Is This the Secret Coke Recipe?

A roundup of closely held corporate secrets.

ByABC News
February 14, 2011, 4:11 PM

Feb. 15, 2011 -- The public radio program "This American Life" went on the air this weekend claiming to have unearthed the notoriously closely guarded secret formula for Coca-Cola.

"I am not kidding," host Ira Glass said at the top of the show, rustling the paper into his microphone. "One of the most famously guarded trade secrets on the planet: I have it right here and I am going to read it to you. I am going to read it to the world."

Glass goes on to spend the first half of his program explaining how he found the recipe, hidden in plain view.

His story starts when he stumbled across a column in the Feb. 18, 1979, edition of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Coke's hometown paper. There, "buried" on page 2B was a photograph of a page from an old book of handwritten pharmacists' recipes.

Coca-Cola was invented in the 1880s by John Pemberton, a pharmacist, and was originally sold at drug store soda fountains.

Glass also talked to author Mark Pendergrast, who claims to have found the original Coca-Cola recipe in Coke's archives while researching his 1993 expose, "For God, Country & Coca-Cola."

The two formulas are remarkably similar, leading Glass to conclude that he had, indeed, uncovered the original recipe. He had a batch made up at the Jones Soda Co. in Seattle.

It didn't taste exactly like the Coke we know today because, in part, at least one ingredient is almost impossible for anyone but Coca Cola to obtain: fluid extract of coca, which are coca leaves that have been stripped of cocaine. (Coke has a special arrangement with the Drug Enforcement Administration, which allows the company to import the leaves, Glass said. And there's only one factory in the country that processes the leaves exclusively for the company.)

The rest of the recipe includes citric acid, caffeine, sugar, water, lime juice, vanilla, and caramel. A second part of the formula, which had the code name "7X," contains alcohol, orange oil, lemon oil, nutmeg oil, coriander, neroli and cinnamon.

For its part, Coca-Cola is not sweating.

"Many third parties have tried over time to crack our secret formula," spokeswoman Kerry Tressler told ABC News. "Try as they might, there's only one real thing. And that was not it."