Coca-Cola does not actually contain cola, but some pricey soft drinks claim they do. Now researchers can test the truth of the label claims.
Natural cola drinks made with real cola nuts are both popular and pricey. But who can verify that a cola drink really is made with cola nuts? The technology for testing organic soft drinks for the presence of cola nuts has only recently been worked out.
What is So Special About Cola Nuts?
Genuine cola drinks are made with cola nuts (also known as kola) which grow on trees native to the rain forests of western sub-Saharan Africa. Cola nuts are difficult to grow and expensive to ship. Cola trees require a constant source of irrigation water, but they are very sensitive to flooding. The nuts must be collected by hand and transported to processing companies in a chilled state.
Traditionally, African herbal medicine used cola nuts to treat hunger pangs. The nut tastes bitter at first, but then sweetens with each bite. The nut sweetens the breath and contains three times as much caffeine as an equivalent weight of coffee. West African Muslims, for whom drinking alcohol is forbidden, make party beverages from boiled cola nuts and sugar.
No Cola in Coca-Cola
In 1886, a pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia combined cola nuts and coca leaves (the leaves of the plant used to make cocaine) to create the world’s most popular soft drink, Coca-Cola. Coke has not contained coca leaf since it was banned in the United States in 1904, but it continues to claim to contain “kola” nut extract. Dozens of expensive competing products claim to offer a completely organic cola with their own African cola nuts and natural sweeteners. Which firms accurately represent their products?
Reporting their research in the May 2011 edition of the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Proteome Research, scientist Pier Giorgio Righetti and colleagues announce the development of a very easy test for real cola nuts in natural cola. Real cola extracts contain protein.
Coca-Cola, it turns out, does not contain any protein, so it seems unlikely that the world’s most familiar beverage contains either of its two namesake herbal ingredients. Many other natural colas, however, contain detectable protein that probably proves the presence of real cola nuts in the mix. Real cola nuts make soft drinks sweeter by including a tiny amount of bitter taste that provides a contrast to the sweet taste of the drink, enabling the maker of the drink to make a sweet drink with a lot less sweetener.
The exact ingredients of Coca-Cola, of course, are a closely guarded secret, and different national versions of Coke are sweetened with different kinds of sugar and different artificial sweeteners. If you want a genuinely natural and organic cola beverage, however, you will need to buy a different brand
Cola drinks are made with cola nuts, which grow on trees native to the rain forests of western sub-Saharan Africa. The nut tastes bitter at first, but then sweetens with each bite. West African Muslims, for whom drinking alcohol is forbidden, make party beverages from cola and sugar. In 1886, a pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia combined cola nuts and coca leaves to create Coca-Cola. Coke has not contained coca leaf since it was banned in the U.S. in 1904, but it continues to claim to contain “kola” nut extract. Dozens of expensive competing products claim to offer a completely organic cola.