427: Original Recipe

427: Original Recipe

Feb 11, 2011
The formula for Coca-Cola is one of the most jealously guarded trade secrets in the world. Locked in a vault in Atlanta. Supposedly unreplicable. But we think we may have found the original recipe. And to see if the formula actually might be Coke, we made a batch. Or, anyway, we asked the folks at Jones Soda and Sovereign Flavors to whip up some up, to see if it tastes like Coke. The recipe is here.
  • Ira Glass Writes:

    This episode of our show kicked off a wave of international press coverage that, inevitably, included inaccuracies.

    To be clear: We are not claiming that we have found the recipe used today for Coca-Cola. We believe we found a recipe that is either the original recipe made by the inventor of Coke, John Pemberton, or a version of Coca-Cola that he made either before or after the product hit the market in 1886. We believe that because it was found in the notebook of his friend, on a page entitled "Coco-Cola recipe improved," and because it was found in Pemberton's own notebook, in Coca-Cola's archives.

    Much of the press about our story takes at face value Coca-Cola's statements that we have not found the recipe for Coke, present or past. But when asked if the company has actually checked to see if this formula matches the original formula - which archivist Phil Mooney assured me they still have - company spokespeople always politely sidestep the question. So it seems entirely possible that no one at Coke has checked. If they'd checked to see if the formulas match, why not say so?

    Phil Mooney even admitted something interesting about the recipe in our interview: "Could it be a precursor? Yeah, absolutely." He then went on to express, as his opinion, not as fact: "Is this the one that went to market? I don't think so."

    Since the original formula is no longer made by Coke, and since all the ingredients seem to be on the public record, why not release the old formula? This year, Coke's 125th anniversary, would be a great time for it!

    So we stand by our story. We believe the recipe is either the version Pemberton brought to market in 1886, a precursor, or an improved version made after it was already on the market. As for our bigger point, that the ingredients to Coke's supposedly super-secret formula can be figured out without much trouble by anyone who wants to, that seems incontrovertibly true. Versions of the recipe have been published starting in the 1960's. Not to mention that a device called a gas chromatograph can tell a trained scientist the ingredients in coke or any other beverage, not with perfect accuracy, but close enough that you're in the ballpark.



Detail from the February 18, 1979 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, used with permission of the newspaper, of what may be the original recipe for Coca-Cola. We set out to learn if it was. The final recipe, we think, is in the right hand column.


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