Bubbly Buzz: Coca-Cola Says Its Secret Recipe is Still a Secret

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Christian Hartmann / Reuters

NewsFeed bets the stress of the ordeal has probably left its media team in need of something stronger than a soda.

Since the February 11 broadcast of This American Life, in which producers claimed they had discovered the drink’s secret formula, staff at Coca-Cola have been busy working the phones. “It has been quite a day,” Kerry Tressler, a company spokeswoman, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday afternoon. First came the stories about the radio program cracking the drink’s code. Then came the stories about the wave of stories about cracking that code. Tressler said several journalists approached her assuming that the formula had been revealed, and prodded her to capitulate. But she had her red-and-white shield drawn and this line at the ready: “Our formulation is our company’s most valued trade secret, and we will not be coming forward with that formula.”

(More on TIME.com: Find out why radio producers think they’ve unmasked the secrets behind Coca-Cola’s fizzy burn)

Of course, the folks at This American Life already knew that something was off. They used the recipe they discovered and conducted a series of taste tests. One woman said “it tastes like weird soda trying to be Coke,” while another compared it to R.C. Cola (definitely not the real thing). Phil Mooney, Coke’s resident archivist since 1977, was equally dismissive: “It’s sweeter and flatter than Coca-Cola. It doesn’t have what we call the bite and the burn that Coca-Cola has.”

He also rolled his eyes at the show’s long-winded story about a leather-bound book of recipes being passed down from Coke’s inventor John Pemberton to other pharmacists and eventually (albeit briefly) to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Three or four dozen” other people have approached him with similar stories and a list of identical ingredients.

Mooney suggests that there’s a psychological element to Coke’s success—one rooted in 125 years of advertising, marketing and childhood memories. With that in mind, perhaps it’s best if we don’t know the recipe. Perhaps it’s secrecy—not specific measures of lemon oil—that makes it go down so easy.

(More on TIME.com: Carbonated milk? See the top 10 worst beverage ideas of all time)

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