Coca-Cola's Secret Recipe Revealed?

CBS/iStock Images

Coke, top secret, 4x3
CBS/iStock Images
Is it the end of one of the best-kept (and most-hyped) commercial secrets in history - or much ado about nothing? Probably a bit of both.

The radio program "This American Life" aired a segment Friday claiming to have unraveled the secret formula for Coca-Cola. The show's producers discovered a photograph in a 1979 article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showing a copy of the secret recipe from a notebook belonging to an (alleged) friend of Coke's creator.

The photographed notebook page also allegedly showed the ingredients and proportions for a secret ingredient - known as Merchandise 7X - necessary for the recipe.

The show contacted flavor and beverage makers, including the Jones Soda Company, for help reproducing the recipe. The replica was good enough to fool many tasters in blind tests - including flavor experts at Jones.

On the other hand, many testers who identified themselves as frequent Coke drinkers were not fooled. And although there is a single recipe considered the "original formula," it was developed in a series of attempts by 19th century chemist John Pemberton. Even if the recipe identified by "This American Life" is authentic, it was likely an intermediary step in Pemberton's process.

Furthermore, "It's not what they have now," noted Mark Pendergrast, the author of For God, Country & Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company that Makes It."

Since the drink was invented in 1886, the roughly 8 milligram dose of cocaine has been removed, the amount of caffeine has been reduced, and the types of sweeteners and acids used have been replaced, to name a few changes.

"The irony of everybody paying attention to the formula again, is they always miss the historical context," said Pendergrast, who detailed the drink's history as a cocaine-laden "combination patent medicine and beverage" largely ripped off from a coca-infused wine and marketed to relieve the mythical disease of neurasthenia.

"This whole story is a whole hoo-ra over old news," Pendergrast said, noting that he published a similar recipe in the 1993 first edition of his book and that an updated recipe would appear in a forthcoming edition.

An official company historian said people were welcome to try the recipe presented on the show. He said he was confident they'd find it just wasn't the same.

(The This American life radio piece can be found at www.thisamericanlife.org. But - apparently due to surging interest in the story - the website was down Tuesday morning.)

  • Ken Millstone

    Ken Millstone is an assignment editor at CBSNews.com

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.