Coca-Cola history and its ingredients in the social context

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Coca-Cola History
Coca-Cola history (Photo by Maximilian Bruck on Unsplash)

Coca Cola history: the amazing and at times worrying story of Coca-Cola and its ingredients in the social context.

The queen of soft drinks

Coca Cola story: the undisputed Queen of carbonated drinks: the soft drink excellence.
Regardless of sales, however always significant since it exists.
The soft drink, the drink that made history to become famous all over the world with unprecedented commercial success.


Coke: as it is familiarly called in the U.S.A. (Coke, Coca Cola). Invented by John Stith Pemberton (1831-1888), pharmacist doctor, in 1886.

Although the search began much earlier, when Pemberton, a Colonel in the army of the Confederate States, was injured.
Morphine was widely used to relieve pain, only to realize that it was addictive, among other devastating side effects.

It was precisely to heal addiction that Pemberton began to look for alternatives as a doctor, with a product of his creation called Pemberton's French Wine Coca, sold in pharmacies on prescription, as was used then.

One time considered a drink with multiple properties

It was almost certainly inspired by the then famous Vin Mariani (take a look), a tonic produced by macerating coca leaves in alcohol, which is a very dangerous combination: as they form cocaethylene given by the deadly mix.

Cocaine was present in quantities of about 250 ml per litre, the devastating effects of the alkaloid in question were not yet known, and this tended to enhance its stimulating effects.

This wine was consumed by the wealthiest and offered on the market as a tonic with multiple properties such as being, among other things, a sexual stimulant.

This prerogative was also adopted by Pemberton to advertise its product. The coca leaves were removed from the ingredients of Coca Cola in 1903, however, it was still legal: in 1914 it was outlawed in the U.S.A.

Coca-Cola history: coca leaves and racial prejudice

The decision to remove coca leaves and racial prejudice.

The reason why coca was taken out of production in 1903 was due to the pressure exerted by newspapers, as in the South of the States, driven by racial reasons, they claimed that the presence of coca leaves was an incentive to commit a crime for black people because coca exercised psychotic dependence: as if for whites it could be different.

The company's motivation to remove the coca leaves from the drink was probably taken so as not to lose an important slice of the market, effectively satisfying those who supported ideas based on racial prejudice.

The so-called "Negro Cocaine Fiends" (read an article of the time in the New York Times in PDF), was supported as a new threat in the southern states.

Coca Cola over prohibition

To be marketed on a large scale, due to the alcohol prohibition law in force in the United States of America from 1920 to 1933, the Coca-Cola recipe was revised; the drink retained the stimulating properties of the kola nut and the leaves of the coca plant (to which the psychotropic substances were removed) and the wine present until then in the drink was replaced by sugar, or better, by a sweetened syrup.

The search for the recipe has cost years of study by its inventor, created as a stimulating, curative drink, and he certainly could not imagine the enormous response that such a drink could have, becoming, over the years, one of the absolute drinks most famous in the world.

Also because the recipe was sold in 1885 to Asa Griggs Candler (1851-1929), who with a particularly aggressive advertising campaign managed in a short time to give the brand a successful imprint that would never fade. The glass sold 5 Cents.

The commercial boom

Paradoxically, its inventor did not keep all his interest in the soft drink, because a year before his death, he went back to work on the original project, "medicinal wine", continuing its production and sale in pharmacies, which sold alcoholic substances only upon presentation of the prescription.

Asa Griggs Candler instead, understood the potential of this soft drink and worked to improve its taste, and focusing all efforts of advertising on a "good and refreshing drink".

At the beginning of the 20century, state and federal authorities took care to understand if there were potentially harmful substances derived from the coca plant.

The Coca-Cola lawyers showed that substances in infinitesimal quantities deriving from the leaves of the coca were present, and they also had to deal with the competition, which in some cases tried to copy the product and also maintain that the drink contained only caffeine (therefore resulting fraud for inaccurate information), not substances derived from coca leaves or kola nuts (if you want to learn more about).

From a marketing point of view, however, the car was in motion and not at all willing to stop or slow down.

Marketing by Asa Griggs Candler

One (among others) of Candler's good ideas, was to create coupons and give two gallons of drink to anyone who distributed it to several customers who presented themselves armed, where Coca Cola was served on tap.

The so-called soda fountain that mixes syrups, water, and carbon dioxide.

But the success continued even after the soda fountains, indeed increased, with the sales of the bottles.

Several productions and bottling plants were gradually opened in other states beyond Georgia (where Atlanta is the Company's headquarters), the strong interest in bottled drinks and packs of 6, practically decreed the disappearance of the distribution on tap, but the shape of the Coca-Cola bottle immediately took hold in the hearts of people as the logo had done.

The refrigerated distributors

In 1919, Ernest Woodruff (1863-1944) and W.C. Bradley (1863-1947), purchased the company and further increased its strength, and refrigerated drink dispensers were introduced, destined to enter the collection.

After the distribution of draft beer, it was surprising to customers to have the fresh drink served by simply uncorking the bottle.

After the Second World War, Coca Cola was now known almost everywhere, and as one of the company's historic presidents, Roberto Goizueta (if you want to know more) said years later;

we were already in the global market when being there was not yet contemplated.

The success of the product as a whole is something truly incredible.

The glass bottle with the white writing on a red background now belongs to the collectables, as well as the old refrigerated dispensers, the signs, the corkscrew, and all those gadgets that the company has created for the impressive advertising campaign that has always brought forward.

The 80s of the last century

In the 80s, sugar-free drinks were introduced, following (as for many other food products) the trend of the moment in terms of health, well-being, however (often presumed and supported for speculative reasons by large multinationals) greater awareness of people, inputting more attention in choosing what is intended for food.

Different types of drinks try to cover the widest possible market share, diet products, zero sugars, etc. but as far as the ingredients are concerned we go to the next paragraph.

The ingredients

Each country has its laws, including as regards food, therefore ingredients allowed and not.
By now the Coca-Cola Company has companies in many countries around the world, and in each one, the ingredients can change, respect the laws of the different countries.

Sometimes the ingredients are very similar, in some cases the same or almost, in others a little more different.

These are the ingredients:

• water

• Carbon dioxide

• Sugar (Glucose syrup or sweeteners according to the countries and their laws)

• Caffeine

• Phosphoric acid

• Caramel colouring (E150d)

• Natural flavours

Natural flavours are very interesting.

Actually, there are no secret ingredients (?!), the quantity of each ingredient used in the "Natural flavours" is secret, but this is not only true for Coca Cola, but for all the companies that produce similar carbonated drinks.

The different percentages of an ingredient, instead of another, change the taste of the drink.

It must be said that on the secret of the recipe, the Atlanta company has gained a lot of publicity for it, and for a long time has been able to "play" on this standpoint.

Natural flavors…

So, extracts of coca leaves and kola nuts have always been among the ingredients (among the natural flavours), which have always distinguished this drink more classic and current than ever.

Although the aforementioned paragraph was repealed in 2004, the recipe states that there are also extracts from coca leaves (deprived of psychotropic substances), and cola nuts are the source of the caffeine present.

From 1904 onwards, the coca leaves used are the dull ones, not fresh, and deprived of alkaloids.

The Stepan Chemical Company (read about) is the only US company authorized by the Government to import coca leaves which it then treats (alkaloid-free), to be inserted as an ingredient in the drink in the form of an aromatic extract.

The plantations from which it originates (Peru, Bolivia) are legal, as they provide coca leaves for medical use.

Supervision by FDA and DEA

The Coca-Cola company collaborates with the supervision of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), as it produces chemical compounds for multiple companies in different markets.

Imported coca leaves are treated and sold (as they have legal permission) to medical research groups, or pharmaceutical companies.

When the alkaloid has been extracted from the leaves (for medical use), they must be destroyed, except for Coca Cola which extracts the aroma from the impoverished leaves.

All in all, it is no small matter, if you think that we are talking about a soft drink.

Other natural flavors

Also in the natural flavours, (the dosage of each ingredient is what makes the difference), there are essential oils of citrus fruits (orange, lemon), cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, etc.

Then, versions without caffeine, without sugar, with lime, with lemon, etc. were produced certainly to meet the taste of as many people as possible, in each country, according to the specific tastes dictated by traditions. When multinationals sell, they take into account all possible aspects to always be able to increase sales.

Not all versions are available everywhere (apart from the USA obviously "where I imagine the drink is something almost sacred", as Stetson hat), but according to the consumption dictated by the taste of each country, for example, vanilla Coca Cola was not available in Italy, the raspberry one was only in New Zealand, etc.

"Natural flavors aside, the basic ingredients are always those."


As with any food product, moderation is always a good rule of thumb to maintain your health and well-being.
As for carbonated, sweet and stimulating drinks, the discussion may never end.

Where consumerism reigns, these drinks have fueled debates, pros and cons groups, insights by consumer associations (which is always appreciable and positive), precisely because the excessive use, however excessive, let's say the abuse of carbonated drinks, sweet and stimulating (all three characteristics together), it's not good at all.

The importance of not abusing carbonated drinks

Carbonated drinks such as colas contain a lot of calories because they are very sweetened, they are stimulants, therefore they can alter the nervous system in an unhealthy way when it is abused.

They are carbonated, therefore they create a lot of air in the stomach; abusing it is not good for your health.
As with all other food products, though often you hardly ever think about it.

It is true that companies, especially multinationals, want to sell, and implement advertisements aimed at persuading the consumer about the quality of their products, but no consumer is obliged to exceed consumption; what can be pleasant when taken in moderation from time to time can cause serious problems when abused.

It is true for sugar, for coffee, for chocolate, for everything, let's be honest.

If you think in this case of carbonated and soft drinks in general, they are often very sweet, they immediately give a refreshing sensation if you drink cold, but they also make you thirsty.

Do fizzy drinks actually quench your thirst?

Personally, when I drink one of these drinks, or rather to say it all when I drink an iced Coca Cola, then after a moment they drop mineral water to quench my thirst.

Well yes. From time to time I let myself be tempted, but thirst subsides only momentarily, when you are thirsty, not when you drink a lot to drink something.

These drinks can be particularly appreciated as a soft drink, but not to quench their thirst, not for me at least. One thing is certain: abuse is not good.

Cold and sparkling mineral water, yes -:)


Felice Amadeo -
Since 2006 I have been working with the internet, writing content and managing the site. I've been using WordPress since 2013.
As I got older, I found that I like to wear the hat.