Coke’s Secret Revealed? Take the News With a Drop of Coriander Oil

Public radio's This American Life has caused a stir by claiming that it’s obtained the original recipe for Coca-Cola

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The recipe for Coca-Cola has been steeped in mystery for 125 years. According to historian Mark Pendergrast, the two people at any one time who know how to mix the super-secret “merchandise 7x” flavoring never travel on the same airplane in case of a crash, and the written formula is stowed away in a bank vault in Atlanta. But for all the security schemes, the ingredients may have been out in the open but unnoticed for 30 years.

On the radio program This American Life, host Ira Glass gleefully announced that he might have his hands on the original recipe for Coca-Cola, which had appeared in a 1979 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article long ago relegated to the dustbin of history. The article had photographed a cola recipe written by pharmacist and Coca-Cola creator John Pemberton.

The revelation has made headlines across the world, so much so that This American Life’s site buckled under the traffic. But before you get carried away, here are five reasons why you might want to temper your excitement:

  • We kind of already knew this: Coca-Cola has a recipe from one of Pemberton’s notebooks in its archives that’s almost identical to the one mentioned by This American Life, and this recipe was included in a history of Coca-Cola by Pendergrast.
  • The original recipe doesn't taste like Coke: When This American Life made a batch of the original recipe and matched it up against Coke in a blind taste test at a supermarket, 93 percent of participants were able to tell the real Coke from the show's version.
  • Coca-Cola says close but no cigar: In response to the radio segment, Coca-Cola has essentially patted This American Life on the head and said, “aww, nice try, but not quite.” 
  • The real secret ingredient is marketing: "Today, anybody with access to a sophisticated  chemistry laboratory could analyze the formula of Coke, but no one can call a product called Coke other than the Coca-Cola Company," industry analyst John Sicher tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "The so-called 'secret formula' is a wonderful story of lore and mystery, but in reality, the value today is the brand, not the formula."

Here’s the recipe cited by This American Life, in full. Do these ingredients remind anyone else of some long-forgotten mincemeat recipe? We thought the citrus-nutmeg-vanilla combination went out of style in the Renaissance.


Orange oil: 20 drops

Lemon oil: 30 drops

Nutmeg oil: 10 drops

Coriander oil: 5 drops

Neroli oil: 10 drops

Cinnamon oil: 10 drops

Alcohol: 8 ounces alcohol


Mix together 2 to 2.5 ounces of 7X with:

Citric acid: 3 ounces

Caffeine: 1 ounce

Water: 2 1/2 gallons

Lime juice: 2 pints

Vanilla: 1 ounce

Caramel coloring: 1.5 ounces

Sugar: 30 pounds

Fluid extract of coca: 3 drams USP

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.