steal TAL's secret recipe for Annoying-Nasal-Public-Radio-Voice.
posted by brundlefly at 1:36 PM on February 15, 2011 [15 favorites]


TELL ME HOW TO MAKE THE BROWN FLUID
posted by user92371 at 1:36 PM on February 15, 2011


Coke's pretty worried about open source cola makers slaving away in their kitchens

2001 called and wants its OpenCola back. (Bless your heart, Cory). Their flavor ingredients were orange oil, lime oil, cassia oil, lemon oil, nutmeg oil, coriander oil, neroli oil, lavender oil. Similar, but also quite different, from the purported 7X.
posted by Nelson at 1:36 PM on February 15, 2011


"bath salts"
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 1:38 PM on February 15, 2011


Is OpenCola related to the Operating System Beer?
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:40 PM on February 15, 2011


Phew! Knowing how to make Coke means knowing how to avoid making Coke by accident. After all, let's face it, it's just not very good. Even among colas--the crummiest of the brown sodas--it's liquid meh.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:41 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


{Cocaine is} used as a vasoconstrictor and local anesthetic for nasal procedures, for example

I had a little spray bottle handed to me when I was in the pre-operative prep for the Magic Laser Sinus Surgery. "Squirt this up your nostrils every three minutes" says the nurse. I take the first squirt and I was all WOW FEELS LIKE 1988 UP THERE!

Back In Ye Olde Day, Coke was called "dope" in US slang, which lives on in some local ASL dialects, where the sign for "Coke" looks like someone giving themselves a shot in the arm.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:42 PM on February 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


Wikileaks and Anonymous need to start working on the REAL important stuff.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:42 PM on February 15, 2011


The physical ingredients of all colas are essentially the same. What makes them taste different is the amount of marketing they contain.
posted by onya at 1:44 PM on February 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


I once built a batching controller which was responsible for mixing batches of Coca-Cola at a nearby bottling plant. The mixes were 10,000 gallons, and that was of syrup which would later be diluted with carbonated water. The degree of secrecy paranoia is indeed high. None of the ingredients are labeled with their real names, although some of them are obvious, like the 500 lb drums of NutraSweet. Some of them are hazardous; the phosphoric acid is a chemical burn risk in its raw undiluted form, and some of the flavor is diluted in nearly pure ethyl alcohol, which is flammable. (When you mix 200 gallons of alcohol in 10,000 gallons of liquid sugar and then 100,000 gallons of soda water, the result isn't exactly vodka.)

At the final bottling plant none of the seven main ingredients are labeled, and it is not at all obvious what minor ingredients might be in those drums. Those drums in turn are mixed by suppliers who only know their part of the puzzle, and who don't know the proportions of the final mix. They really are paranoid about that formula.
posted by localroger at 1:46 PM on February 15, 2011 [33 favorites]


At the final bottling plant none of the seven main ingredients are labeled, and it is not at all obvious what minor ingredients might be in those drums.

That seems incredibly dangerous. Is there not a law?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:50 PM on February 15, 2011


I have some 2006 Coke aging in the cellar. That was a great harvest, and I can't wait to crack it open one of these days.
posted by perhapses at 1:51 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the post's links:
"Archive director Philip Mooney told the show that many similar, if not identical, recipes have surfaced in the past that claim to be the one for what has become one of the world's best-known brands.

"Could it be a precursor? Yeah, absolutely," Mooney told the show. "Is this the one that went to market? I don't think so."
posted by cashman at 1:52 PM on February 15, 2011


So what's in Pepsi?
posted by Harry at 1:53 PM on February 15, 2011


I don't really like cola of any kind, so I don't have a horse in this race, but this:
"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 right here makes me so angry.

You can't crack the secret formula because there is only one "Real Thing?" That's all you got, Coke? A statement so nonsensical it isn't even a tautology? Your sugar water is made of the same atoms everything else is. It's not magic. All you have is your brand, and it's a failing brand because there's no growth in carbonated sugar water. If tasting exactly like Coke were all it took to usurp your brand, then, Kerry, I assure you—the formula would be cracked. But that's not what's important. What's important is that red-and-white logotype, those hundreds of millions of dollars spent every year on advertising with elaborate narratives meant not to convince people that your sugar water tastes better than other sugar water, but rather that choosing the good ol' red & white says something fundamentally good about a person.

And you are very fucking good at it.

But don't bullshit me. Not today.
posted by pts at 1:53 PM on February 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


Does it matter if someone has the right recipe? No one else will have the global distribution system or the deeply established brand identity of Coca-Cola.
posted by cal71 at 1:55 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


How is this news? I've known what's in Coke all my life.

I mean, come on, they print it on the fucking can.

/hamburger
posted by backseatpilot at 1:55 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I seem to remember reading a book about the history of Coke. The author explored the "secret recipe" issue in one chapter. He thought he had cracked the code and told the story of his conversation with Coke's then-CEO about it. The guy's response amounted to "so what?" Even if you could recreate the exact same recipe and start a competing company, you wouldn't be able to raise the capital to build the kind of infrastructure that could match Coke's economy of scale. So, then you'd be selling a copycat product at a higher cost than the "The Real Thing."
posted by snottydick at 2:00 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I mean, come on, they print it on the fucking can.

"Natural and artificial flavors."

But I have a feeling that if one were to go to a place with more stringent laws re: listing food additives (Australia, say), one might be able to get a more specific rundown.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:01 PM on February 15, 2011


I worked at Coca-Cola HQ for three years (IT, Goldstrike project), and it definitely had its surreal moments. The R&D group has its own windowless building behind the main tower building. Nobody I knew had ever been in it. Walking past, the storm sewers smelled of whatever they were working on at the time. I caught whiffs of what I think were raspberry tea, lemon-lime, cola and Pibb-like odors. If you loitered too long near this building, Security would come out and have a word with you.

A co-worker of mine came very close to losing his job because somebody spotted a Mountain Dew can in his car. Another co-worker got tongue-lashed for bringing Dunkin Donuts in for the crew. You see, most Dunkin Donuts are Pepsi shops. The DD in question was in fact a Coke shop, but no good deed goes unpunished.

The snack machines were all loaded with off-brand chips and pretzels because Frito-Lay is partially owned by Pepsi.

My favorite Coke anecdote doesn't pertain to the Secret Formula or The Cola Wars. Around the time I was there, Coke was trying to roll out SAP. It was the most fucked up, bass-ackward, SNAFU-riddled SAP rollout I ever saw, and that's saying something. The comedy gold? At the project's inception, they christened it with a forward-looking name: Project Infinity. Infinite time, infinite money.
posted by workerant at 2:02 PM on February 15, 2011 [28 favorites]


"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,' and that's orphan blood" said Coca-Cola spokeswoman Kerry Tressler, adding, "Oops."
posted by klangklangston at 2:03 PM on February 15, 2011 [14 favorites]


cal71: "Does it matter if someone has the right recipe? No one else will have the global distribution system or the deeply established brand identity of Coca-Cola"

Perhaps they just don't want to people make their own at home.
posted by kilo hertz at 2:05 PM on February 15, 2011


A 2008 photo of an Australian Coke can.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:06 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


This really isn't new. I remember William Poundstone covering this same ground in "Big Secrets".

Wish he'd write a new one.
posted by inturnaround at 2:07 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


workerant: great comment, I love reading stories like that. But what's SAP?
posted by penduluum at 2:09 PM on February 15, 2011


I'm going with hamster pee.

The secret is hamster pee.
posted by stormpooper at 2:10 PM on February 15, 2011


Hogwash. Who mixes the formula? Who obtains the ingredients? How does quality control ensure it's being mixed correctly? That's just one of those stupid urban legend things companies spread to lend their product mystique, and perhaps defend against obscure legal threats.

Apparently it's not actually that uncommon. I watch a lot of random industrial/commercial process videos of both the broadcast and industry/archive type, and I've seen a lot of this in food production of various kinds.

One of these videos involved a major brand of ketchup. Certain parts of the process were kept secret, but to season a large batch of ketchup the secret blend of spices and dry additives were measured out in a locked and environmentally controlled room and blended together, where they were sealed into individual plastic bags. Each bag was about a gallon in size, containing several cups of dried herbs and spices.

These bags of dry ingredients were then taken from the locked room by authorized personnel working in teams of two. The locked room was near the blending tanks, so they didn't have to go far to deposit the ingredients into the churning tomato puree and vinegar.

Kentucky Fried Chicken works in a similar manner. And there's a couple of UK tea brands that apply the same secrecy to their tea selecting and blending processes, and often they rely entirely on a single master taster/blender, or a very small team of them. Experts like that are expensive, yet worth every penny to such companies. They want to keep them loyal, healthy and employed in their company, so they pay them very well.

It's not just food, either. I've seen a video of a certain German company that makes art pencils while protecting their blends in a similar way, or even going so far as to own their own particular graphite mine that's the exclusive source of the pencils. Another video was of a well known brand of pink eraser who also had a "secret" recipe.

It wouldn't be that hard to do it with a drink like Coke. The essential oils or extracts of things like cinnamon or nutmeg are extremely concentrated. So much they probably have MSDS hazardous material sheets. Concentrated nutmeg extract or oil would be intense and if you could manage to ingest a small quantity without being repelled by the intense, burning flavor and eye-watering smell, it would probably kill you from some kind overdose since nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and many other spices are mildly to wildly psychoactive in a variety of ways.

And they're not doing it on some kind of small scale with cute little glass bottles. Think 500 gallon carboys and tanks. A 55 gallon drum of concentrated "secret flavor blend" would make a very large amount of syrup. And it doesn't take much syrup to make a very large amount of bottled soda. I mention these concentrations and scales to give you an idea of the scope and size of these operations and how it's not only possible, but probable.

And it wouldn't be that hard to ship concentrated flavor oil - or just the less concentrated syrup - all over the world by the truckload. The blend itself isn't any more useful to reverse engineer than an off the shelf bottle of soda, so it's not any more valuable than, say, a truckload of RAM or CPUs or something.

Sure, Coke sells and moves a lot of product, but it's a finite amount. They have a multi-tiered distribution system that relies heavily on independent distributors and bottlers that makes it possible, so they don't have to ship plain soda water and sugar all over the world along with just their flavor and brand.

So, yeah. It's entirely probably that there's actually a guarded, locked room at a certain factory in Atlanta where only a few people know what's in the actual formula, and that they do the blending by "hand" as it were, and not through a programmed computer. And it's certainly not going to be Joe Tankwasher #47 that has any idea of what it is. Even asking about it out of idle curiosity in a corporate culture like that would likely get Joe Tankwasher fired, especially if he was actually stationed close to the blending process.
posted by loquacious at 2:11 PM on February 15, 2011 [16 favorites]


So what's in Pepsi?

Hate. Lots and lots of festering hate.
posted by mazola at 2:12 PM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Royal Crown and Crown Royal it is then.

When mixed in equal proportions, I believe this is known as an R2C2.
posted by nickmark at 2:13 PM on February 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94: "Coca-Cola contains alcohol?"

According to the recipe, it's 2 oz of flavor to 5 gallons of syrup. The flavor contains 8 oz of alcohol. So it's less than a third of a percent.

But I doubt they use alcohol any more, if they ever did. They aren't mixing up 5 gallon batches in a home laboratory. The alcohol isn't adding any flavor. Probably it was just used as a neutral solvent because that's how it was done when making tonics and tinctures back in the day. There's no real need for it in mass production.
posted by team lowkey at 2:14 PM on February 15, 2011


Why couldn't Assange give us this? Oh and where is my God Damned McDonalds cheeseburger recipe?
posted by dougrayrankin at 2:14 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love reading stories like that. But what's SAP?

$200k. Same as downtown.
posted by hal9k at 2:14 PM on February 15, 2011 [23 favorites]


What if one of the secret ingredients to Kentucky Fried Chicken is Coca-Cola? Now we're one step closer!
posted by Frank Grimes at 2:14 PM on February 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


That seems incredibly dangerous. Is there not a law?

There is/are in Canada certainly: Labour Code, TDG, CEPA to name a few. If it's a trade secret as I presume Coke designates it, the stored compound can be unlabeled in storage, however they must file an inventory with the appropriate regulators (kept Confidential, one less than Secret in Canada, but one higher than your tax information). This inventory is released if someone like a firefighter needs it, but only to those designated need to know. There is no general public disclosure.
posted by bonehead at 2:16 PM on February 15, 2011


dougrayrankin: "Oh and where is my God Damned McDonalds cheeseburger recipe?"

Why the hell would you want that? McDonald's cheeseburgers are like, the worst fast food cheeseburgers ever. It's like eating greasy, meat-flavored mush.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:16 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


One day soon, some wiseass bbq king/queen will appear on one of these cooking shows and actually give away the "secret" recipes for their rub and sauces, informing the viewer that what actually differentiates their sauce from the competition is the provenance and percentage of water in the sauce, the quality of the ingredients, the cleanliness of the fuel used to cook, the right mixture of ingredients based on the local palate, the time spent preparing and cooking, proper storage, personal hygiene, years and years of research, marketing, advertising bought and paid for, free samples and little pieces of the soul carved out every time some ignorant, backwoods schmuck poo-poohed their recipe along with a story repeated so many times that future generations will refer to it as fact. It's hard work, recognized by the observant customer and rewarded with fierce loyalty.
posted by jsavimbi at 2:18 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


It doesn't matter what a cola tastes like. Once your brain establishes the connection between a flavor and the imminent delivery of sweet sweet caffeine, that flavor will henceforth be considered delicious.
posted by rocket88 at 2:19 PM on February 15, 2011


"Oh and where is my God Damned McDonalds cheeseburger recipe?"

Cardboard
Latex
Manure
Salt
posted by Sys Rq at 2:21 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


But does it cure morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, and impotence?

That's nothin'. From Freakonomics:
Advertising too is a brilliant tool for creating conventional wisdom. Listerine, for instance, was invented in the nineteenth century as powerful surgical antiseptic. It was later sold, in distilled form, as both a floor cleaner and a cure for gonorrhea. But it wasn't a runaway success until the 1920s, when it was pitched as a solution for "chronic halitosis"—a then obscure medical term for bad breath. Listerine's new ads featured forlorn young women and men, eager for marriage but turned off by their mate's rotten breath. "Can I be happy with him in spite of that?" one maiden asked herself. Until that time, bad breath was not conventionally considered such a catastrophe. But Listerine changed that. As the advertising scholar James B. Twitchell writes, "Listerine did not make mouthwash as much as it made halitosis." In just seven years, the company's revenues rose from $115,000 to more than $8 million.
See also Apply Listerine mouthwash to your scalp to cure dandruff!
posted by XMLicious at 2:22 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


It doesn't matter what a cola tastes like. Once your brain establishes the connection between a flavor and the imminent delivery of sweet sweet caffeine, that flavor will henceforth be considered delicious.

It's actually the sweet sweet sweetness that's the most habit-forming.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:23 PM on February 15, 2011


Harry: "So what's in Pepsi?"

Sadness and water from the Platte river.
posted by boo_radley at 2:24 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why the hell would you want that? McDonald's cheeseburgers are like, the worst fast food cheeseburgers ever. It's like eating greasy, meat-flavored mush.

Sometimes that's exactly what someone wants.

And as a nod to Coke's gargantuan branding prowess, a post-psychedelic age pop allegory:

More than once I've seen a can of Coke more or less save someone's life or soul. Sometimes people get so altered or high they lose touch with the ground, or even reality, whatever that is. But regardless they're in great distress.

Sometimes simply placing a mundane object like an ice cold can of Coke in front of them is just the ticket. It's cold. It's refreshing and delicious and delightful to drink - for certain values of delicious and delightful. But often the person and distress doesn't have to even open the can. It's just something familiar and reassuring to hold and look at to bring them back down to the here and now.

Granted, you can also get similar effects by handing them a particularly smooth and pleasing pebble, but you can't hydrate someone with a pebble.
posted by loquacious at 2:24 PM on February 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Call me when someone gets their hands on the recipe for Pure Spring Ginger Ale.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 2:27 PM on February 15, 2011


Here's your Gutenberg Bible, masters, plus the Colonel's Secret Recipe: Chicken, Grease, Salt!

- Bender B. Rodriguez, Bender's Big Score
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:28 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


What if one of the secret ingredients to Kentucky Fried Chicken is Coca-Cola? Now we're one step closer!

IT'S LIZARD PEOPLE ALL THE WAY DOWN
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:28 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


But McDonald's cheeseburgers are so cute. I like to pet them. Such soft, smooth little buns.

Having seen this recipe, I am now filled with an irresistible urge to go out and buy massive quantities of Coca Cola to drink to see if I can detect the neroli and coriander.
posted by Go Banana at 2:28 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


So what's in Pepsi?

Generation Next.
posted by notyou at 2:30 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


RC is okay, but I want the secret to Cott cola!
posted by SpannerX at 2:31 PM on February 15, 2011


Hip fattener and tooth rot ™
posted by Cranberry at 2:33 PM on February 15, 2011


I'm guessing most of the store knockoffs of coke would benefit from knowing the actual formula. Not because coke is the optimal soda, but rather because they need to understand better that the pennies they're saving by not using esssential oils to add flavor actually make a difference in the perception of the product. In other words, there is a limit to how much you can cheap out.
Four of my friends bought soda stream machines in the last year, and I'm thinking of making my own soda at home. Hopefully something like GUS or Dry Soda.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:35 PM on February 15, 2011


Talking about secret beverage recipes without a hate-in on megabrewery beer? NOT ON MY WATCH!
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:38 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


McDonald's cheeseburgers are like, the worst fast food cheeseburgers ever

Ok, just because McDonald's cheeseburgers are called cheeseburgers and are made from traditional cheeseburger ingredients does not mean you should compare them to other cheeseburgers any more than you should compare "late nite cheeseburger" Doritos to other cheeseburgers.

McDonald's cheeseburgers are a deconstruction and meditation on what it means to be a cheesburger, a reimagining if you will. What textures and flavors constitute a cheeseburger, what imparts "cheeseburgerness" on a food. McDonald's has playfully subverted our expectations by handing us back the pure essense of hamburger. Fat and salt.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:41 PM on February 15, 2011 [22 favorites]


My father worked for one of Coke's Special Products divisions. He frequently came home smelling of various citrus fruits and whatever other essences and oils that had spilled that day. "Hey kids, smell my shoes!" was commonly heard around the house.

...there is only one 'Real Thing'...
Total bullshit. For Coca-Cola classic alone, there are marked formula (and taste) differences between Kosher Coke (check 2liters with the yellow cap around Passover), Coke bottled in the United States (made with HFCS) and Coke bottled in Mexico (made with cane sugar and now carried by Home Depot, oddly enough).

The sweetener used at bottling makes a hell of a lot of difference. Pepsi has made a big to-do of cane sugar with their "throwback" series. I really wish Coke would follow suit.

Mmm... Mexicoke....
posted by Wossname at 2:42 PM on February 15, 2011


Talking about secret beverage recipes without a hate-in on megabrewery beer? NOT ON MY WATCH!

Budweiser uses rice in their beer. This is why it tastes like rotten citrus.
Miller uses corn in their beer. This is why it tastes skunky.
Coors uses Rocky Mountain water, and lots of it. This is why it tastes like Rocky Mountain water.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:44 PM on February 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


I like Throwback Mountain Dew, because it has more of an orange-like flavor than Xtreme Mtn Dew or whatever it's called today.

But I don't get to drink it nearly as much as I'd like, because cane sugar's pretty darn awful, too.

I'd drink a diet version practically every other day. And plug my ears whenever someone provided evidence fake sugar is evil.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:47 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


All I can say is this: they missed the ACTUAL secret ingredient, which is tamarind.

No kidding.
posted by dbiedny at 2:47 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everytime I see one of these it's like AND IT HAS THE FLAVORS OF KUMQUAT JUICE AND ORANGE OIL AND CNNAMON AND EXTRACT OF RARE VANILLA and I'm like "Hold on, because coke just tastes like tangy sugar water". There's no way you can taste any of that shit in there.
posted by GilloD at 2:49 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know what tastes exactly like Coke? Pepsi Holiday Spice.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:50 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Miller uses corn in their beer. This is why it tastes skunky.

No it's not. Skunk flavors in beer come from the hops
posted by nickmark at 2:51 PM on February 15, 2011


I got kicked out of a meeting at A Very Blue Competitor of Coke's today because the people I was meeting with had A Very Important Meeting to attend.

I don't know why.
posted by Sk4n at 2:54 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


In the "million dollar room" as the ingredient staging area was called, the labels were all of the form "Coca-Cola #3." And those which were hazardous had MSDS available. You don't need to know all the contaminants mixed with the phosphoric acid to treat a spill or burn.
posted by localroger at 3:03 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


> So what's in Pepsi?
> posted by Harry at 4:53 PM on February 15 [+] [!]

Coke knows, and Pepsi knows what's in Coke. A flavor chemist (who worked for Coke at the time, and later for Canada Dry) explained it to me thus:

Commercial soft drink flavoring is extremely well understood. Any decent flavor chemistry lab will be able to provide you with several different recipes for soft drinks that taste exactly like either Coke or Pepsi. By "exactly like" I mean that a professional taster, one of those guys who have mass spectrometers for tongues, will not be able to taste a difference.

If you add to this an intimate knowledge of the soft drink production business--if you know lots about ingredient cost and availablity and stability in storage and supplier reliability and so on--you will be able to look through the recipes and pick the few, or very possibly
the one, which is cheapest to produce in bulk.

Can you prove (without the aid of a corporate spy) that the recipe you picked is actually the one Coke or Pepsi or whoever is using? No, you can't prove it. But what's the chance you're wrong? About .00001%

posted by jfuller at 3:05 PM on February 15, 2011 [19 favorites]


Another fun Coke fact: New Coke was, in fact, their opportunity to switch from cane sugar to HFCS in the US recipe. One of my other customers is a sugar refinery that refines IIRC about 12% of the sugar for the entire US market, and their orders from Coca-Cola cratered with the switch and didn't recover when Classic was introduced. So it's not your imagination; Classic really isn't the same as pre-New-Coke.
posted by localroger at 3:07 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mister Fabulous: Coors uses Rocky Mountain water horse piss, and lots of it. This is why it tastes like Rocky Mountain water horse piss.

FTFY.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:07 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Didn't a few comments made above already explain why this is irrelevant?

1. One of the KNOWN ingredients is an extract from the coca plant, which Coca-Cola has exclusive rights from the government to import and process. It is literally illegal for anyone else in the country to acquire one of Coke's main ingredients.

2. Even if you could perfectly replicate Coke, who cared? You wouldn't be able to slap the label on it, you couldn't advertise it as "tastes just like Coke," and even if it did, the idea that you personally could produce Coke cheaper than, you know, Coke could is impossible.


I mean I guess the secret is interesting, but, yeah: it's sugar, water, and natural flavorings. Alright.

It's entirely probably that there's actually a guarded, locked room at a certain factory in Atlanta where only a few people know what's in the actual formula

I live in Atlanta which is also the home of SunTrust bank, and on occasion there is a boast that the bank is responsible for guarding the original copy of the recipe in their vault. Whether or not there is frequent access to it I have no idea, but yes, the recipe actually exists and is actually guarded 24 hours a day like the computer in Mission Impossible.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:07 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's no way you can taste any of that shit in there.

I can taste fruit and spice notes, but not which individual fruits and spices. I definitely taste some kind of citrus oil, and some kind of pie spice (cinnamon or nutmeg or allspice or clove my brain lumps them all in the same category when they come through faintly). It's not as obvious as the lime in lime flavored diet coke, but it's there. I'm pretty sure one of the professional noses for a perfume company could tell you 6 out of 7 secret ingredients on a bad day. I am definitely not a professional nose, and I muddle a lot of my smell memories into associative groups, but there's a little hint of nuance to coke, pepsi, dr pepper, rc cola, etc.. It's not just the sweetness / acidity ratio that makes the afficianados prefer one to the other.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:07 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Uh, in this day of HPLCs, GCs and Mass Specs the only reason a recipie stays secret is because no one particularly cares.

I mean let's say you really have the secret formula. What are you going to do, make your knock off of Coke cheaper than Coke can because of your ability to get raw materials cheaper than their massive resourcing engines? Are you going to make it or distribute it more efficiently?

More likely you're going to adultrate the snot out of it with cheaper substitute ingredients and make fake coke the new fake Dr. Pepper.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:08 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Oh and where is my God Damned McDonalds cheeseburger recipe?"

Cardboard
Latex
Manure
Salt

You forgot the most important ingredients: Regret and Despair
posted by Dr. Zira at 3:18 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


not_on_display wrote: "By the way, Pepsi "Throwback" is in the stores again, so grab it and avoid the the rush for Passover Coke in April"

I'd rather not throw up, thanks. Pepsi is disgusting. HFCS Coke is reasonably tasty, but I much prefer Coke in the Dominican Republic. HFCS gives Coke (and other drinks) a not-so-delicious aftertaste if they're not the proper temperature.

onya wrote: "The physical ingredients of all colas are essentially the same. What makes them taste different is the amount of marketing they contain."

That explains why I notice immediately when a server brings me a Pepsi instead of a Coke, or (more rarely, especially these days) an RC. They have radically different flavors, at least to my palate.
posted by wierdo at 3:19 PM on February 15, 2011


Mister Fabulous:
Budweiser uses rice in their beer. This is why it tastes like rotten citrus.
Miller uses corn in their beer. This is why it tastes skunky.
Coors uses Rocky Mountain water, and lots of it. This is why it tastes like Rocky Mountain water.


I reject the assessment that an of them have any real flavor.
posted by paisley henosis at 3:24 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


More than once I've seen a can of Coke more or less save someone's life or soul. Sometimes people get so altered or high they lose touch with the ground, or even reality, whatever that is. But regardless they're in great distress.

When my 97-year-old, born dirt-poor daughter of a share-cropper grandmother was lying in her hospital bed, purportedly hours from death, her doctor said there would be no harm in giving her the coke she was crying for.

After the coke she sat up, smiled, and lived another six months.
posted by jefficator at 3:26 PM on February 15, 2011 [13 favorites]


Wait, there might be traces of alcohol used in the production? And they're pumping it into Muslim countries?

See...THIS is where I want popcorn.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:55 PM on February 15, 2011


1. One of the KNOWN ingredients is an extract from the coca plant, which Coca-Cola has exclusive rights from the government to import and process. It is literally illegal for anyone else in the country to acquire one of Coke's main ingredients.

2. Even if you could perfectly replicate Coke, who cared? You wouldn't be able to slap the label on it, you couldn't advertise it as "tastes just like Coke," and even if it did, the idea that you personally could produce Coke cheaper than, you know, Coke could is impossible.


To answer number 2, there's one company that could and almost did. Former Pepsi CEO Roger Enrico wrote that during the New Coke debacle the Pepsi chemists took almost no time to come up with a recipe that tasted just like Old Coke. They were going to call it "Savannah Cola." The stumbling block? See number one, above. They were trying to figure that one out when the announcement of Coca-Cola Classic made it moot.
posted by evilcolonel at 3:56 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suspect the real reason for all this "secrecy" is analogous to security theater. It's a CYA move.

It's actually fairly difficult to create a trade secret and pretty serious if you acquire one illegally. I think suspect the good old boys down in Atlanta are merely staying prepared for any potential major shift in their established competitive landscape, c.f., disruptive technologies.
posted by digitalprimate at 4:00 PM on February 15, 2011


I had a teensy tiny little bit of "insider info" on this episode of TAL -- I used to work for Jones Soda, and a few weeks ago a friend who still works there posted on Facebook that Ira Glass was sitting in her conference room right that very second. Turns out he was there to do a segment with Jones's VP of Ops and the marketing director. All we knew, collectively, was that they'd been asked to hold a special tasting with Ira for an upcoming episode of TAL, and my friend who'd posted to Facebook told us she'd been tasked with ordering "some super weird shit" from their usual flavor additive provider. So we've been waiting with bated breath to find out just what was going on.

Ira was nice enough to go around and say hi to most of the Jones staff (all pretty big TAL fans) before he left. That made me like him even more. Call me sometime, Ira!
posted by palomar at 4:08 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suspect the real reason for all this "secrecy" is analogous to security theater. It's a CYA move.

Nah, it's a PR move.

Think about how much free ink has been spilled on stories and posts about Coke's mystical "secret formula." Coca-Cola makes billions every year. What does it cost for the annual rental of a safe and two security guards' salaries? Probably a single-digit percentage of what they spend on Super Bowl commercials alone.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:26 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's people! Coca-Cola is made out of people!
posted by msalt at 4:30 PM on February 15, 2011


If I had the Coke formula, I'd just want the Pepsi formula. Such is the folly of the human condition.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:39 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


In 1998 I went for a holiday to the USA to visit some friends. After one particularly long night which involved sampling a vast amount of different types of beer (Old Milwaulkee was particularly memorable - I'd picked that one because I remembered Richie Cunningham and co drinking it in Happy Days and it remains to this day the most chunderrific beer I've ever tasted) I was craaaaving a can of Coke because that was my standard hangover cure. My friend raised an eyebrow and said 'really?' in a way that I found curious until I actually chugged half the can and immediately had to race to the loo and throw up.

That was not the Coke of my memories. It was sickly sickly sweet (and I like sweet) and not a cure at all. It still kind of tasted like the Coke I knew and was desperately in love with at the time but it most certainly did not help me get rid of my hangover. The spew helped though.

I still like Coke and it's what I drink at work, but I don't crave it anymore. And I'm far too lazy to attempt whipping up a batch for myself.
posted by h00py at 4:46 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


What the hell? I listened to this episode and what I got out of it was a) the seekrit recipe was not very good and b) it tasted nothing like the Real Thing. Did I miss something?

On a side note I had six hours of driving over the past two days and succumbed to the lure of the golden arches. My Coke tasted exactly like a mild commercial disinfectant bath, a required part of the restaurant prewash process I well recall from my time working for both Mickey D's and other food-service emporiums in varying positions lo these twenty-five years ago.

I couldn't tell if that was because don't drink a lot of coke or because someone had rinsed the ENORMOUSLY OVERSIZED cup in bleachy solution first. Who knows, maybe it was jizz. Does Coke taste like cum? Is that the secret ingredient?
posted by mwhybark at 4:47 PM on February 15, 2011


h00py: "chunderrific"

Thanks, h00py, for my new favorite word. Hilarious.
posted by theredpen at 5:04 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


"a) the seekrit recipe was not very good and b) it tasted nothing like the Real Thing. Did I miss something?"

Yeah, the bit where they reduced the seekrit ingredient content based on current production capabilities and it passed blind taste tests.

It was alluded to upthread, but nobody has pointed out that a crucial ingredient is being missed by the entire TAL podcast and discussion.

Ingredient: COLD!

Warm Coke is turgid. Ice-cold Coke is, well, Coke.
posted by panaceanot at 5:27 PM on February 15, 2011


For most of my life, probably starting in junior high until the middle of last December, I had, on average, at least one cola-esque product a day. I preferred Pepsi and Dr. Pepper, but if Coke was all there was, I'd drink it. One or two 500ml bottles a day, sometimes more. God help me if we got the case of 24 cans from Costco, since they'd all be gone in a week. I decided to stop drinking cola right before Christmas, and went cold turkey for roughly a month. At the moment, I'm willing to have one a week, usually when I go out to eat. The great thing about this is my rapidly fading familiarity with the stuff is forcing me to actually realize what it tastes like, rather than just consume it out of habit. Coke? Tastes nasty. Seriously. Pepsi? Way too sweet. I've held off on the most delicious nectar, Dr. Pepper, because that way lies relapse, I fear.

and to all those who say 'Stop drinking cola, you'll be surprised how much weight just falls off' I say get stuffed. 2 months, 3 cans of cola, as opposed three a day. Eating healthier. Haven't dropped a pound.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:31 PM on February 15, 2011


Now, if this were the secret leaked recipe for Moxie, I would be getting real excited about now.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:34 PM on February 15, 2011


I'm sensing an element of self-righteousness in your decision to quit the fizzy stuff Ghidorah. It tastes bad if you don't drink it frequently? Beer, Whisky, milk, local tap water even, probably tastes 'bad' if you're not in the habit of imbibing it.

If you stopped drinking it to lose weight and it hasn't had that affect, but you still think it was the right move, then I'm wondering what your beef with it is.

It's decidedly bad for your teeth, and you're essentially paying a lot for water with large amounts of cheap sugar in it... so I'm not saying you wouldn't have a valid case.
posted by panaceanot at 5:38 PM on February 15, 2011


Y'all are asking the wrong question with your, "Could you make it cheaper?"

Call it artisinal, make some bullshit claim about local ingredients, and sell it for $9 a four-pack.
posted by klangklangston at 5:42 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


So what's in Pepsi?

If I had to guess, liquid evil and/or the blood of puppies.
posted by sonika at 6:02 PM on February 15, 2011


This TAL segment was interesting, not so much because They Discovered The Formula For Coke but because it inspired me to think about what flavor is. Especially the parts where they had various people - soda flavor designers, supermarket shoppers, a Coke spokesperson - taste their recipe vs. actual Coke and comment on their thoughts. Everyone's ideas about what they had just tasted couldn't have been more different from each other, and they seemed to be shaped more on personal identity than anything actually present in the formula.

It doesn't seem to matter what's in Coke. What matters is an ephemeral idea that is slightly different from one person to the next.

I promise I am not on mushrooms right now.
posted by Sara C. at 6:12 PM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Call it artisinal, make some bullshit claim about local ingredients, and sell it for $9 a four-pack.

Listening to the recipe, it struck me how similar the recipe for Coke is to the recipe for chinotto. And that link is one of the cheaper prices I've seen listed for that, too - I swear I bought an 8oz bottle at Eataly that was at least $2.50.
posted by Sara C. at 6:16 PM on February 15, 2011


Here's what you should love about TAL: This whole "we discovered the recipe of coke" thing is only half of this week's show. The other half is this really intense story about an expert in historical documents who discovers what he thinks is conclusive evidence of an affair between JFK and Marilyn Monroe that included a mob coverup. In other words: TAL is unwilling to rest on the laurels of an interesting premise longer than is absolutely necessary to tell the story.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:22 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


panaceanot, there's no self-righteousness. All there is, at the end, is a bit of bitterness that something I've heard for roughly the last ten years (testimonials to the effect of 'All I did was stop drinking Coke, and I've lost X pounds') turned out to not be true in my case.

As for the flavor, you're right. I'm not used to it anymore, and I'm pretty happy about that. It doesn't really taste all that good, it's lousy for me, and all of that stuff. Still, stopping wasn't easy, and it took me roughly 20 years to stop, simply because it's cheap, it's everywhere, and I was used to consuming it in large amounts. I'm not trying to be self-righteous, just reporting my own personal experience.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:32 PM on February 15, 2011


A few people have commented on being able (or not) to discern the individual flavoring components. I can't find a good source online, but the classic "cola" flavor is a fantasia, a food chemistry term for a blend that tastes different from its components. The cola fantasia is vanilla, citrus oil and cinnamon (or cassis, which is similar) and the different cola brands use different citrus oils and different proportions to get their particular tastes. The individual flavor components are fairly cheap, or can be faked even cheaper, which is why every supermarket has a cheap generic cola on the shelf.

I personally don't taste vanilla, citrus and cinnamon - the fantasia "works" on me - but I'm willing to believe that some people can discern the flavors separately. I've also read somewhere that the main difference between Pepsi and Coke is lemon and orange oils, respectively, which gives Pepsi its somewhat lighter flavor.
posted by Quietgal at 6:39 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have a very, very slight preference for Coke over Pepsi, taste-wise, as the former has a stronger vanilla taste while the latter is more citrus-y. However, given a choice, I have lately gone for Pepsi products since the The American Family Association has called for a boycott of PepsiCo over its support of gay rights.
posted by Morrigan at 6:46 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Went down to the bodega and got a coke.

I maintain that the difference between a coke and any other soda is the level of carbonation and acid that produces a certain bite that prevents one from discerning any other particular flavor. I'm almost certain that the formula of "secret" ingredients is a red herring. I get end notes of "cinnamon" (AKA cassia, not cassis) and a bitter citrus flavor that really does remind me a lot of chinotto. My high school coca cola addiction probably explains why I like Campari and chinotto so much, even though I typically don't love bitter drinks.
posted by Sara C. at 6:47 PM on February 15, 2011


Warm Coke is turgid.

It's swollen?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:03 PM on February 15, 2011


Gah. Cassia = cinnamon, cassis = blackcurrent. How come my spellchecker didn't know which one I needed here?
posted by Quietgal at 7:05 PM on February 15, 2011


So what's in Pepsi?

Blue. None more blue.
posted by TedW at 7:24 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


it's a failing brand because there's no growth in carbonated sugar water

They also sell non-carbonated sugar water and just-plain-water, both at significant markups.

And while the growth seems to be peaking in North America, with around a 10% increase in volume over the last two decades, over the same time frame they've more than doubled on every other continent, and still not saturated.. World average per-capita consumption of Coca-cola drinks was 688 ounces. That compares to 3192 in the USA, or 5320 in Mexico.

"Probably will never more-than-quadruple its growing high-profit-margin sales" is a pretty harsh definition of failing. That beats a lot of the investments I've been putting IRA contributions into instead...
posted by roystgnr at 7:46 PM on February 15, 2011


Well I don't know what their secret ingredient for Coke is but mine is lots and lots of ice.
posted by mazola at 7:57 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is one of the massive fallacies relating to common widespread products. It's the marketing, not the ingredients, that make these particular things popular. Just like the Colonels eleven secret herbs and spices, there is a certain imperative on behalf of the producers to intimate that they have cracked some amazing code that must be kept secret.

It's garbage. Coke is an acquired taste, and divorced from it's ubiquitous cultural context, tastes highly unusual. It's a black liquid for goodness sakes. Since they removed the cocaine, It's a triumph that they managed to make anyone drink it, let alone most of the world

Kentucky fried chicken is great comfort food, however it's not as good as you could probably make at home. It's secret is no secret at all.
posted by Thoth at 8:03 PM on February 15, 2011


Today, I got diet Sunkist, because I'm not a sheeple who drinks what the public radio station says to drink.

I have no idea if Sunkist is a Pepsi or Coca-Cola product.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:16 PM on February 15, 2011


...an acquired taste, and divorced from it's ubiquitous cultural context, tastes highly unusual. It's a black liquid for goodness sakes. Since they removed the cocaine, It's a triumph that they managed to make anyone drink it, let alone most of the world.

Funny, that's exactly how I felt about mate de coca, after drinking it in Peru. It tastes like... hot water with leaves in it. Supposedly it has various non-quantifiable effects on the body and mind, but honestly, aside from the fact that it kept me warm in the Andes and is a cool thing to brag about back home, meh.

I blame cocaine.
posted by Sara C. at 8:17 PM on February 15, 2011


Oh, and KFC? William Poundstone also did a bit on that in one of the Big Secrets books (he's written three, along with books on various other subjects). It's very easy to get a sample of the coating that they use on Original Recipe chicken, but it wasn't so easy to get a food analysis lab to tell him what was in it, because when he told them where it came from they wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. He went to another place and used a simple but brilliant cover story about how Grandma had taken her secret recipe to the grave and they wanted to reproduce it in her memory, etc.

The "eleven herbs and spices" in the flour-based coating? Salt, black pepper, and paprika. Period. There haven't been anywhere near eleven different spices since Harlan Sanders sold the franchise. It's all in the pressure cookers that they use.

(And Poundstone doesn't magically derive the answers to every big secret that he seeks to glean--he never did figure out Oysters Rockefeller--but he really puts his back into it. Oreo filling is basically confectioner's sugar and Crisco, or at least it was, although I'm not sure if they still use hydrogenated fats.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:16 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Forget Coke. PM me when they actually find out Dr Pepper's secret recipe so I can buy store brand Dr Pepper that actually tastes like Dr Pepper as opposed to some black cherry and vanillin abomination.


Sir! I see you ONE Mister Skipper, Safeway brand.
posted by stratastar at 9:39 PM on February 15, 2011


>
Another fun Coke fact: New Coke was, in fact, their opportunity to switch from cane sugar to HFCS in the US recipe. One of my other customers is a sugar refinery that refines IIRC about 12% of the sugar for the entire US market, and their orders from Coca-Cola cratered with the switch and didn't recover when Classic was introduced. So it's not your imagination; Classic really isn't the same as pre-New-Coke.
I've wondered about this sort of thing. It seems implausible to me that the Coke of today is the same as the Coke of 25 years ago, or fifty years ago. And I think it's unlikely most people have such refined palates that they could detect small incremental changes. Regional variations alone seem to counter the idea of some unchanging, standardized flavor. The TAL episode explains the idea behind altering the recipe to allow for changes in the quality of modern ingredients. The New Coke thing seems like it was a good opportunity to make a fairly significant changeover.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:51 PM on February 15, 2011


Dear Ira Glass,

STOP SNITCHING
posted by billyfleetwood at 10:18 PM on February 15, 2011


I think this neatly solves the problems with the "only 2" setup, doesn't it? Clearly, "X7" is just earthspeak for "midichlorians".

[runs off to buy and drink coke until he can shoot lightning from his hands.]
posted by dvorak_beats_qwerty at 10:34 PM on February 15, 2011


A foggy memory tells me that this recipe (or one almost the same) was in one of the old 'Anarchist Cookbook' type document collections floating around in the early days of Usenet. 'Neroli oil' definitely sounds familiar. Does this ring a bell for anyone else?
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:42 PM on February 15, 2011


localroger: "Another fun Coke fact: New Coke was, in fact, their opportunity to switch from cane sugar to HFCS in the US recipe. One of my other customers is a sugar refinery that refines IIRC about 12% of the sugar for the entire US market, and their orders from Coca-Cola cratered with the switch and didn't recover when Classic was introduced. So it's not your imagination; Classic really isn't the same as pre-New-Coke"

I've heard that said a number of times, but I also seem to recall someone having debunked it, stating that the switch to HFCS actually happened a short while pre-New Coke for recipe-unrelated reasons. Like, it was going to happen as a cost-cutting measure anyway, and it just happened to happen a little while before the new recipe came around.
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:08 PM on February 15, 2011


On an 'Appropriate Technology' website I found the previously published Coke recipe (along with mixing instructions), along with Pepsi's recipe.

Pepsi uses something called Petit Grain instead of Neroli oil.
posted by eye of newt at 11:14 PM on February 15, 2011


My understanding was that the switch to HFCS was a gradual thing throughout the early-mid 80s. Some bottlers did it earlier than others. But probably a lot of them jumped on the New Coke/Classic Coke switch as a good time to do it.

"I'm willing to believe that some people can discern the flavors separately. I've also read somewhere that the main difference between Pepsi and Coke is lemon and orange oils, respectively, which gives Pepsi its somewhat lighter flavor."

Coke, to me, has a fairly strong cinnamon flavor, on top of an orange flavor. Sometimes I can taste vanilla, sometimes I can't. Pepsi has a light citrus flavor to me. I like lemony things but Pepsi does not taste very good to me. Coke does taste good as long as it is fresh and cold. Back in the day I used to be able to pick Coke in the Pepsi Challenge, reliably, mostly because the cinnamon was so darned obvious to my palate.

HFCS Coke, to me, has a sickly sweet aftertaste and a muted carbonation bite. Passover Coke, OTOH, has a bite that can be almost painful (but I like it!), and lacks the syrupy flavor. Mexican Coke, to me, tastes different -- not quite as good as the Passover Coke. Maybe it's not getting here to the Northwest quickly enough to be fresh. Coke needs to be fresh -- after it's more than a few weeks old, the flavor gets a stale tang that is pretty nasty. (The person upthread saving the 2006 Cokes was joking, I hope -- because they are going to taste like ASS. Even if Coke is right near its expiration date, it's going to taste bad.) Passover Coke tastes like Coca-Cola did when I was a kid in the 70s.

I remember during the 80s, complaining that none of the pop (yeah, that's what we call them up here in Seattle. Deal) that I liked seemed to be as carbonated as it used to be. Orange Crush needs that carbonation burn, dammit. Eventually I figured out that the problem was the HFCS switch. HFCS pops don't have that bite, and I miss it. Passover Coke is good, but it's limited out here in the PNW, and lately we only seem to get it in plastic bottles, which aren't great for keeping that carbonation in.
posted by litlnemo at 2:23 AM on February 16, 2011


Petit grain is the undeveloped citrus fruit, before it properly ripens. The essential oil smells quite differently to both neroli and orange. It's much more "green". The only thing I've found that smells like it is tinned green beans.
posted by Solomon at 2:37 AM on February 16, 2011


So loook. Fantastic if they've found it out.. except it isn't fantastic. The way TAL has handled this makes it look more like some sort of a dick move.

I like Ira Glass. I like PRI. I don't like coke for either its taste or its politics. But come on, they're playing the part of the killjoy and by fapping on and on about this so publicly cheapens TAL and their work.

This is like Coke's junior high diary - uselessly secret in the grand scheme of things, but a point of their pride and integrity. TAL would be the snoopy school bully.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:50 AM on February 16, 2011


You're all crazy. Diet Coke Forever!
posted by Splunge at 5:28 AM on February 16, 2011


OK, just read the whole thread, and I have 2 comments.

1). So why the hell does Twinning English Breakfast tea taste SO MUCH BETTER than any other "breakfast" tea I've ever imbibed? WTF is going on there?

2). What's the story with Diet Mountain Dew? Seriously, that shit tastes like it has sugar, yet it doesn't, but dammit, if all diet soda tasted like this, no one would ever touch the HFCS/sugar stuff again. How do they do it?
posted by dbiedny at 5:52 AM on February 16, 2011


People would like Wikileaks if they leaked secret formulas, and respect TAL if they leaked torture memo cables more often.

Or, you know, just told vignettes about fascinating persons and situations.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:18 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Latin American Coke (including Mexican) is still made with cane sugar. It's only made with HFCS in the US because of corn industry subsidies.
posted by localroger at 6:18 AM on February 16, 2011


DoctorFedora, I was told this by the plant manager of the plant that used to sell them the sugar. I suspect he is in a better position to know than just about anybody outside of the Coca-Cola company itself.
posted by localroger at 6:21 AM on February 16, 2011


I'd heard that sugar vs hfcs was up to the individual regional bottling companies, and that the south (in the US) was the last to make the switch from sugar. I do remember the labels saying sugar and/or corn syrup for a while.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:01 AM on February 16, 2011


I like Ira Glass. I like PRI. I don't like coke for either its taste or its politics. But come on, they're playing the part of the killjoy and by fapping on and on about this so publicly cheapens TAL and their work.

Making a big deal, as Coca-Cola has throughout much of its history, of it containing a super-secret ingredient--one that its consumers end up ingesting quite a lot of over their lifetimes--and expecting people to not be curious about it is a bit naive, don't you think?
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:50 AM on February 16, 2011


Doing some simple math it looks like the finished Coke product is about 0.06% made of 7X by volume. Times 300 million people in the US, times 3192 oz per person, they need to make about 4 million gallons of 7X per year, or about 85,000 55-gallon drums. This isn't hard if you're using industrial mixing equipment, but it's not like there's a secret elite in Atlanta who mix the stuff by hand and courier it over to the processing plant in unmarked Zip-Locs.

Also: does Coke make subtle flavor changes over time? It seems like heavy Coke drinkers (redundant I know) can notice even very small differences in flavor, but I wonder if they'd notice an ingredient substitution carried out over a year or two.
posted by miyabo at 1:42 PM on February 16, 2011


Wouldn't a chemical spectral analysis help solve this dilemma, or have I watched too much NCIS?
posted by yeti at 2:59 PM on February 16, 2011


1). So why the hell does Twinning English Breakfast tea taste SO MUCH BETTER than any other "breakfast" tea I've ever imbibed? WTF is going on there?


They blend and test tea like this.
(Video link. If you can't see that site in your country, go to youtube and search "how do they do it tea" and there should be a couple of different videos that cover the same topic.

I can't find the exact full length video I was thinking of, but basically the consistency and quality of something like Twinning's English Breakfast tea is the result of buying cured tea leaves from all over the world and then blending them together. While the buyers in the field need to know what they're doing when buying and sourcing tea, it really comes down to the master blender.

He'll taste the incoming tea and catalog them and take notes, but they're basically making micro-categories within a major category, say Oolong, or black tea. They're categorizing it not only on taste, color and character but where on the mountain it was grown, how powerful the tea is after being steeped, how light or heavy the essential oils are in the tea leaves that get released when you brew the tea, how bitter, how sweet and so on.

And armed with that data and whatever magic that happens in the master blender's head and sense of taste/smell, and he chooses what available teas go into the blend. They make test batches, and taste, and compare it to the prior batches until they get it right, which is the blend that gets put into tea bags and shipped out the door. As you can see in that video they keep an entire library of raw tea as well as blended tea. They probably keep a library of samples of blends of "English Breakfast Tea" that goes back for years, over hundreds and thousands of different batches.

So, in the end there isn't some single recipe to make that particular tea blend. The recipe changes from batch to batch depending on what tea they actually have on hand. While you, the tea consumer, experience a cup of tea that's reliably the same from cup to cup, from box to box over years and years of drinking the "same" tea, when it's really not the "same" tea at all. It's just blended to very closely resemble the same cup of tea.

And Twinnings is so damn good because Twinnings is so damn good. They really take tea seriously there. As far as blended teas go from large manufacturers, Twinnings is probably the best in the world for English style teas. One of the "how it's made" videos I've seen about tea was about the Twinnings blending process and factory, and they have expert tea buyers and agents all over the world, wherever tea is grown. And they buy and blend a lot of tea.

And, well, the English are nothing if not fussy and particular about the consistency of their tea and the ritual and daily routine that goes along with it. Twinnings wouldn't be Twinnings if their "English Breakfast Tea" varied wildly in quality or taste. It would be terribly un-English and sign of the end of civilization.
posted by loquacious at 3:13 PM on February 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Kabanos writes "Royal Crown and Crown Royal it is then."

You want to make sure not to get the proportions of those two things mixed up.

loquacious writes "The essential oils or extracts of things like cinnamon or nutmeg are extremely concentrated. So much they probably have MSDS hazardous material sheets."

Everything not sold in retail quantities has an MSDS even if it just says "No Hazard" in all the entries. I worked in an experimental concrete and asphalt lab where one of my duties was maintaining the MSDS book. Even stuff like gravel and sand had MSDSs available.
posted by Mitheral at 3:57 PM on February 16, 2011


litlnemo, if you're up in the PNW, you can easily get sugar-containing Coke from Canada as well. Before Mexican Coke became A Thing and therefore readily available in stores, I knew a number of people who would regularly pop up to BC to get a case. (It's not in the glass bottles, though.)
posted by hattifattener at 3:57 PM on February 16, 2011


IN NYC probably because of the big Hispanic community lots of bodega's and deli's carry the cute little 8 oz. classic coke bottles made with cane sugar and not that over-processed Devil's Sugar that messes up your body.

(HFCS...not the YA YO!!)
posted by Skygazer at 4:38 PM on February 16, 2011


litlnemo, if you're up in the PNW, you can easily get sugar-containing Coke from Canada as well. Before Mexican Coke became A Thing and therefore readily available in stores, I knew a number of people who would regularly pop up to BC to get a case. (It's not in the glass bottles, though.)

I wouldn't be so sure about that. The ingredients list "sugar/glucose-fructose," the latter of which is Canuck for HFCS. As for the sugar, it's almost certainly more likely to be beet sugar than cane sugar.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:11 PM on February 16, 2011


Wegman's, an upscale grocery store chain in NJ/NY/PA, carries Mexican Coke bottles, along with a lot of neat ethnic products you'd normally have to go to a special shop for. For example, you can get un-yuppetized Yerba Mate for $2.50 a 1 Kg bag, matcha green tea powder, Heinz Spotted Dick, etc.

They also have a good selection of craft beers, unlike most grocery stores in NJ that don't even carry liquor (liquor licenses are harder to come by here, though).
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:54 PM on February 16, 2011


People would like Wikileaks if they leaked secret formulas, and respect TAL if they leaked torture memo cables more often.

TAL did do this, though.
posted by TedW at 8:18 PM on February 16, 2011


pts: "You can't crack the secret formula because there is only one "Real Thing?" That's all you got, Coke? A statement so nonsensical it isn't even a tautology? Your sugar water is made of the same atoms everything else is. It's not magic. "

Coke: It's Very Famous™
posted by Rhaomi at 4:06 AM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


As someone who went to library school in the 1980s, I find it amusing that unearthing information published in 1979 (in a major newspaper, no less) is now considered a remarkable discovery. That is all, young whippersnappers.
posted by Wordwoman at 3:58 PM on February 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


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