This Is Where The Flavor Of Coca-Cola Comes From

Coca-Cola's secret formula is the stuff of corporate legend, nay, American legend — and efforts to reveal the true ingredients have proven mostly futile. After all, if everyone could make it, it wouldn't be the national favorite soda we shell out billions of dollars for every year (via CNBC). But we know enough about Coca-Cola's heavily protected recipe to venture an educated guess in response to the question: what exactly is that Coke flavor made up of?

First, the obvious and clearly labeled: carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, and caffeine (via Coca-Cola). Phosphoric acid gives sodas their tangy flavor (and are also awful for your teeth) and the rest are pretty self-explanatory (via Healthline). But there's one little ingredient that is the key to Coke's success: Natural flavors. And they've been able to keep that little catch-all's components a secret for almost 130 years, even going so far as to store the secret formula in a secure vault at downtown Atlanta's SunTrust Banks (via Atlanta Business Chronicle and Atlanta Magazine).

A pretty good idea of what's flavoring Coca-Cola

Although the formula has likely changed since its initial conception by Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton (yes, the old version did have trace amounts of cocaine in it), more recent versions of the recipe have surfaced, so we have a pretty good idea of just what goes into their magic concoction. In 2011, This American Life obtained a picture of the notes Pemberton himself made, including an early recipe from around 1886 — though Coca-Cola themselves made it clear that they wouldn't confirm it was an actual formula, or that the same one is used today (via This American Life).

So what's in the flavoring? A lot of natural oils, essentially (sorry). Besides extract of coca and lime juice in the early version, the ingredients included orange oil, lemon oil, nutmeg oil, coriander oil, neroli oil (from the blossoms of bitter orange trees!), and cinnamon oil (via CBS News and This American Life). So theoretically, you could even brew up a batch of Cola yourself! Oddly enough, according to Business Insider, who cites Kevin Ashton, "the raw ingredients for Coke do contain some small amounts of cocaine," and as recently as 2013, Coca-Cola has employed a company in New Jersey to remove the cocaine from the mixture, which is then used for legal medicinal purposes, like local anesthetics (via Business Insider).