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Coca-Cola formula

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The recipe for Coca-Cola remains a closely guarded trade secret.

The Coca-Cola Company's formula for Coca-Cola syrup, which bottlers combine with carbonated water to create the company's flagship cola soft drink, is a closely guarded trade secret. Company founder Asa Candler initiated the veil of secrecy that surrounds the formula in 1891 as a publicity, marketing, and intellectual property protection strategy. While several recipes, each purporting to be the authentic formula, have been published, the company maintains that the actual formula remains a secret, known only to a very few select (and anonymous) employees.


Vault containing the secret formula at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta

Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton is known to have shared his original formula with at least four people before his death in 1888.[1] In 1891, Asa Candler purchased the rights to the formula from Pemberton's estate, founded the Coca-Cola Company, and instituted the shroud of secrecy that has since enveloped the formula. He also made changes to the ingredients list, which by most accounts improved the flavor, and entitled him to claim that anyone in possession of Pemberton's original formula no longer knew the "real" formula.[2]

In 1919, Ernest Woodruff led a group of investors in purchasing the company from Candler and his family. As collateral for the acquisition loan, Woodruff placed the only written copy of the formula in a vault at the Guaranty Trust Company of New York. In 1925, when the loan had been repaid, Woodruff relocated the written formula to the Trust Company Bank (Truist Financial) in Atlanta. On December 8, 2011, the company placed it in a vault on the grounds of the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, with the vault on public display.[3]

According to the company, only two employees are privy to the complete formula at any given time and they are not permitted to travel together. When one dies, the other must choose a successor within the company and impart the secret to that person. The identity of the two employees in possession of the secret is itself a secret.[4] However, the company's "secret formula" policy is more of a marketing strategy than an actual trade secret: any competitor in possession of the genuine Coke recipe would be unable to obtain key ingredients such as processed coca leaf, and even if all components were available, could not market the product as Coca-Cola.[1]

Coca leaves
Coca-Cola Advertisement, 1886

During the late 19th century, Coca-Cola was one of many popular coca-based drinks with purported medicinal properties and benefits to health; early marketing materials claimed that Coca-Cola alleviated headaches and acted as a "brain and nerve tonic".[5][6] Coca leaves were used in Coca-Cola's preparation; the small amount of cocaine they contained – along with caffeine originally sourced from kola nuts – provided the drink's "tonic" quality.[6][7] In 1903, cocaine was removed, leaving caffeine as the sole stimulant ingredient, and all medicinal claims were dropped.[5][6][8] By one account, as of 1983 the FDA continued to screen random samples of Coca-Cola syrup for the presence of cocaine.[9]

Some sources claim that coca leaf chemically processed to remove the cocaine remains part of the formula as a flavoring.[10][11] According to these accounts, the company obtains the ingredient from the Stepan Company of Maywood, New Jersey, which legally extracts cocaine from coca leaves for use in pharmaceuticals, then sells the processed leaf material for use in Coca-Cola.[12] As of 2006 the company would neither confirm nor deny this, deferring to the secret nature of the formula.[13][14]

In 1911, the United States government sued the Coca-Cola Company for violations of the Pure Food and Drug Act, claiming that the high concentration of caffeine in Coca-Cola syrup was harmful to health.[15] The case was decided in favor of Coca-Cola, but a portion of the decision was set aside in 1916 by the Supreme Court.[8][16] As part of a settlement, the company agreed to reduce the amount of caffeine in its syrup.[15][17]

Current ingredients[edit]

The company protects the secrecy of its syrup recipe by shipping ingredients to its syrup factories in the form of anonymous "merchandises", numbered 1 through 9. Factory managers are told the relative proportions of each numbered merchandise, and the mixing procedure, but not the ingredients in the merchandises, some of which are themselves mixtures of more basic ingredients. Merchandise no. 1 is known to be sugar, in the form of high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose (see variations, below); caramel coloring is no. 2, caffeine is no. 3, and phosphoric acid is no. 4. The identities of merchandises 5 through 9 are a matter of debate – particularly "merchandise 7X" (the "X" has never been explained), which is thought to contain a mixture of essential oils such as orange, lime, lemon, and lavender.[18]

Despite the implications of its name, there is no evidence that the current version of Coca-Cola syrup contains kola nut extract, which was originally included for its caffeine content. The modern source of that additive is probably caffeine citrate, a byproduct of the decaffeination of coffee.[19]

The primary taste of Coca-Cola is thought to come from vanilla and cinnamon, with trace amounts of essential oils, and spices such as nutmeg.[20] A 2014 study identified and measured 58 aroma compounds in the top three US brands of cola, confirming significant amounts of compounds found in the essential oils of cinnamon, lemon, orange, neroli, coriander, nutmeg and vanilla.[21]

Formula variations in the United States[edit]

During the 1980s, most U.S. Coca-Cola bottlers switched their primary sweetening ingredient from cane sugar (sucrose) to the cheaper high-fructose corn syrup. As of 2009, the only U.S. bottler still using sucrose year-round was the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Cleveland, which serves northern Ohio and a portion of Pennsylvania.[22] Many bottlers outside the U.S. also continue to use sucrose as the primary sweetener. Twelve-US-fluid-ounce (355 ml) glass bottles of sucrose-sweetened Coca-Cola imported from Mexico are available in many U.S. markets for those consumers who prefer the sucrose version (see "Mexican Coke", below).[23]


Coca-Cola was certified kosher in 1935 by Rabbi Tobias Geffen after beef tallow-derived glycerin was replaced with vegetable glycerin. However, the high-fructose corn syrup used by most U.S. bottlers since the 1980s renders it kitniyot by the definitions of Jewish kosher law, and therefore forbidden to Ashkenazi Jews during Passover according to certain traditions. Each year, in the weeks leading up to Passover, bottlers in markets with substantial Jewish populations switch to sucrose sweetener in order to obtain Kosher for Passover certification.[24]

"New Coke"[edit]

In April 1985, in response to marketing research suggesting that a majority of North American consumers preferred the taste of rival Pepsi to Coca-Cola, the company introduced a sweeter, less effervescent version of Coca-Cola in the U.S. and Canada. Although the new formulation had beaten both Pepsi-Cola and the old Coke formula in multiple blind taste tests, consumer response was overwhelmingly negative. The company quickly reintroduced the original beverage, rebranded as "Coca-Cola Classic", while continuing to market the new version as simply "Coke".[25]

The new version remained on the market, in North America only, for 17 years—the last 10 as "Coke II"—until it was quietly discontinued in 2002.[25] The "Classic" designation remained on the original product's label, its prominence gradually decreasing over the years, until it was removed entirely in 2009.[26]

Mexican Coke[edit]

In the early 2000s, cane-sugar-sweetened Coca-Cola produced in Mexico began to appear in bodegas and Hispanic supermarkets in the Southwestern United States; in 2005, Costco began offering it. All were obtaining the Mexican product—which was not labeled in accordance with U.S. food labeling laws—outside the official Coca-Cola distribution network.[22] In 2009, the Coca-Cola Company began officially importing Coca-Cola produced in Mexico, with proper labeling, for distribution through official channels.[27][28]

Purported secret recipes[edit]

Pemberton recipe[edit]

Coca-Cola inventor John Pemberton is said to have written this recipe in his diary shortly before his death in 1888.[29][30] The recipe does not specify when or how the ingredients are mixed, nor the flavoring oil quantity units of measure (though it implies that the "Merchandise 7X" was mixed first). This was common in recipes at the time, as it was assumed that preparers knew the method.


  • 1 oz (28 g) caffeine citrate
  • 3 oz (85 g) citric acid
  • 1 US fl oz (30 ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 US qt (946 ml) lime juice
  • 2.5 oz (71 g) "flavoring" (i.e., "Merchandise 7X")
  • 30 lb (14 kg) sugar
  • 4 US fl oz (118.3 ml) fluid extract of coca leaves (flavor essence of the coca leaf)
  • 2.5 US gal (9.5 L; 2.1 imp gal) water
  • caramel sufficient to give color
  • "Mix caffeine, citric acid and lime juice in 1 quart boiling water add vanilla and flavoring when cool."

Flavoring (Merchandise 7X):

Merory recipe[edit]

Recipe is from Food Flavorings: Composition, Manufacture and Use. Makes one 1 US gallon (3.8 L; 0.83 imp gal) of syrup. Yield (used to flavor carbonated water at 1 US fl oz (30 ml) per bottle): 128 bottles, 6.5 US fl oz (190 ml).[31]

  • Mix 5 lb (2.3 kg) of sugar with just enough water to dissolve the sugar fully. (High-fructose corn syrup may be substituted for half the sugar.)
  • Add 1+14 oz (35 g) of caramel, 110 oz (3 g) caffeine, and 25 oz (11 g) phosphoric acid.
  • Extract the cocaine from 58 drachm (1.1 g) of coca leaf (Truxillo growth of coca preferred) with toluol; discard the cocaine extract.
  • Soak the coca leaves and kola nuts (both finely powdered); 15 drachm (0.35 g) in 34 oz (21 g) of 20% alcohol.
    • California white wine fortified to 20% strength was used as the soaking solution circa 1909, but Coca-Cola may have switched to a simple water/alcohol mixture.
  • After soaking, discard the coca and kola and add the liquid to the syrup.
  • Add 1 oz (28 g) lime juice (a former ingredient, evidently, that Coca-Cola now denies) or a substitute such as a water solution of citric acid and sodium citrate at lime-juice strength.
  • Mix together
    • 14 drachm (0.44 g) orange oil,
    • 110 drachm (0.18 g) cassia (Chinese cinnamon) oil,
    • 12 drachm (0.89 g) lemon oil, traces of
    • 25 drachm (0.71 g) nutmeg oil, and, if desired, traces of
    • coriander,
    • neroli, and
    • lavender oils.
  • Add 110 oz (2.8 g) water to the oil mixture and let stand for twenty-four hours at about 60 °F (16 °C). A cloudy layer will separate.
  • Take off the clear part of the liquid only and add to the syrup.
  • Add 710 oz (20 g) glycerine (from vegetable source, not hog fat, so the drink can be sold to Jews and Muslims who observe their respective religion's dietary restrictions) and 310 drachm (0.53 g) of vanilla extract.
  • Add water (treated with chlorine) to make a gallon of syrup.

Beal recipe[edit]

In 2011, Ira Glass announced on his Public Radio International show, This American Life, that show staffers had found a recipe in "Everett Beal's Recipe Book", reproduced in the February 28, 1979, issue of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that they believed was either Pemberton's original formula for Coca-Cola, or a version that he made either before or after the product was first sold in 1886. The formula is very similar to the one found in Pemberton's diary.[32][33][34] Coca-Cola archivist Phil Mooney acknowledged that the recipe "could be a precursor" to the formula used in the original 1886 product, but emphasized that the original formula is not the same as the one used in the current product.[35]

The secret 7X flavor (use 2 oz of flavor to 5 gals syrup):

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Coca-Cola's Secret Formula fact check". Snopes.com. November 17, 1999. Archived from the original on May 26, 2022. Retrieved February 18, 2020.
  2. ^ Poundstone (1983), pp. 30–31.
  3. ^ "Coca-Cola Moves its Secret Formula to The World of Coca-Cola" (Press release). The Coca-Cola Company. December 8, 2011. Archived from the original on February 24, 2013. Retrieved December 19, 2011.
  4. ^ Poundstone, W. (1983). Big Secrets. William Morrow. p. 28. ISBN 0688022197.
  5. ^ a b Rielly, Edward J. (August 7, 2003). Baseball and American Culture: Across the Diamond. Routledge. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-7890-1485-6.
  6. ^ a b c Boville Luca de Tena, Belén (2004). The Cocaine War: In Context: Drugs and Politics. Algora Publishing. pp. 61–62. ISBN 978-0-87586-294-1.
  7. ^ Greenwood, Veronique (September 23, 2016). "The little-known nut that gave Coca-Cola its name". www.bbc.com. Archived from the original on August 8, 2020. Retrieved January 21, 2023.
  8. ^ a b Hamowy, Ronald (2007). Government and public health in America (illustrated ed.). Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 140–141. ISBN 978-1-84542-911-9.
  9. ^ Poundstone (1983), p. 34.
  10. ^ Benson, Drew (April 19, 2004). "Coca kick in drinks spurs export fears". The Washington Times. Archived from the original on April 5, 2006. Retrieved April 27, 2009. Coke dropped cocaine from its recipe around 1900, but the secret formula still calls for a cocaine-free coca extract produced at a Stepan Co. factory in Maywood, New Jersey.
  11. ^ Lee, Rensselaer W. III (1991). The White Labyrinth: Cocaine and Political Power. A Foreign Policy Research Institute book (reprinted ed.). Transaction Publishers. pp. 24–25. ISBN 9781560005650.
  12. ^ May, Clifford (July 1, 1988). "How Coca-Cola Obtains Its Coca". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 7, 2017. Retrieved July 9, 2017.
  13. ^ Langman, Jimmy (October 30, 2006). "Just Say Coca". Newsweek via MSNBC.com. Archived from the original on June 11, 2008. Retrieved May 5, 2007.
  14. ^ Ceaser, Mike (February 1, 2006). "Colombian farmers launch Coke rivals". BBC News. Archived from the original on January 7, 2009. Retrieved April 27, 2009.
  15. ^ a b Benjamin, Ludy T. (February 2009). "Pop psychology: The man who saved Coca-Cola". Monitor on Psychology. 40 (2): 18. Archived from the original on November 6, 2012. Retrieved October 24, 2012.
  16. ^ United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, the Coca-Cola Company of Atlanta, Georgia, 241 U.S. 265 (U.S. May 22, 1916) ("The judgment is reversed and the cause is remanded for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion.").
  17. ^ Pendergrast, Mark (2000). For God, Country and Coca-Cola: The Definitive History of the Great American Soft Drink and the Company that Makes it (2nd ed.). Basic Books. pp. 121–. ISBN 978-0-465-05468-8.
  18. ^ Poundstone (1983), pp. 33–41.
  19. ^ D'Amato, Alfonsina; Fasoli, Elisa; Kravchuk, Alexander V.; Righetti, Pier Giorgio (April 1, 2011). "Going Nuts for Nuts? The Trace Proteome of a Cola Drink, as Detected via Combinatorial Peptide Ligand Libraries". Journal of Proteome Research. 10 (5): 2684–2686. doi:10.1021/pr2001447. PMID 21452894.
  20. ^ Poundstone (1983), p. 38.
  21. ^ Lorjaroenphon, Yaowapa; Cadwallader, Keith R. (January 28, 2014). "Characterization of Typical Potent Odorants in Cola-Flavored Carbonated Beverages by Aroma Extract Dilution Analysis". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 63 (3): 769–775. doi:10.1021/jf504953s. PMID 25528884.
  22. ^ a b "Coke vs. Coke: A tale of 2 sweeteners". Consumer Reports. June 2009. Archived from the original on June 25, 2013.
  23. ^ "Coca-Cola Taste Test: High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Sugar". Huffpost. April 15, 2013. Archived from the original on April 29, 2013. Retrieved May 14, 2013.
  24. ^ Feldberg, Michael. "Beyond Seltzer Water: The Kashering of Coca-Cola". The Jewish Federations of North America. Archived from the original on November 2, 2013. Retrieved October 24, 2012.
  25. ^ a b The Real Lesson of New Coke. Marketing Research, December 1992. Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  26. ^ Clifford, Stephanie (January 30, 2009). "Coca-Cola deleting "Classic" from Coke label". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 5, 2015. Retrieved June 10, 2015.
  27. ^ Walker, Rob (October 8, 2009). "Cult Classic". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 20, 2022. Retrieved February 24, 2017.
  28. ^ Morran, Chris (October 7, 2010). "Coca Cola: We Don't Need To Make A Cane Sugar Version Because You Already Have Mexican Coke". Consumerist. Archived from the original on September 21, 2011. Retrieved March 26, 2013.
  29. ^ Pendergrast, pp. 456–57 Archived April 8, 2023, at the Wayback Machine.
  30. ^ The Recipe Archived February 17, 2011, at the Wayback Machine and image Archived December 30, 2021, at the Wayback Machine (pdf), This American Life. See Radio episode and notes Archived October 5, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  31. ^ Merory, Joseph (1968). Food Flavorings: Composition, Manufacture and Use (2nd ed.). Westport, CT: AVI Publishing.
  32. ^ Katie Rogers, "'This American Life' bursts Coca-Cola's bubble: What's in that original recipe, anyway?" Archived June 9, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, The Washington Post BlogPost, February 15, 2011, retrieved February 16, 2011.
  33. ^ Brett Michael Dykes, "Did NPR’s ‘This American Life’ discover Coke’s secret formula?" Archived February 17, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, The Lookout, Yahoo! News, February 15, 2011.
  34. ^ David W. Freeman, "'This American Life' Reveals Coca-Cola's Secret Recipe (Full Ingredient List)" Archived February 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, CBS News Healthwatch blogs, February 15, 2011.
  35. ^ The Recipe Archived February 17, 2011, at the Wayback Machine and image Archived December 30, 2021, at the Wayback Machine (pdf), This American Life.

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