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Is this the real original recipe for Coca-Cola?

An American radio show claims to have stumbled across the secret original recipe for Coke – from a 1979 newspaper article.

The 'original recipe' for Coca-Cola as published in 1979: the recipe for '7X' is on the right underneath the line, with the remaining ingredients above it.
The 'original recipe' for Coca-Cola as published in 1979: the recipe for '7X' is on the right underneath the line, with the remaining ingredients above it.

IT’S ONE of the most fiercely guarded trade secrets in the world, and has remained known only by a handful of people in the product’s 125-year-old history – but now the original recipe of Coca-Cola may have been realised by an American radio programme, which claimed to find it in an old newspaper.

Reporters on Chicago-based show This American Life claimed to have come across a copy of the main newspaper in Atlanta, home of the Coca-Cola Company founded by John Pemberton in 1886.

To celebrate one of the city’s more revered institutions, the Atlanta Constitution published a feature on the drink and its recipe in February 1979 – and featured a photograph of one of the drink’s brewers, holding an original notebook appearing to contain the original recipe for the drink.

It is thought that though the brewer knew the photograph would be published, it would not be printed large enough for the ingredients to be made out.

The recipe for the ‘secret ingredient’ flavour of the drink, referred to within Coke as ’7X’, is as follows:

  • Alcohol, 8oz (237ml)
  • Orange oil, 20 drops
  • Lemon oil, 30 drops
  • Nutmeg oil, 10 drops
  • Coriander, 5 drops
  • Neroli, 10 drops
  • Cinnamon, 10 drops

Then two ounces (59ml) of this flavour are added to every five gallons (almost 19 litres) of the following:

  • Fluid extract of Coca USP, 3 drams (11.1ml)
  • Citric acid, 3 oz
  • Caffeine, 1oz
  • Sugar, 30 [it's unclear what exactly there is '30' of]
  • Water, 2.5 gallons
  • Lime juice, 2 pints
  • Vanilla, 1oz
  • Caramel, 1.5oz or more to colour

There are, however, some issues with this recipe: for one, the inclusion of alcohol, in even trace amounts, would be commercially problematic. Secondly, the fluid extract of the Coca leaf would contain cocaine – though Coca-Cola now employs a plant in New Jersey to remove any narcotic properties from the extract, under a strict government licence.

When the crew from the show tried to concoct the recipe, they were not convinced about its legitimacy – but, realising the recipe may have been an early draft, they tweaked the proportions of the 7X formula and were able to produce an almost exact likeness of the modern Coke drink.

Whether or not the recipe is the genuine article or not will likely remain unknown, however: even if the recipe was legitimate, Coca-Cola would be unable to pursue a legal case against its publication because to do so would be an implicit acknowledgement of its veracity.

This American Life enjoys a cult following worldwide, and is syndicated worldwide after broadcast on the public WBEZ station in Chicago.

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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