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Why is the recipe for Coca-Cola still a secret? I think that given the current state of technology, it should be proficient enough to find any of the secret ingredients in Coca Cola.

Any thoughts? Can we make a 100% identical clone of Coca-Cola next week?

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Maybe this is is an offtopic, but can really a secret of some food or drink exists nowadays? Each manufacturer is obliged to print product ingridient on it. Random example from internet - 4.bp.blogspot.com/-ltZT8FGRSkg/TyLjis018ZI/AAAAAAAAHTo/… –  Berlin Aug 8 at 14:17
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@Berlin where do I get "spice" and "flavoring" from then? Even without those, if you chucked a bunch of all those ingredients in a bowl, how similar do you think it will be to the packaged product? –  OrangeDog Aug 8 at 22:07
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OT:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenCola_(drink) is enough –  Thomas Junk Aug 9 at 7:38
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I've looked at the OpenCola recipe and found it lacks vanilla, which is a key component of the flavoring of Original Recipe Coke. How do we know this? Back in '85 when New Coke was introduced, the world market for vanilla suddenly and inexplicably collapsed. Subsequently, market analysis showed that up until that time the Coca-Cola Company had been the world's largest user of vanilla, and if you know what you're looking for you can definitely taste the vanilla in "real" Coke. So if you want to modify the OpenCola recipe slightly, add some vanilla extract. Things go better with OpenCola... :-) –  Bob Jarvis Aug 9 at 23:02
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7 Answers 7

There are different angles this question can be answered:

Chemical point of view: A full analysis of a totally unknown mixture is painful and extremely costly. It always help to know how many components you are looking for, what types etc. In this case it is not enough to analyze the elemental composition or some pure elements, but Coke contains a lot of natural products and mixtures like caramel. Imagine how you identify (and correctly describe the production parameters) of caramel in a dilute solution... Also, liquids with extremely high concentrations of sugar and different acids are unpleasant for analysis, as you often have to separate these main component, so you can identify small components. That being sad, it is not impossible task, there are many methods to identify e.g. natural products based on DNA traces. But consider another factor:

Business point of view: The recipe of Coca Cola itself worth nothing. Most probably any competent soda maker can make a drink that 99% of the consumers cannot distinguish from Coke by the taste (and could do that decades before). However they don't do because no one would buy a a drink that taste like Coca Cola, but made by others. The value is in the brand. People buy a fake Rolex if they cannot afford a real. But anyone can afford a Coke, why would buy a fake? If you are in beverage business, it is an imperative to make a drink that is somehow DIFFERENT than the other ones!

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While true for companys like Pepsi or Dr Pepper I think supermarket's own brands would do well by being an exact copy. Not least because they are currently really really bad –  Richard Tingle Aug 8 at 12:14
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There are many valid reasons to buy a fake. Remember that Coca Cola is one of the most reviled companies in the world. Many people refuse to buy their products as a matter of principle. –  terdon Aug 8 at 13:33
    
I'd buy a fake Coke. Just the other day I stopped at a store to buy two 2L bottles, and it set me back $6.50 (USD). I could have bought six store-brand 2L and a pack a gum for the same price. –  phyrfox Aug 8 at 15:57
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I think your analogy is backwards. Rolex is associated with exclusivity - the point of a fake Rolex is for people to trick others into thinking you're balling uncontrollably with your super-expensive watch. Nobody is going home at night to tell their wife "I saw some guy at work today drinking a brand new Coke!". If you can duplicate the recipe and charge half the price, and everybody knows it, you'll dig deep into Coke's sales. Whereas you can sell watches with identical materials to Rolex, but if it's called "Barnaby's wrist-wear", few will care. –  coburne Aug 8 at 16:00
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@terdon The fact one of their ingredients is a by-product of cocaine production really doesn't help. –  Pharap Aug 9 at 3:01

With modern technology it would be a relatively straightforward process to determine all of the ingredients in Coca Cola. It would require time and money, but very doable. My guess is that companies that compete with Coca Cola, like Pepsi, know exactly all of the ingredients in Coke. This is part of the process known as "reverse engineering" and is done all the time in industry. Pharmaceutical companies, food companies, plastics companies, any industry that uses specialized formulations do this type of chemical analysis to better understand what the "competition" is up to.

The chemical analysis is actually the easy part. However, Coke and all of these other manufacturers don't just take a list of chemicals or ingredients, mix them in a tub and then put it in the bottle. The manufacturing process is every bit as important as the ingredients and much harder to determine. For example,

  • in what order are the ingredients added
  • how long do you mix the batch before adding the next ingredient
  • at what rpm do you mix them
  • what kind of mixer do you use

and the list goes on and on. There might be 100 ingredients in the Coke formula, but there are probably over 1,000 variables in the manufacturing process, and there is no straightforward analytical method you can use to specify all of the process parameters. The ingredients is the easy part, the process is what stops someone from making a replica product - well that and legalities.

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If you analyzed Coca-Cola and found that it contained 100 different chemical compounds in whatever proportions then, knowing that Coca-Cola is chemically stable, it would be pretty easy to mix the compounds in the right proportion to obtain coke. It would, of course, be economically unfeasible to obtain pure samples of all of those compounds and that is the problem here. That is why you need to work out the manufacturing process, since it's overwhelmingly cheaper to make some subset of the compounds by caramelizing sugar, for example, than by mixing the pure compounds. –  David Richerby Aug 9 at 13:23

Greg hits most of the points, but there's one other angle I'd like to add:

Practical Point of View: One of the well established Coca-Cola ingredients is decocainized coca leaf extract. The DEA is, to say the least, not exactly generous in allowing this import. This effectively prevents the manufacture of a Coca-Cola equivalent anywhere in the United States. A competitor producing an exact clone of Coca-Cola but forced to import the finished product from outside the country is likely to find it difficult to significantly undercut Coca Cola's efficient distribution network.

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Because it makes no sense to do so.

Even if someone uncovered the exact ingredient of Coca Cola or even if you made a Coca Cola recipe that tastes better than real Coca Cola, they wouldn't able to match the existing brand power of Coca Cola, nor the consumer's brand recognition and history with the general public. Coca Cola had poured billions and decades into making one of the most recognisable brand in the world, their brand is ingrained very deeply into the public's minds. A new competitor wouldn't able to replicate that overnight.

Of those companies that do may have the brand power to match Coca Cola and enough R&D budget to match, say PepsiCo, they wouldn't want to be seen dead advertising that they had made an exact clone of their competitors. It works better if they make and market themselves as a better drink than as a clone of a competitor. It's very likely that PepsiCo and Coca Cola knows pretty well their competitor's recipes, but they have absolutely no incentive to advertise that.

Also, even if you manage to uncover the exact composition and manufacturing process of the product, the public still won't believe it unless The Coca Cola company itself admitted that a given recipe is 100% truthful. A large percentage of the populace would always remain skeptical. Noone would give you research grant to reverse engineer Coca Cola.

Tasting isn't an objective experience, the way you experience a drink is affected by what's in your head just as much as what the chemistry of the drink. Even water from the same exact garden hose tastes different depending on how you are presented it with. For the same reason, even if you put an actual Coca Cola into a supermarket brand Cola bottle, a lot of people would still think that that bottle of Cola tastes worse than actual Coca Cola.

Finally, consumers won't buy fake products when the real products cost something like \$1-\$2 a can. If you drink a can of fake cola in public, that says something about your character, probably not in a way most people want themselves to be perceived as.

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If we have high technology to find the secret of Coca-Cola then they also have high technology and money to hide it. If it would be possible then don't you think today there would hundreds of brand making the same drink?!

Till now there are many brands which have tried to clone Coca-Cola but they haven't succeeded, and that means till today they are able to hide their secret, so we don't have the technology that can find the secret of Coca Cola.

Here are some links which claim that they have cloned Coca-Cola

http://www.topsecretrecipes.com/Coca-Cola-Classic-Coke-Copycat-Recipe.html

https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/forum/index.php?topic=6017.0

http://www.instructables.com/id/Fakola-cola-clone/

You can find many more on Google, but I don't think any of them are able to find the secret of Coca-Cola, because if they had found it, then they would be billionaires and their drink would be in the market.

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"If we have high technology to find the secret of Coca-Cola then they also have high technology and money to hide it." What does that even mean? If we have enough technology to "find the secret of Coca-Cola" then, by construction, the Coca-Cola Company does not have enough technology to find it. –  David Richerby Aug 9 at 13:27
    
@DavidRicherby It means that if we have advanced in technology then they also have advanced in technology to maintain their secret. –  Freddy Aug 9 at 17:15
    
What technology do you imagine the Coca-Cola Company can use to hide the contents of a can of coke? –  David Richerby Aug 9 at 17:23
    
@DavidRicherby They put some components in the drink which is very difficult to detect using todays technology, that mean that they have better technology which can hide their secret.I have seen in "Megafactories"(show on national geography) that they put some components that are secret. –  Freddy Aug 9 at 17:57

There are two very strong reasons, legal and marketing.

The way that Coca Cola is created is a trade secret. It is not patented, the company just keeps it secret. As long as it is secret, other companies are free to create their own recipes, even their own, identical recipes, but it is illegal to create such a recipe by breaking into some office and stealing the original recipe, or by analysing the original drink. If you reverse engineered the recipe, you could expect to be taken to court. And your engineers would have to appear as witness and have the choice of saying the truth or turning themselves into criminals by lying. Not a good business strategy.

The other problem is that a company like Pepsi doesn't want to create something that tastes exactly like Coca Cola. Their customers buy their drinks because they prefer the different taste. If Pepsi changed their taste to be exactly like Coca Cola, they would just annoy their own customers.

Just to make this clear: Reverse engineering in itself is possibly not illegal. Discovering a trade secret by reverse engineering and then using the reverse engineered recipe to make your own product is most likely illegal. Creating the impression that you discovered a trade secret by reverse engineering and then used it to create your own product will get you sued, which will cost you more money than it is worth.

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Please give a citation for your claim that "Discovering a trade secret by reverse engineering and then using [that] recipe to make your own product is most likely illegal" and state what jurisdiction you are talking about. Wikipedia explicitly claims that reverse-enginineering a product is legal in the USA and is rather unclear on whether legally obtained trade secrets can be used to produce a competing product in the USA or the Commonwealth. –  David Richerby Aug 10 at 19:04

Universities have HPC's that could probably do it in a week.

Point is, someone has to pay for it and it would be very costly and illegal. Perhaps the reason it has not been done.

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why and where would it be illegal? –  Silvio Levy Aug 9 at 0:54
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It is not illegal. No IP protects it, and nothing forbids the chemical analysis of a beverage. –  Greg Aug 9 at 14:38
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agree it's costly but i don't think it is illegal –  Freddy Aug 10 at 14:59

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