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How Was the Top-Secret Coke Formula Determined to Be Kosher?

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Few products in history can match the mythology and ubiquity of Coca-Cola. Started in 1886 by John S. Pemberton, a pharmacist and former Confederate soldier, the company has changed hands several times in its existence. Yet the storied formula of its marquee offering has remained an impressively guarded company secret known only to a few top executives. Owing to some dubious health claims and an innovative marketing strategy—it’s believed to have been the first product to employ coupons—Americans fell fast and hard for Coke.

Of course, no love affair is without its rough patches, and, by the 1930s, Coke’s inscrutability found itself at odds with a niche, but rapidly growing, consumer base: Orthodox Jewish immigrants whose dietary restrictions prevented them from consuming anything that didn’t meet rigid rabbinical guidelines. So, how was Coke ultimately kashered while keeping its prized formula a secret? Through compromise and chemistry.

OUT WITH THE OLD

In 1935, new world consumerism and old world mores found an unlikely intersection in Atlanta, Coca-Cola’s headquarters. Approaching its 50th birthday, Coke was a national icon, available at nearly every soda fountain in the country. Millions of gallons were being consumed every year, many of those by immigrants who, by that point, had settled all over the country. Enter Tobias Geffen, a Lithuanian Jew who’d moved to Atlanta 25 years prior to lead Congregation Shearith Israel. Seeing that Rabbi Geffen and Coke were essentially neighbors, rabbinic leaders from around the country began to write him, asking if it was permissible for Orthodox Jews to drink Coke based on what he knew about the ingredients. Unsure how to reply and unaware of Coke’s staunch protection of their formula, he contacted the company and asked for a list of the ingredients.

Amazingly, Coke agreed to share the list on the condition that Rabbi Geffen swear the formula to secrecy. They didn’t, however, include the amounts of each component, which is as important as the ingredients themselves. Upon examination, Rabbi Geffen noticed that it included glycerin, used as a sweetener, derived from non-kosher beef tallow. Though it was present in small enough amounts to technically meet kosher standards, Geffen decided that, since it was added intentionally and not as a necessary byproduct, he couldn’t sign off on certification. After hearing his ruling, Coke chemists set out to find a tallow substitute that would meet kosher standards without changing the taste. They honed in on a glycerin made from cottonseed and coconut oil that left both parties satisfied, and Geffen gave it his approval.

Still, one problem remained. At Passover, an even stricter set of dietary constraints are followed, and the miniscule amounts of alcohol in Coke from grain kernels were chametz—a Passover no-no. Coke’s scientists hit the lab once again and found that sweeteners from beet and cane sugars could be substituted for grain sweeteners without affecting the taste. Ever since, in the weeks leading up to Passover, Coca-Cola releases a modified formula using cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup (just like the much sought-after Mexican Coke), which is bottled with a yellow cap to signify it’s kosher for Pesach.

COKE AND DAGGER

Discounting a single disastrous reformulation in the mid-80s, Coke’s taste has remained remarkably consistent over the past century, which, more than marketing or ubiquity, is likely the greatest contributor to its longevity. Even so, the drink is still subject to periodic rabbinical review to uphold its kosher status. Coca-Cola executives are not quite as forthcoming with its secrets as they were in Rabbi Geffen’s time, though. Now, the company simply provides an overstuffed list of ingredients for approval, all of which are known to be kosher, but only a handful of which are actually used in the formula.

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Big Questions
What Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?
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Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

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What Happened to the Physical Copy of the 'I Have a Dream' Speech?
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AFP, Getty Images

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech for the ages, delivering the oratorical masterpiece "I Have a Dream" to nearly 250,000 people.

When he was done, King stepped away from the podium, folded his speech, and found himself standing in front of George Raveling, a former Villanova basketball player who, along with his friend Warren Wilson, had been asked to provide extra security around Dr. King while he was speaking. "We were both tall, gangly guys," Raveling told TIME in 2003. "We didn't know what we were doing but we certainly made for a good appearance."

Moved by the speech, Raveling saw the folded papers in King’s hands and asked if he could have them. King gave the young volunteer the speech without hesitation, and that was that.

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” Raveling told Sports Illustrated in 2015. Not realizing he was holding what would become an important piece of history in his hands, Raveling went home and stuck the three sheets of paper into a Harry Truman biography for safekeeping. They sat there for nearly two decades while Raveling developed an impressive career coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

In 1984, he had recently taken over as the head coach at the University of Iowa and was chatting with Bob Denney of the Cedar Rapids Gazette when Denney brought up the March on Washington. That's when Raveling dropped the bomb: “You know, I’ve got a copy of that speech," he said, and dug it out of the Truman book. After writing an article about Raveling's connection, the reporter had the speech professionally framed for the coach.

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles. Though he has received offers for King’s speech—one collector wanted to purchase the speech for $3 million in 2014—Raveling has turned them all down. He has been in talks with various museums and universities and hopes to put the speech on display in the future, but for now, he cherishes having it in his possession.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” Raveling said in the original Cedar Rapids Gazette article. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him. That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’"

“I have no idea why I even asked him for the speech,” Raveling, now CEO of Coaching for Success, has said. “But I’m sure glad that I did.”

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