That picture right there? That's the secret recipe for Coca-Cola--or at least that's what Ira Glass and his crew from This American Life claim is one early version of the formula for making one of the most popular non-alcoholic beverages in the history of drinking. Coke says no--and they've been saying so loudly and repeatedly ever since the story went viral (TAL's servers actually crashed during the rush to get a gander at the formulation on their website)--but TAL does seem to be onto something here. They claim that only two employees at Coke at any given time actually have access to the recipe, but that they found a picture of an original recipe buried in a 1979 issue of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, as part of a column called "Georgia Rambler" written by Charles Salter. That snap up there is the picture in question. Charles Salter's son Chuck spoke to its veracity on Tuesday on the Fast Company website.
And if you want to know what Coke (aka "Coco Cola Improved" or "Merchandise 7x) is made of, just click through the jump.
The recipe, according to This American Life:
Fluid extract of Coca: 3 drams USP Citric acid: 3 oz Caffeine: 1 oz Sugar: 30 # Water: 2.5 gal Lime juice: 2 pints (1 qrt) Vanilla: 1 oz Caramel: 1.5 oz or more to color The secret 7X flavor (use 2 oz of flavor to 5 gals syrup) Alcohol: 8 oz Orange oil: 20 drops Lemon oil: 30 drops Nutmeg oil: 10 drops Coriander: 5 drops Neroli: 10 drops Cinnamon: 10 drops
Citric acid: 3 oz
Caffeine: 1 oz
Sugar: 30 #
Water: 2.5 gal
Lime juice: 2 pints (1 qrt)
Vanilla: 1 oz
Caramel: 1.5 oz or more to color
The secret 7X flavor (use 2 oz of flavor to 5 gals syrup)
Alcohol: 8 oz
Orange oil: 20 drops
Lemon oil: 30 drops
Nutmeg oil: 10 drops
Coriander: 5 drops
Neroli: 10 drops
Cinnamon: 10 drops
Sounds delicious, right? Well, in order to test their recipe, the TAL gang went to locally based Jones Soda and had their partner, Sovereign Flavors, make up a batch, slightly tinkered with to take into account modern tastes. And after tasting it, they seemed to think they had the secret formula cracked--even though, to my mind, there don't seem to be nearly enough unpronounceable chemicals in that recipe to possibly replicate the sickly-sweet and addictive flavor of a proper Coke.
But still, this was a fine example of investigative food journalism. And though the proof is largely circumstantial, arguable, and anecdotal, there does seem to be an awful lot of it--enough to make me believe that TAL has probably gotten as close to the truth of this mystery as anyone without access to the Atlanta-area bank vault where the real real recipe is kept is ever going to get.
Which, of course, got me thinking about other supposedly secret recipes and whether the time has come to reveal them as well. I have long had my suspicions about several of these, such as:
KFC: Those "11 secret herbs and spices"? I know that 10 of them are salt and I'm pretty sure that the 11th is also salt.
Twinkies: What keeps them so squishy and shelf-stable for so long? A gently whipped foam of Uranium-238. And magic.
Dr. Pepper: The company claims that its secret blend of 23 flavors is known by only three people. I'm confident that there are really only two ingredients: carbonated prune juice and high-fructose corn syrup.
McDonald's hamburgers: What makes these things so addictive to people all over the world? Love. Love and a little bit of heroin.
Bush's Baked Beans: The dog in the commercials has been trying to sell the secret recipe for decades now. We're currently in negotiations.
Lucky Charms: They claim to be "magically delicious," but anyone who read my recent Cereal Philanderer column already knows the secret ingredient here: Leprechaun sweat.
Unlike the folks from This American Life, I have no proof to back up any of my claims. But if there happens to be any elderly former features columnists out there who happen to be holding ancient photos of not-so-secret formulas, you be sure to reach out, OK? Maybe together we can solve some of these mysteries once and for all.