History of the Search for the Coca-Cola Formula Part 2

About the history of the search for the secret recipe to Coca-Cola which remains a mystery to all but a trusted few.


Nowadays, the lift one gets from Coke is due to its high content of caffeine and sugar. A 12-oz. can of Coca-Cola contains about the same amount of caffeine as a 5-oz. cup of instant or freeze-dried coffee. Because caffeine is extremely bitter, a lot of sugar is needed to make the drink palatable; the Coca-Cola company purchases 10% of all the processed sugar sold in the U.S. (It has been demonstrated that rat's teeth dropped into a glass of Coke will completely dissolve in six months. Company spokesmen counter that anyone who soaks his teeth in Coca-Cola for six months deserves tooth decay.)

In Coke's case, there are at least 14 syrup ingredients, which the company calls "merchandises" and refers to by number. Some of them are known: Merchandise number 1 is sugar, number 2 is caramel, number 3 is caffeine, number 4 is phosphoric acid, and number 5 is an extract of "decocainized" coca leaves and cola nuts. Beyond that, various chemical analysts have identified the following: cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, glycerine, lavender, fluid extract of guarana, lime juice, and other citrus oils.

Then there is a supersecret ingredient known as Merchandise 7X, which no outsider has yet succeeded in identifying. Merchandise 7X comprises less than 1 percent of the formula. Asa Candler's son, Charles Howard Candler, summed up the Coca-Cola mystique in these words: "One of the proudest moments of my life came when my father . . . initiated me into the mysteries of the secret flavoring formula, inducting me . . . into the `Holy of Holies.' No written formulae were shown. Containers of ingredients, from which the labels had been removed, were identified only by sight, smell, and remembering where each was put on the shelf. To be safe, Father stood by me several times while I compounded these distinctive flavors . . . with particular reference to the order in which they should be measured out and mixed . . . and I thereupon experienced the thrill of making up with his guidance a batch of merchandise 7X."

In 1954 a rumor spread through Morocco that Coca-Cola contained pig's blood, which would have made it taboo among Muslims. The beverage remained under suspicion until the sultan's son publicly drank a Coke. The company eagerly publicizes one fact about its ingredients--that the glycerine used is extracted from vegetable matter, not pork.


The inclusion of secret ingredients in a food product might seem on the surface to violate some government standard. To be sure, Coke has had a few legal problems concerning the drink's ingredients, but the company always succeeded in keeping its recipe hidden from both the FDA and the public. In a roundabout attempt at forcing disclosure of Coke's mysterious contents, the government took the company to court in a celebrated 1909 case--The U.S. v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola--that tested the strength of the new Pure Food and Drug Act. After nine years of litigation, the government's case simply fizzled out. Since then, Coke's secret recipe has been further insulated by a "standard of identity" ruling by the FDA, which exempts beverage makers from having to identify on the label certain essential ingredients, among them the mysterious Merchandise 7X.

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