The Coca-Cola company is successful in its aspiration to “refresh the world and make a difference.” Today, only two countries in the world, Cuba and North Korea, left not selling or buying Coca-Cola. According to the company, if it becomes available in two countries, it would probably be smuggled in the black market.
In 1886, a curious pharmacist in Atlanta, Dr. John S. Pemberton, created a sparkling beverage, which became the number one selling beverage in the world.
Dr. Pemberton aimed to create a distinctive tasting soft drink that can be sold in soda fountains. This dark fizzy soda made of flavored syrup and carbonated water is deemed “excellent” by the people who tasted it. The name “Coca-Cola” is credited to Dr. Pemberton’s partner and bookkeeper, Frank M. Robinson, who designed the trademarked, distinct script of the product that is still used today.
Fast forward to 2020, the massive worldwide presence of Coca-Cola has reached 99% of mankind. And so people may ask, what is this global non-alcoholic, ready-to-drink beverage made of?
We can see the ingredients listed in the packaging, but one ingredient seems to be vague – natural flavors. What are they?
Natural flavors, according to Coca-Cola, are derived from natural sources like plants and vegetables. The company itself manufactures this costly and closely guarded secret beverage concentrate. Like any other trademarked product, Coke will neither reveal where exactly they manufacture the secret ingredient nor will allow the documentation of its manufacturing processes.
The secret concentrate of Coca-Cola is shipped to over 900 bottling plants all over the world. The manufacturing plants then add the other major ingredients, such as water, sweetener, and carbon dioxide.
It is a challenge to maintain Coke’s uniform taste around the world as water’s taste is affected by its source. Nevertheless, the company is committed to product quality despite the challenge. To ensure that no taste and odor is carried from the water source, manufacturing plants process the raw water by sanitation and nanofiltration.
Sugar is the most commonly used sweetener, but manufacturers in the United States use high fructose corn syrup due to availability and practicality. Carbon dioxide is also added to make the tingling foam in the beverage. The company’s plants safeguard their product by implementing strict quality measures in raw materials and finished products.
Despite the favorable reception of this billion-dollar business, some consumers still have concerns about additives and flavor enhancers added to the product. Moreover, they have the right to expect that the information on the ingredients listed is accurate.
What exactly are these “natural flavors”? Isn’t it illegal to not list all of which being used in the product?
With the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) help, consumers have the peace of mind with their consumption, as it regulates and ensures that food and color additives are strictly studied and monitored. Therefore, food products on the supermarket shelves approved by the FDA are safe to consume and accurately labeled.
The FDA considers a natural flavor as an additive which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit, or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, etcetera, whose significant function in food is to give flavor rather than nutrition.
Moreover, the FDA requires all food manufacturers to list all ingredients in the food on the label. The ingredients with the greatest quantity are first listed, followed by the descending order by those in smaller amounts. Thus, water, which composes 90% of Coke’s ingredient, is first on the list found on the packaging. The remaining 10% is divided into high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavors, and caffeine.
The FDA requires that all certified color additives such as FD&C Yellow (sunset yellow) be listed in the label. But the regulatory board also exempts some ingredients to be listed individually. Instead, these ingredients can be collectively listed as “spices,” “artificial flavoring,” “artificial colors.” In the case of foods containing different allergenic flavors, these can be simply named as “milk,” “nuts,” “crustaceans,” instead of listing all kinds of milk, nuts, and crustaceans added in the product. Given this requirement, it is not illegal to not list all the ingredients for Coca-Cola, including natural flavorings, which is considered a secret ingredient.
Never mind the 126-year-old secret, and enjoy a glass-full, thirst-quenching Coca-Cola!