Coca-Cola - the Soft Drink and Other Uses

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Coca-Cola is a popular soft drink: it is the best-selling beverage in the world.

Coca-Cola - The History

The soft drink idea started in Atlanta in 1886, when Dr John Stith Pemberton was forced, due to a new prohibition law, to find a new product to replace his nerve tonic, stimulant and headache remedy, Pemberton's French Wine Coca. He had to remove the wine from the formula, and he replaced it with sugar. The new formula still contained cocaine derived from Erythroxylon coca, and kola (Cola acuminata) nut extract. Both these substances are stimulants and have definite actions on the central nervous system. Basically, in combination they would induce a feeling of well-being, reduce tiredness and depression, and increase the capacity to work. The new name 'Coca-Cola' was suggested by Pemberton's bookkeeper Frank Robinson.

The local pharmacy, Jacob's Pharmacy, started to supply the new recipe in their soda fountain on 8 May, 1886. That particular pharmacist realised that there were a lot of very thirsty miners nearby who could not pop into town every time they wanted to quench their thirsts. By bottling the drink, and hauling it to the customers, he simultaneously created a new bottling industry and advanced the concept of user-based placement for products. If not for him, it would not have come close to hitting the same early level of popularity, as the range of sales would have been limited.

Just prior to his death in 1888, Pemberton sold the rights to Coca-Cola to Asa Candler. It cost Candler $2300 and took him three years to gain sole ownership of Coca-Cola, by buying out the minor shareholders. At the turn of the 20th Century, Coca-Cola was marketed as a beverage to aid digestion.

The use of drugs such as cocaine and heroin for both medical, commercial and recreational use was much more prevalent in the 19th Century than might be expected. They only became illegal drugs in fairly recent times, due to political and economic pressure, largely from the US. As more was learned about cocaine, the Coca-Cola company gradually reduced the amount of it in their product. For a while, the company were afraid that if they dropped the cocaine entirely, it would affect their trademark - and so for the bulk of the time that Coca-Cola had any cocaine in it, it was only trace amounts, not enough to have any active effect. By 1902 the cocaine content was as little as 1/400 of a grain of cocaine per ounce of syrup (Coca-Cola became completely cocaine-free in 1929).

In 1916 the famous curvy bottle was introduced, and the shape of it is patented. In 1919 the Coca-Cola company was sold to an Atlantan banker named Ernest Woodruff for $25m. The company then pioneered the six-bottle carton. In 1955, Coca-Cola was canned and shipped to Japan and other Pacific regions for consumption by the US military.

Nowadays Coca-Cola is sold in worldwide, and more than 70% of the company's income comes from outside the US. The regular version outsells the 'diet' varieties by two-to-one. The original bottles are much in demand as collector's items, and there is a homage to all things coke-related at the Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta, GA.

The Coca-Cola Corporation

The Coca-Cola corporation is perhaps the biggest soft drink company in the world. Cocacolanization has become a byword to describe its spread into third world countries. It has a factory and a bottling plant in Plachimada, Kerala, South West India, which is under investigation. This is due to the soil, water and air of the entire area around the factory becoming contaminated since the corporate arrival in 1998. The company promoted a waste product locally as a fertiliser, but dangerous levels of toxic metals such as lead and cadmium, have been found in it. Presenter John Waite of the BBC Radio 4 programme Face The Facts investigated complaints from local inhabitants that their village water supply was running dry due to the chronic overuse (up to one million gallons of water a day) by the Coca-Cola corporation. What water remains has been contaminated:

What is particularly disturbing is that the contamination has spread to the water supply - with levels of lead in a nearby well at levels well above those set by the World Health Organisation.

- David Santillo, University of Exeter senior scientist.

Local farmers and villagers have been arrested for protesting at the Coca-Cola factory gates. On their website, Coca-Cola show how seriously they take water management in India. In November 2003 a local Judge threatened to completely shut down the factory pending further enquiries. Coca-Cola now sends water trucks to supply the basic water needs in the villages which contain an estimated 2,000 families. The case is still ongoing.

The results of the analysis of the 'fertiliser' product were given to Britain's leading poisons expert, Professor John Henry:

The levels of toxins found in the samples of waste taken by the BBC would cause serious problems - polluting the land, local water supplies and the food chain. Cadmium is a carcinogen and it accumulates in the kidneys. Repeated exposure can lead to kidney failure. Lead is particularly dangerous to children and the results of exposure can be fatal. Even at low levels it can cause mental retardation and severe anaemia. What most worries me about the levels found is how this might be affecting pregnant women in the area. You would expect to see an increase in miscarriages, stillbirths and premature deliveries. There is a need to review medical data for that entire area in light of what has happened.

- Professor John Henry, consultant at St Mary's Hospital, London.

In response to the claims, the Vice President of Coca-Cola in India, Mr Sunil Gupta, was interviewed for the programme and he stated:

It's good for crops, it's good for the farmers because most of them are poor and they have been using this for the past three years. We have scientific evidence to prove it is absolutely safe and we have never had any complaints.

Coca-Cola - What It Contains

Coca-Cola contains phosphoric acid which can react with calcium in teeth. Then there's a surprising amount of sugar - micro-organisms in the mouth use sugar as a food (energy) source, producing acids which can also attack your teeth. Other ingredients include caffeine (34.5mg per 330ml/11.5 fl oz (UK) can - a 225ml/8 fl oz cup of coffee contains approximately 135mg of caffeine), caramel colour and carbonated water, preservatives and certain E-number additives.

In Los Angeles, USA, you can get classic Coke in 8 oz (240ml), 12 oz (360ml), 20 oz (600ml), one litre and two litre bottles.

Alternate Varieties

There are several variations of the Coca-Cola drink, such as Diet Cola, Coca-Cola with Lemon, Coca-Cola with Lime, Vanilla Cola, Cherry Cola, as well as all of their 'diet' alternatives; and Sprite, Appletiser, Lilt, Dr Pepper, 7-Up1 and the several Fanta flavours, and all of their 'diet' counterparts. Nowadays there is also a caffeine-free version of coke. The latest version is 'Coca-Cola Blak' which is coffee-flavoured.

'Lola' by The Kinks is said to have originally mentioned Coca-Cola, but after protests (or possibly legal advice) they changed the reference to cherry-cola. It is somewhat ironic that Coca-Cola eventually made a product named Cherry-Cola.

Cola Drinks in School

There is controversy over a $1 million (over £½million) grant that the corporation gave to the American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry (the AAPD), America's leading paediatric dental association. Some dentists believe there has been a rise in juvenile intake of soft drinks and that this is contributing to the rapid increase in obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, and in the case of adolescents, rises in cases of Hypertension2 (high blood pressure), as well as cavities, caries and the total loss of teeth generally. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that 'Paediatricians work to eliminate sweetened drinks available in school'. The Coca-Cola corporation suggests that its logo belongs on materials given to schoolchildren.

Health Warning

The general opinion of health officials and dentists is that you should not drink Coca-Cola on a regular basis, as it has a detrimental effect on teeth, and can be unhealthy because of sheer sugar content. It can also, if consumed in a large quantity on a single occasion, cause temporary hyperactivity, because the caffeine in the Coca-Cola acts as a stimulant. People suffering from Type 2 Diabetes should cut down their caffeine intake in order not to exacerbate their symptoms. People with stomach ulcers (which are caused by excess stomach acid) shouldn't partake of drinks like Coca-Cola as it contains phosphoric acid.

As with all caffeine drinks, there is a risk of addiction. Christina Onassis reportedly lived on an unhealthy diet of fast food and cola, and she died of heart failure at the age of 37 years.

Whole groups of people can be affected too – as with the people of San Juan Chamula in Chiapas, Mexico. Here the 'agua negra' as Coca-Cola is called has become the coin of the realm and is used for everything from a gift with which to ply town elders for favours to a preferred formula with which to nurse babies3.

There is some disagreement among nutritionists as to whether caffeinated drinks like cola should count toward your goal of drinking eight (six for children) glasses of water per day. Caffeine is a diuretic, which actually increases your need for liquid, therefore you need to drink more water. Also, care should be taken when giving sugary drinks to babies, toddlers and small children. Drinks such as Coca-Cola can rot delicate milk teeth and are unhealthy due to the additives.

Water helps to regulate body temperature. It washes away any unused and therefore dangerous minerals and vitamins, increases the body's metabolism rate, and it lubricates the muscles and organs in the body, so you would be doing your children a favour by offering them water to drink instead of cola.


The 'diet' alternatives don't contain sugar: instead to maintain the sweet taste an artificial sweetener called aspartame is substituted. This is a dipeptide (aspartylyphenylalanine methyl ester) which is one hundred to two hundred times sweeter than sucrose. The problem with aspartame is that it contains the amino acid, phenylalanine. Approximately one in ten thousand Northern Europeans are genetically unable to metabolise phenylalanine, which therefore accumulates in the blood. This condition is called phenylketonuria. Affected children become severely mentally defective, unless the diagnosis is made very early in life, and they receive a diet which is low in proteins containing phenylalanine. This means that people suffering from phenylketonuria need to avoid food and drinks that contain aspartame.

Elton John

In 1993 Elton John was presented with the Georgia Community Award, which was sponsored by Coca-Cola, for his work in the fight against AIDS. Elton's 1996 double CD 'Coca-Cola Planet Live' is extremely rare and valuable.

Urban Myths and Folklore

The Coca-Cola Company didn't invent Father Christmas; they won't send you a crate of coke for forwarding an email4; neither is Coca-Cola a contraceptive; nor will a tooth dissolve if left in a glass of Coca-Cola overnight (instead it will turn black). Flat cola poured down the toilet will not remove limescale, but it polishes up copper coins a treat.

Stain Remover and Hair Colour Restorer

Coca-Cola has achieved almost-legend status as a stain remover. The Mythbusters TV programme heard a report that American highway clean-up crews carry bottles of Coca-Cola to wash away blood from the road, and proved it worked. Cola also removes oil stains from concrete drives and garage bases. Apparently diet coke helps fade hair dye, but you have to use flat regular coke to separate curls. Hopefully no more bad hair days then.

Medical Uses and Extermination

Cola attracts wasps so take care if drinking out of cans while picnicking.
Coca-Cola can be used on a wasp-sting in an emergency, but not on a bee sting. This is because Coca-Cola, containing phosphoric acid, is acidic, while wasp stings are alkaline. Bee stings on the other hand are acidic and Coca-Cola would have no effect. How do you remember how to treat your sting? Use the mnemonic, 'Use Vinegar5 for Wasps' (U,V,W - three letters in alphabetical order). This also works for jelly-fish stings although immediate medical attention should be sought in case of poisoning. Under appropriate supervision, an empty cola can can be turned into a wasp-trap.

Coca-Cola is a fantastic medical 'tool' for flushing feed lines (such as nasogastric, PEG or PEJ) as the fizzyness helps to unclog them. Flat cola has been known to relieve children's upset tummies (dyspepsia) and aid re-hydration for diarrhoea sufferers.

Some people use regular cola (apparently it must be fresh with bubbles, not flat) to save extermination bills, when they are troubled with rats. Rats can't belch, and they are attracted to the sweet smell and taste. Because they can't expel the gas from their digestive systems, they explode. Messy, but effective.

Cola Wars in Space? Not quite the real thing. In the interests of balance, here's another astronaut sampling Pepsi during the same Challenger space shuttle mission in 1985.

Coca-Cola Trivia

  • Nowadays most colas consist of artificial flavourings, colourings, sugar, caffeine and H20 - hence the joke that caffeine-free sugar-free cola really is just brown water, although in reality it's brown water with flavourings.
  • Coca-Cola is one of the most popular mixers for spirits. It tastes particularly nice in rum; vodka; and some whiskies.
  • Eyeglasses with very thick lenses in the frame are called 'coke bottle glasses' or 'jam jar bottoms' depending on where in the world you are.
  • Peter Sellers persuades Keenan Wynn to shoot open a Coca-Cola dispenser in a scene from the Stanley Kubrick film Dr Strangelove.
  • Blues players have been known to use necks from coke bottles to play slide guitar - called the 'bottleneck slide'. Necks from beer or wine bottles are more commonly utilised today.
  • In Japan there is a market for cola-flavoured chocolate cigarettes called 'Little Bobdog Coca-Cola Cigarettes' complete with Disney-style characters on the boxes.
  • There are connections between Coca-Cola and Father Christmas thanks to clever marketing campaigns.
  • Coca-Cola with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream makes a nice ice cream float.
  • There is a recipe for Chocolate Cola Cake at BBC Food.


There are rival cola firms, in particular Pepsi, and the trend since the 1980s has been to use celebrities like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Madonna and Mariah Carey to promote the drinks. Coca-Cola lost the marketing war due to the 'Pepsi Challenge', when adverts showing blindfolded tasters chose Pepsi because it was sweeter. Coca-Cola responded by changing the formula of the drink, and came up with 'New Coke' which caused to public outcry when 'old coke' was removed from the shelves, so they were forced to change it back. The rivalry was referenced in Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire', with the lines Rock and roll cola wars/I can't take it anymore.

Collectible Cans

The Disney Corporation commemorated their 65th anniversary by advertising with Coca-Cola. The characters the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum and the March Hare appeared on regular coke cans; and Tinkerbell6, Dumbo and characters from Pinocchio on diet coke. Cans such as these are highly collectible and their current value is $4 per can.

The current promotion in Germany is for the big-sized (taller than usual) cans with a member of the German football team on them, which might become collectible - especially if Germany win the 2006 World Cup, which Coca-Cola are sponsoring.

Celebrity Endorsement

When a celebrity is paid to allow his or her name to advertise a product, fans of that celebrity display a heightened level of interest in the product being offered. Some of the image of the celebrity is 'transferred' to the product, offering a connection to the celebrity's fans. Coca-Cola's current celebrity endorser is England football captain David Beckham. 'Brand' Beckham and Beckham the man are two different entities – the former exists in our heads, and the latter in real life. The image plus the product creates a powerful selling machine. Sad but true, Beckham doesn't drink Coca-Cola.

1Although in the US Dr Pepper and 7-Up are owned by an independent company.2Persistent hypertension is one of the risk factors for strokes, heart attacks, heart failure and arterial aneurysm, and is a leading cause of chronic renal failure.3Coca-Cola is cheaper than milk in some parts of the world.4More commonly known as a 'friendly virus'.5Vinegar works because it contains ethanoic acid, and wasp stings are alkaline.6Fairies with caries? Surely not!

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