Coke & the Secret Formula

I’ve just recently moved to Atlanta and have met a few people who work at the Coca-Cola company. One day after work, we started talking about the famous secret formula that is used to make Coke. According to most sources, the recipe is completely secret, known to only a handful of people and locked in a vault at the Suntrust bank in downtown Atlanta. When the Coke “syrup” factories make the product, the ingredients are allegedly label X, Y, Z or whatever, never naming the precise ingredients. It’s that secret.

Now, I just cannot believe that something like the recipe for Coke is that uncrackable. If you ask me, the whole secret formula concept is a brilliant marketing concept and only that. I believe that a concerted effort by a competitor to chemically break down the components, research Coke’s buying trends to see what they are buying (can’t be that secret given the amount of Coke that is produced), and commit to a trial and error process would result in the secret formula being revealed rather quickly.

My friend’s disagree, claiming that you could come close but never get it right - that the formula will be forever secret unless one of those few individuals (with access to the recipe) spills the beans. I respond by arguing that any difference would be so minute as to be rendered meaningless.

What do you think? Is the Coke formula really THAT secret?

I’ve heard that Coke buys some bogus ingredients that are not actually used in the recipe, just to throw off people who might snoop into their purchasing dept.

Even if you could know the chemical breakdown, it’s tough to know the food source. For example, maybe honey is one of the ingredients. The chemical analysis shows sucrose and other stuff. How would you kow whether Coke uses cane sugar, rose honey, or beet honey?

Even if you know the ingredients, the way you mix them could make a big difference in the taste. Mix them together, or cook them together? Cook it at 400 or 450? Etc.

When it comes to flavors, I doubt something could be truly meaningless. I have seen food products where the flavorings are so minute that they’re listed in the Ingredients after the preservatives. Maybe they’re using too many preservatives, but my point is that they would not go to the bother and expense of including those flavorings unless they actually contributed to the good taste of the product.

Personally, I agree with you. An HPLC (high performance liquid chromatographer) could break down the individual chemical components of the product which could then be analyzed via NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) or possibly GS (gas chromatography) to determine their chemical structure.

Knowing this much, however, you might still end up with some hellishly complex molecules that are not simply available off-the-shelf from any generic food/chemical supplier. They are likely created using complex reactions of component chemicals that ARE commonly available. However, you might not be able to necessarily figure this out. And even if you could, you’d still be faced with the intricacies of what proportion to mix the chemicals with each others, possible oddball catalysts that might be needed for the reaction, and who-knows-what kind of heating, distillation, cooling, etc., processes.

That being said, however, I have no doubt that a deep-pockets competitor (i.e. Pepsi) could put some chemists to work to figure it out. And when they did, however…surprise…it’s probably patented, trademarked, and protected in 10,000 other legal ways to prevent them from making it and selling it.

You could get very close to the formula anyway via trial and error as I’m sure has already occured via the swap-meet types that hang around here in San Diego selling goof-ball knock-offs of the soda for pennies a glass.

For more info, try William Poundstone’s Big Secrets and its sequels. IIRC he does a decent chemical analysis on Coke.


“Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One!” Exceptions? None!
-Doc Bronner

I’ve heard (may be an UL) that Coke and Pepsi have the exact same ingredients, just in different proportions.

Pssst, It’s cocaine, I swear

Yes, the weather is the same up here. Yes, I play basketball. No, never heard a tall joke before. Aaaargh.

Powers106, you best be careful with that insolence if you’re going to live in these here parts. Coke ain’t just a cold drink around here, you know.
(Questioning the sacred formula! What gall!)
– Greg, Atlanta

One I have to agree with Greg, but also, think of it like this. Why copy it? Sure it is the top selling beverage but even if you copy it are you going to be the top? I do not think so. For example, Sam’s cola is a fairly good generic cola, much better IMHO than Check cola and other generics, but even with the proliferation of Wal-Marts and Sam’s Clubs, it will not beat out Coke. Why? Marketing my friend. People buy Coke because it is Coke. Pepsi has a different taste and they sell to that. What is Pepsi or anyone else going to do? Say we have a drink that tastes like Coke? Why buy the other? If you are a Pepsi drinker then you will still buy the regular Pepsi product. If you are a Coke drinker you will buy Coke. Are you going to sell it cheaper? People will buy the name brands just too look like they are not cheap.

Do not question the secret formula. Just drink up and be happy.


Coke is 99% water.

Now, now, I don’t mean any offense to the world of Coke or even the state of Georgia, whichever is greater.

Nor do I even suggest that copying the formula for marketable gain is desirable or even possible. The taste of Coke is not the reason (or the only one) that it is such a large and successful company.

What I am questionning is whether or not the formula is really THAT SECRET. Everyone knows about the “secret formula”. People have written books about Coke and the “secret formula”. People have allegedly published the “secret formula”.

My common sense tells me that if I was offered a reward of, say, $5 million to crack the “secret formula”, I could hire the experts, etc., solve the formula and show you 7 figures of change. The question is: Do you agree that it crackable and has it been done yet?

I once heard something similar to AWB’s story, that Coke and Pepsi were identical except that Coke uses oranges for flavoring and Pepsi uses lemons. Maybe that’s why Coke bought Minute Maid.

If I suddenly disappear, you’ll know why.

Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to relive it. Georges Santayana

And the proof is: Look what happened when Coke itself tried to market a drink which their own taste-testers said tasted better than The Real Thing.

New Coke – my nomination for greatest marketing fiasco of all time.

I agree that with modern technological sleuthing, the ingredients in Coke are probably no secret to food chemists. But remember that a recipe is much more than just a list of ingredients. I suspect the formula has something to do with exactly how those ingredients are used.

And even if a lot of people know the formula, replicating the actual batch of flavored sugar water is inconsequential. Go to any supermarket and you’ll find that there are about a dozen colas that taste very similar, if not exactly alike to some people. The Coke product is really the packaging, the marketing, the history.

So yeah, you’re probably right that the secret formula isn’t such a valuable secret. But that’s like saying Santa couldn’t really fit down the chimney. Probably true, but it sure ruins a good story. It’s much more fun to think that one of the biggest and most successful companies in the world depends on a little piece of paper squirreled away in a bank vault for decades.
– Greg, Atlanta

It needs to be said: Coke tastes like shit.
No offense intended.

How does one come to know something like that?


Yes Nick, but the Coke folks would prefer it if you refer to this as ingredient Y.

I remember reading a cola analysis in Consumer Reports. They said the main taste ingredient (besides cola) in Coke is vanilla, while Pepsi’s is lime.

Sounds about right to me.

BTW, I vastly prefer Pepsi.

And the tour of the Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta was LAME! Only good part was at the end where you could try sodas from around the world. More Lychee Mellow, anyone?

Leslie Irish Evans

Actually, off the subject I guess, but I like RC cola the best. What is the flavoring for that one?

By the way, do the other cola companies readily publish the recipe for their soft drinks?

And Girl Next Door - can I be your sweet baboo? See you on Z.

Ohmigod, Chris. I didn’t even know it was you. :o

Small 'net, isn’t it?

Leslie Irish Evans

I concur with Nickrz’s opinion on the taste of Coke, I’m more of a Sprite or 7-up drinker myself. But has anyone ever noticed how Coke tastes different in other countries and even in different states sometimes?