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The real thing: The essential ingredients in Coca-Cola

Wherever you are in the world, you’re not far from a Coke. The iconic glass bottle is instantly recognisable, as is the cursive logo that adorns it. But what does that have to do with essential oils?

Coca-Cola, like many of the foods and drinks we consume on a daily basis, contains essential oils to flavour the carbonated water and sugar inside. But, if you sip a glass of the infamous beverage, what can you taste?

Coca-Cola is so ingrained in our food and drink culture, that often our palettes just taste cola instead of the individual elements that make up the flavour. Nevertheless, they’re there. What they are, however, is a closely guarded secret.

Coca-Cola has humble beginnings, invented in 1886 by a pharmacist, John Pemberton, who sold it for around 3 pence a glass. John invented the syrup with readily available ingredients and then mixed it with carbonated water to create the final fizzy drink we all know and love.

The recipe has been hidden away at Coca-Cola HQ for over one hundred years to ensure the distinctive taste of Coca- Cola is like no other. But that doesn’t stop competitors trying. If you peruse the aisles of a supermarket today, you’ll find countless cola drinks on display – all hoping to tap into Coca-Cola’s market share. And while they all taste like variations of cola, many people claim to be able to detect the real thing from a taste test.

So what exactly is it that makes Coca Cola one of the world’s most popular soft drinks? To ensure that the secret is kept, the company ships the ingredients used to make cola syrup separately in unnamed ‘merchandises’, numbered from one to nine. Not even the factory managers know what is inside each numbered batch, just the quantities and procedures they need to use.

Years of sleuthing mean that the first four merchandises are generally accepted to be sugar, caramel colouring, caffeine and phosphoric acid. The contents of the remaining five is a mystery, especially number 7 (known as 7x), which is rumoured to contain – you’ve guessed it – a secret blend of essential oils.

There’s a whole host of ingredients that could be hiding within the secret recipe in large, or really tiny quantities - a bit like a perfume. What can you taste? Vanilla, cinnamon, perhaps even clove? What about coriander, neroli, orange or lime? All are ingredients that scientists, historians, competitors and enthusiasts have claimed go into the secret Coca-Cola recipe.

The Coca-Cola recipe is kept locked in a vault in Atlanta, USA, and only a selection of people have access to its contents. What is clear, is that essential oils can make life feel, smell and taste good

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