Coca-Cola: If It is Bad For You, Why Does It Then Taste So Good?

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A Brief History

On March 12, 1891, Coca-Cola, the preeminent soft drink on the planet, was first bottled and sold in Vicksburg, Mississippi by Joseph Beidenharn, a soda fountain operator who owned a candy store.  Previously sold by its creator the pharmacist John Pemberton who lived in Atlanta, Georgia and others under various formulas and names since 1886, it was Beidenharn who first bottled Coca-Cola.  A few years later, the first Coca-Cola bottling plant for mass production was founded in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Digging Deeper

At first made with alcohol, the drink was marketed as an elixir or medicine that could cure all sorts of ills such as impotence, headache and opiate addiction.  The original formula called for 5 ounces of coca leaves per gallon of syrup, giving the drink trace amounts of cocaine.  After some local prohibition legislation was passed in Atlanta, the alcohol was removed and the syrup was instead added to carbonated water, and the sweet drink was sold as a stomach ache soother.

Coca-Cola quickly caught on and within a few decades became an iconic American product.  Today Coke, as the drink is often called, and similar soft drinks are sold in over 200 countries (that is pretty much everywhere) to the tune of 1.8 billion servings per day.  The Coca-Cola brand is considered the most recognized and valuable brand in the world.

A 12-ounce can of regular Coke has about 10 teaspoons of sugar in it, giving it 140 calories, which just about equals the sugar and caloric content of a candy bar.  Obviously, the sugar is a main target of critics who say the drink ruins teeth (as the phosphoric acid also in Coke supposedly does to the bones) and makes people fat.  Health critics also claim the caramel color that gives Coke (and other colas) its characteristic dark brown color is also harmful the body, especially the kidneys.  As far back as 1911, attempts were made to force Coke to remove the caffeine from its product, but Coke won the lawsuit and was allowed to keep the caffeine as a stimulant.  The caffeine had originally been added to give the drink its “kick” after cocaine was removed from the formula. 

Despite the debacle of reformulating the beverage as New Coke in 1985, the company has made a comeback and again sits atop the soft drink world.  Today you can get Diet Coke without sugar and calories and caffeine-free Coke if you so desire, but even with the “healthier” versions, you still have to contend with the phosphoric acid and caramel coloring.  In recent years an entire range of new Coke flavors have been offered, some of which, such as Cherry Coke and Vanilla Coke have become quite mainstream.

Question for students (and subscribers): So, why is it that Coke tastes so good and is yet considered “bad for you” by so many nutritionists?   The same goes for anything that is high in fat or sugar, such as donuts, ice cream, cheesecake, hamburgers or hot dogs.  Do you listen to the naysayers, or do you just go ahead and enjoy your Coke?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Editors of Favorite Name Brand Recipes and Editors of Publications International Ltd. Coca Cola Refreshing Recipes. Publications International, 2011.

Witzel, Michael and Gyvel Young-Witzel. The Sparkling Story of Coca-Cola: An Entertaining History including Collectibles, Coke Lore, and Calendar Girls. Crestline Books, 2012.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Embajada de los Estados Unidos en Uruguay from Montevideo, Uruguay of a USA pavilion at the 2010 Prado Fair, is a work of a United States Department of State employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain per 17 U.S.C. § 101 and § 105 and the Department Copyright Information.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.