Last weekend, "This American Life," a weekly hour-long radio show produced by Chicago Public radio and hosted by Ira Glass, revealed that it had stumbled across what looked like the Rosetta Stone of the soft-drink world: Coca-cola's secret "Merchandise 7X" formula.
The "secret" has been published before in 1979 in the pages of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, which is where a staff member of "This American Life" spotted it. A reporter for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution had written an article about Coca-Cola after finding the formula printed in a leather-bound notebook that belonged to an Atlanta pharmacist named R. R. Evans, who was also a friend of pharmacist John Pemberton.
Pemberton is credited with creating the original Coca-Cola formula as a cure-all for a wide assortment of ailments including, morphine addiction, dyspepsia, headaches, and impotence. Coca-Cola, a brown syrup combined with the ever-popular tonic water, first went on sale to the public in 1886. It was just one of the cure-all drinks of its time, another being the equally long-lasting Pepsi (1893), also intended to soothe indigestion troubles (dys-PEPSI-a, get it?).
The original Coca-Cola drink had all kinds of questionable ingredients, such as cocaine-laced coca leaves and caffeine from the kola nut. Coca-Kola later became Coca-Cola for marketing purposes. By 1904 all traces of cocaine from the drink had been removed thanks to prohibition laws.
A supposed "cure-all" for the horrible diets of Americans in the 1880s was just the beginning of the The Coca-Cola company's marketing genius. It is credited with creating the image of the modern image of Santa Claus dressed in red and white – the same colors of its logo – in the 1930s, and of course by 1971 the jingle "I'd Like to Give the World A Coke" sung on a hilltop bathed in sunshine became a hit single. Take a tour through Atlanta's World of Coca-Cola museum and you'll be convinced that the answer to world peace and fraternity comes in a can.
So it is no wonder that the "Merchandise 7X" formula is a well-guarded secret. So well-guarded, in fact, that it was kept in a vault in an Atlanta bank and extreme measures have been taken to prevent company employees from ever knowing its ingredients.
This aura of secrecy has persisted until "This American Life" busted things wide open with its program last weekend where they read out the alleged list of ingredients. If the uncorking didn't take down The Coca-Cola Company in 1979, will the attention today create some kind of lasting impact? Who is to know for sure in our hyper-linked cyber world where "foodies" are now going to extreme measures to hunt down elusive ingredients. (See the March issue of The Atlantic Monthly for "The Moral Crusade Against Foodies.")
It is entirely possible that micro Coke breweries will spring up in urban kitchen everywhere now that home soda fountain dispensers have become one of the latest must-have kitchen gadgets. Will The Coca-Cola Company care that its supposed secret has been released to the blogosphere? I predict The Coca-Cola Company will embrace this do-it-yourself, nesting-at-home, let-me-make-my-soda-from-scratch trend. Think of it: Why would they wrench $2 from you for a brown drink in a plastic bottle when they could fetch $100 for a genuine home-kit complete with vintage bottles that you could reuse again and again?
Can't you hear yourself saying at your next party to impress friends: "This Coke was made from scratch without using a plastic bottle."
Anyway, for all of you over-ambitious ecominded foodies, here is the recipe, courtesy of "This American Life" and the Atlanta-Journal Constitution to get you started. I'm sure neroli will be stocked on the shelves of a Whole Foods near you very, very soon.
Coca-Cola's secret formula
Fluid extract of Coca: 3 drams USP
Citric acid: 3 oz
Caffeine: 1 oz
Sugar: 30 (unclear quantity)
Water: 2.5 gal
Lime juice: 2 pints, 1 quart
Vanilla: 1 oz
Caramel: 1.5 oz or more for color
The secret 7X flavor (use 2 oz of flavor to 5 gals syrup):
Alcohol: 8 oz
Orange oil: 20 drops
Lemon oil: 30 drops
Nutmeg oil: 10 drops
Coriander: 5 drops
Neroli: 10 drops
Cinnamon: 10 drops