For years people have speculated about the secret formula of Coca-Cola, and the ingredients its contains. The formula has been locked in a bank vault, and only a few executives can see it.
Coca-Cola, the world’s best-selling soft drink, once contained cocaine, and it is still flavored with a non-narcotic extract from the coca, the plant from which cocaine is derived.
This week, details of how Coca-Cola obtains the coca and how it is processed emerged from interviews with Government officials and scientists involved in drug research programs. They identified the Illinois-based Stepan Company as the importer and processor of the coca used in Coke. After Stepan officials acknowledged their ties to Coca-Cola, the soft drink giant confirmed those details of its operations.
In a telephone interview from Coca-Cola’s Atlanta headquarters, Randy Donaldson, a company spokesman, said, ”Ingredients from the coca leaf are used,
but there is no cocaine in it and it is all tightly overseen by regulatory authorities.”
Emanuel Goldman, a beverage industry analyst at Montgomery Securities in San Francisco, commented: ”This is old hat to people in the industry, but might come as a surprise to others. But it also makes sense: when you have a good product you change it as little as possible.”
The first batch of Coca-Cola was brewed in 1886 by John Styth Pemberton, a pharmacist, who described the product as a ”brain tonic and intellectual beverage.” The original recipe included coca with cocaine, but the narcotic was removed just after the turn of the century, according to company spokesmen.
Cans and bottles of Coca-Cola list only ”natural flavors,” in addition to water, high-fructose corn syrup and/ or sucrose, caramel color, phosphoric acid and caffeine.
A Stepan laboratory in Maywood, N. J., is the nation’s only legal commercial importer of coca leaves, which it obtains mainly from Peru and, to a lesser extent, Bolivia.
Besides producing the coca flavoring agent for Coca-Cola, Stepan extracts cocaine from the coca leaves, which it sells to Mallinckrodt Inc., a St. Louis pharmaceutical manufacturer that is the only company in the United States licensed to purify the product for medicinal use.
During the 1980’s, imports of coca by Stepan have ranged from 56 metric tons to 588 metric tons a year, according to figures from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Some coca cultivation is still permitted in Peru, where coca leaves have been both chewed and brewed into teas for centuries. However, the United States has been pressuring Peru and other countries to eradicate the plant and substitute other crops.
Mr. Donaldson declined to discuss whether the Reagan Administration’s planned attempt to reduce South American coca growing could have an impact on the company and the formula used to make its soft drink.
He also declined to say whether the new formula Coca-Cola introduced in 1985 contained a coca derivative, noting that it was company policy not to discuss its product formulas.
The Coca Eradication Plan
American officials said recently that, as part of the Administration’s war on drugs, they planned to begin testing a coca eradication program in Peru within 90 days. The testing, which is contingent on final approval by the Peruvian Government, would involve the aerial spraying of powerful herbicides.
Critics of the herbicide project charge that it is politically motivated – an attempt to convey an impression of bold action in an election year – and environmentally hazardous.