Geek Trivia: Everything old is new (Coke) again

What "secret" ingredient in the formula for Coca-Cola has the soda maker received special permission from the United States government to include in consumer beverages — a legal dispensation unique to The Coca-Cola Company?

What "secret" ingredient in the formula for Coca-Cola has the soda maker received special permission from the United States government to include in consumer beverages — a legal dispensation unique to The Coca-Cola Company?

The ingredient is spent coca leaf extract. For those drug enforcement agents keeping score at home, coca is the plant from which the narcotic cocaine is derived. The coca leaves used in the manufacture of Coca-Cola are, as noted, spent, meaning that the narcotic has been removed from the plant material. Extracts from these spent leaves are thus employed for flavoring in Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola, you see, was originally conceived by John Pemberton as a patent medicine which could, amongst other things, cure morphine addiction. (Pemberton himself was proof that the medicinal properties of Coca-Cola were a fraud, as he was himself a morphine addict who sold the "rights" to Coca-Cola multiple times in order to feed his habit.) The basis for Coke's medicinal aura was the presence of two stimulants: coca leaves and kola nuts. The former gave you unprocessed cocaine, the latter caffeine. Thus, the name Coca-Cola.

In 1904, The Coca-Cola Company switched from raw coca leaves to spent coca leaves, thereby drastically reducing — but not eliminating — the trace amounts of cocaine in the drink. It also establishes that folks haven't been drinking "real" or "original" Coca-Cola for over 100 years.

Since 1970, The U.S. Controlled Substances Act has forbade the import of raw coca leaves into the United States-except for those brought in by Coca-Cola's exclusive supplier. The Stepan Company, which is primarily a manufacturer of industrial surfactants, operates a plant in Maywood, New Jersey that has exclusive U.S. import rights of raw coca leaves. From the leaves, Stepan produces a narcotic coca extract for a pharmaceutical maker Mallinckrodt, and a non-narcotic extract exclusively for Coca-Cola.

Ostensibly, there is no appreciable narcotic content in contemporary Coca-Cola, though the company does purport that the formula includes a secret ingredient called Merchandise 7X that no one has been able to publicly identify via reverse engineering. Since The Coca-Cola Company admits to the coca leaf extract, it seems unlikely that cocaine is Merchandise 7X — presuming that 7X exists as anything more than a clever marketing device.

Should the day ever arise that someone decodes or reveals the complete, current, and unadulterated formula for Coca-Cola, that won't just be a banner moment for industrial espionage, but a curiosity-quenching quaff of carbonated Geek Trivia.

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By Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...