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Ask HN: What's actually in Coca Cola?
48 points by naskwo 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments
Given how pretty much everyone on the planet drinks Coca Cola, I am surprised that, given the enormous budgets that are spent on research and prevention of serious illnesses, there is no clear and honest (and formally acknowledged) list of the ingredients of Coca Cola.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coca-Cola_formula

If you want to release a medical drug, you need to document - at molecular level - how the drug is built up.

In the Netherlands, where I live, people go to expensive supermarkets to buy ecologically sourced meat and vegetables because of a so called chain of trust that no weird ingredients and antibiotics (if meat) have been added to their food.

Can someone from the HN community tell me:

1) Why is Coca Cola allowed to sell their beverages (e.g. by the FDA) when there are "secret ingredients"?

2) Have any proper studies been done on the health effects of Coca Cola consumption (not just sugary carbonated drinks)? Do we know how large populations are affected?

A: there are no "secret ingredients" in Coca Cola, there are a secret mixture of a certain secret subset of a set of well known, known to be safe, ingredients. In the same way you know that there is nothing weird added to your organic products, but also don't have documentation for the exact molecular structure of the product (not to imply any comparison between these products and Coca Cola).

B: Probably not, because there is no hypothesis that the particular mix of known ingredients in Coca Cola should have adverse health effects separate from those in other sugary, carbonated (add caffeinated) drinks.

Then why don’t they need to disclose the subset? Who decides what the library of safe ingredients are?

For the same reason you don't need to have every single steak and every single carrot analysed to a molecular level. After all, each individual steak or carrot will be a little different from every other. People who know what they're doing has found that mixtures of certain substances within certain parameters are just inherently safe and there's no point in a lot of histrionics around this.

> Who decides what the library of safe ingredients are?

The FDA, as well as their counterparts in practically every single country in the world. This is not controversial.

A steak or carrot is a distinct ingredient unit.

“Natural Flavors” is not.

Obscuring the base ingredient unit is something I’d prefer wasn’t allowed.

Why not just put “Edible Stuff” as the only ingredient... as long as it was a bunch of people who know what I should eat that ok it.

The Stepan_Company is one the only commercial entity in the US authorized by the DEA to import coca leaves.


Apparently the cocaine-free leaves are sold to Coca-Cola. while the cocaine is sold to Mallinckrodt (Pharma).

This seems pretty shady to me.. The most addicting and widely popular drink that will and has always been the biggest is also the only soda that has permission to put some kind of secret extract into their drinks..

I really wonder what quantity of this extract is in coca cola, and whether this is for taste, or for the psychological effect like caffeine.

I'm not trying to say there's coke in coca cola, but it think it's funny that while their brand has been marketed as 'Coca-Cola' for so long. Why do they still give kids a can in their hand that they are going to drink out of.. literally with the words COKE on it. Why do they still put on the can?

> I'm not trying to say there's coke in coca cola

There used to be.


Also explains how the 'spent leaves' are now used.

That's the US, how about in other countries? For instance Arab and Asian countries are extremely strict about anything that comes close to drugs, there's no way Coca-Cola would risk even distant extracts in those places.

Afaik ALL the cola extracts/syrups/starters used by smaller and international soda bottle plants, and chains like macdonals still get their concentrated "Coca-Cola" branded syrups that include the extract from the US.

I was under the impression Coke (like McDonalds) had a lot of regional variance; eg they change the recipe depending on where they are.

They change the source of the sugar based on tariffs and subsidies.

For comparison, the ingredients of OpenCola are probably similar:


> If you want to release a medical drug, you need to document - at molecular level - how the drug is built up.

Not exactly workable for foods. Any meat or plant contains every chemical that made up what it was made from, plus every contaminant.

I'd argue that we need to force producers to provide a means for customers to know ALL willfully added substances and DNA and radiation treatment[1] and stuff that mat leach from the packaging to otherwise natural products.

Herbicides, insecticides, wax coatings, preservatives, genetic modifications, gamma/x-rays, DPAs from packaging.

Maybe it is all not harmful, and maybe it is...

My reasons for this:

* We have the right to know. * We cannot (and we do not, hence the organic label) trust our gov't to look out for us. They've succombed to food lobbies over and over. * It will scare people away from trashy foods, drinks and habits like cigarettes

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_irradiation

> It will scare people away from trashy foods, drinks and habits like cigarettes

I don't think many people smoke or eat fast food nowadays because they're unaware that it is unhealthy. You are attributing a great deal of rationality to human beings when we do all sorts of unhealthy things for a wide range of reasons.

    > In the Netherlands, where I live[...] Why is Coca Cola allowed
    > to sell their beverages (e.g. by the FDA) when there are "secret
    > ingredients"
It seems like you're implying that because Coca-Cola is an American product they can get away with this, but if it were manufactured in The Netherlands or the EU they couldn't.

That's not true. The exact same thing applies to food products manufactured or sold in the EU. Food labels aren't required to exhaustively list everything that goes into the product, or to publicly document the process by which the product is made.

Edit: I know Coca-Cola is manufactured outside the US, but I don't know if it's from scratch. I have a friend who used to work at the Coca-Cola plant in Iceland, and all they did was mix sugar, water and some nondescript "goo" they got shipped from abroad and carbonated it. So what went into the "goo" wasn't local knowledge.

That's not was I meant to imply. What I meant was that consumers are more and more conscious of what exactly they are eating and drinking.

Indeed, there are no ingredients listed on wine either. It's not 100% grape juice. Various types of yeast and sulfur are added, and likely other ingredients.

Given that the whole world has pushed hard on anti-tobacco (rightfully so IMHO), and has shown beyond doubt that (known) additives are carcinogenic, I find it odd that Coca Cola is not more explicit about the exact composition of their drink.

I do find it interesting that in the Netherlands, and likely the EU, beer has an ingredients list.

Beer in The Netherlands just declares how much fat (thereof saturated), carbohydrates (thereof sugars), protein and salt it contains.

That's exactly analogous to Coke. Basic nutritional information that doesn't cover trace chemicals or the brewing process.

Nobody knows. Coca Cola lists most ingredients, but the secret sauce is listed as "Natural Flavors". That's where all the heavy flavor science in conducted and not just in Coca Cola. Most engineered foods in the US have "Natural Flavors" listed. The FDA, in their infinite wisdom, has decided that any number of artificial and engineered compounds qualify an "Natural Flavors" and they don't have to be disclosed. Some people I've spoken to think this is a result of lobbying from the major food manufacturers who want to make their products more "addictive".

I love America and I think Europe is backwards in many, many ways. This isn't one of those ways. I wish we had European-style food purity laws. The only way to guarantee your food hasn't been messed with or "adulterated" or "enriched" in some way is to skip the stores entirely and buy straight from a local farmer.

This is the bane of my existence. I am allergic to several extremely common ingredients/preservatives.

I can lead a regular if culinarily boring life if I simply avoid these ingredients. But anything can hide in this phrase "Natural Flavors."

The only way I can know if I am allergic to something is to try it, and even then there are threshold issues and changing ingredients. Just because something is made a certain way today, doesn't mean it will be tomorrow.

I'm curious: in what ways is Europe more 'backward' than the states?

Free speech is one example, through probably not for all european countries. See Germany's defamation laws as one example.

OT. If you want to discuss it off-site, send me an email here: halibetlector@0hdear.com

This is a temptation to repply... I will just relax and bring pop corn to watch! hehe

Today with chemical laboratory analysis you can get the ingredients of anything. So what Coca Cola uses is not that secret. Your point one is not valid.

The secret is making this product economically in enormous quantities. It is about providers, contracts, supply warrantees, dealing with those that bottle your concentrates, water supplies to mix your concentrates, and so on.

There are people that study illnesses data at least in Europe and USA, and there is a clear relationship between sugary carbonated drinks in general and lots of illnesses.

There is a clear relationship with diabetes an sugary drinks in particular.

In the past Coca Cola used Coca, and hence cocaine, but it does not anymore.

But it still contains an extract from the Coca leaf.

"Coke dropped cocaine from its recipe around 1900, but the secret formula still calls for a cocaine-free coca extract produced at a Stepan Co. factory in Maywood, N.J."

" Stepan buys about 100 metric tons of dried Peruvian coca leaves each year, said Marco Castillo, spokesman for Peru’s state-owned National Coca Co."


Coke sell over 1.9 billion drinks per day, so that 100 metric tons is spread pretty thin.


The major ingredient in Coca Cola is branding.

there are no secret ingredients, the ingredients are listed on the can/bottle. The secret is in the quantity of each and the manufacturing process, so you know exactly what you are consuming.

Right, but what about "Artificial Flavors" and "Natural Flavors" ...?

There is an approved list of ingredients at the FDA for what constitutes "artificial flavors" and "natural flavors":

(a)(1) The term artificial flavor or artificial flavoring means any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof. Artificial flavor includes the substances listed in 172.515(b) and 582.60 of this chapter except where these are derived from natural sources.

(3) The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. Natural flavors, include the natural essence or extractives obtained from plants listed in subpart A of part 582 of this chapter, and the substances listed in 172.510 of this chapter.

From here: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfr...

Is Coca-Cola vegan?


Not sure about the specifics in the US, but those are well defined categories.

Wikipedia lists two brief excerpts here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flavor#Regulations_on_natural_...

"natural flavours" can be used to mask the secret sauce or to mask that you bought some flavouring from a third party supplier and don't want to list their ingredients too.

you can also mask flavourings that have a bad reputation.

In college in the late 80s, amid a global movement to avoid doing business with companies doing business with apartheid South Africa, I stopped buying Coca-cola products.

Years later, Mandela became president and my conscience felt clear about buying their products.

I thought, "I remember why I stopped drinking coke, but I don't remember why I started in the first place." I couldn't think of a satisfying answer so never restarted.

I don't think I've had a coke product since. Soon after I stopped drinking any sodas, sweetened or not. I love delicious food, but nothing about soda connects with either deliciousness or food in my mind.

I never started drinking bottled water either, for its environmental damage.

Coca Cola has started to disclose the caffeine content of their drinks since about a decade.

Other than that there isn't much that is exciting in a glass of cola, the most unhealthy part next to the caffeine would be the sugar (and artificial sweeteners in 'light' products).

The This American Life episode mentioned in Wikipedia is worth a listen.


Is anyone offering insurance based on monitoring your grocery bill?

For example, people who choose to drink soda, alcohol, excess sugar, etc. could be grouped together.

I do think there are some insurance providers for vegans, but that may just be marketing.

I've started boycotting Coca-Cola after reading this: http://killercoke.org/ and I drink Pepsi now.

Too much sugar to drink, that's all you need to know

Pretty sure the main ingredients are cinnamon, citric acid, caramel, caffeine, and sugar.

Nice try, Pepsi.

Of course, the main ingredient is marketing.

In 1985, Coca-Cola research showed people actually preferred the flavor of Pepsi, so they made a taste-tested Pepsi clone. It was launched as New Coke, and despite people preferring New Coke in blind taste tests, they still wanted to buy and drink Coca-Cola Classic. New Coke was a massive flop.

So even if Pepsi managed to make a perfect Coca-Cola recipe clone, they're missing the main ingredient - their brand.

If I recall correctly, people liked the taste of Pepsi in small amounts, but preferred Coca-Cola as a 'proper' beverage. Don't have a source at hand, so by all means correct me if I'm wrong.

This was my understanding as well, Pepsi had a sweeter taste with a slight citrus flavor. Comparatively, it tastes better on first sip, but for a can sized serving, the less sweet taste was preferred.

> ... even if Pepsi managed to make a perfect Coca-Cola recipe clone, they're missing the main ingredient - their brand.

Also their distribution network. There's plenty of stores that stock Coca-Cola products exclusively. Having the exclusive contract to supply McDonalds must help them a lot, for example.

That said - in Australia, Pepsi Max is actually #1 [1]. Coca Cola has had some problems in Australia with stores & supermarkets refusing to stock their products. (Dominos Australia recently dropped all Coca-Cola products & switched to Pepsi.) [2]

[1] https://asahi.com.au/brands/soft-drinks

[2] http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/food/drink/woolworths-deliv...

There is also some argument that a sip test is different from a whole serving, but who knows!

I've frequently noted that it takes longer for me to drink a Pepsi, if I even finish it at all. The initial taste, especially while eating, is more pleasant with Pepsi than it is with Coke, but the amount of Coke I can drink comfortably is higher than with Pepsi.

Oh no another reddit-style comment

I can taste nutmeg in coca cola.

Cola recipes normally include nutmeg, so yes.

"pretty much everyone on the planet drinks Coca Cola" should be a good indicator not to drink it.

I think we as humans are worth enough to know what goes in our drinks and in how much quantity. If not, then the company is not worth the trouble. I would encourage anyone to have the same heuristic.

Literally everyone on the planet drinks water, so that's not a useful indicator of avoidance.

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