Where did the Easter Island statues come from? Was there a second gunman on the grassy knoll? Is the Bermuda Triangle real? These timeless questions will be asked again and again without any definitive response, but the mere posing of these questions (almost rhetorical in practice) has become proof positive that humans adore a good mystery – maybe even more then they love getting a factual answer to their nagging questions. Well one seemingly unknowable mystery that has teased and confounded consumers for years has been what is the exact recipe for Coca-Cola. It seems difficult to imagine, considering our current compulsion to know precisely what is in our food and drink, that the Coca-Cola bottling company would be able to keep the heavily guarded Coca Cola (or Coke) recipe a secret for this long (over 100 years). However, that century of secrecy is apparently a memory, as the secret recipe has been discovered and publicized for everyone to see.
This American Life, the long-running public radio program chronicling the contemporary American cultural existence, has spilled the beans and, in this past weeks radio show (can be listened to here), the show’s host, Ira Glass, announced the unveiling of the recipe and even published the recipe for all to marvel. Strangely enough, This American Life reporters didn’t uncover this recipe by rummaging through the personal papers of Robert W. Woodruff (former president of Coca-Cola) nor did they do it by raiding the Coca-Cola corporate headquarters. Simply enough, they discovered the recipe right out there in the open on page 28 of the Feb. 8, 1979, edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Let me explain, The recipe was originally discovered by Charles Salter, a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His son, Chuck, reported in Fast Company:
“The column was called the “Georgia Rambler.” He’d travel the state looking for colorful people and places, often stories with a historical bent. One of his best sources was the late Everett Beal, a fishing buddy of his who worked as a pharmacist in Griffin, Ga. One day, Everett showed my dad his prized possession, a leather-bound book of recipes that had once belonged to a pharmacist named John Pemberton. The John Pemberton who created the original syrup to make Coke.”
The producers of This American Life, including Ira Glass, did what they could to convince Chuck Salter to let them “borrow” the recipe for publication. The result was a cultural and historical coup for this David-like public radio show against the secretive and enormously powerful Goliath, which is Coca-Cola.
Speculation about what exactly makes up the secret formula has been running wild for over a century. Some people claimed that Coca-Cola was keeping the formula secret because it contained cocaine (it used to about 90 years ago, but now only contains a coca leaf distillate that has been relieved of all narcotic effect), and some even claimed that no more than two people in the world knew the exact recipe, and they were prohibited from traveling together, in fear that a catastrophe would effectively kill off the Coca-Cola recipe for good.
So now that the Coca-Cola recipe is public knowledge, the Coca-Cola Company is shutting down and using the remainder of their assets to fuel a case against This American Life and Public Radio in general – just kidding. The Coca-Cola Company has been predictably quiet on the matter and has stated that the recipe is far from accurate. But really, what else can they, or should they, say? If it were the genuine thing, why would they give it more validity and publicity? Why not perpetuate the myth by remaining secretive and insuring profits keep rolling in? And in actuality, the recipe, although written plainly in black and white, is not quite so easy to fabricate. It requires 30 lbs of sugar as well as the fluid extract of the coca leaf, which is a class 2 controlled substance and illegal to import. So, for the time being, we consumers are just a little more empowered knowing the secret recipe of the world’s favorite drink.