iStock
iStock

12 Refreshing Facts About Coca-Cola

iStock
iStock

Most pharmacists admit that pretty much anything they mix up is going to taste awful. The most spectacular exception: Coca-Cola, a flavored syrup combined with carbonated water that was invented by Atlanta druggist John S. Pemberton in 1886 and has gone on to become one of the most beloved refreshments of the modern world. Check out some facts about Coke's illustrious history, why Pepsi once gave them a hand, and how bottlers developed some of the most huggable curves in the world.

1. IT USED TO BE FREE.

While Pemberton’s soft drink would eventually prove to be a hit at soda fountains, he was more of an idea man than a marketing expert: Coca-Cola languished for years until a businessman named Asa Griggs Candler took over the business following Pemberton’s death in 1888. To raise awareness, Candler had sales representatives hand out coupons good for a free serving. Once people tried it, they kept coming back for more—and forking over five cents a glass thereafter.

2. THE FAMOUS BOTTLE WAS ORIGINALLY SHAPED LIKE A COCOA BEAN.

iStock

While Candler was undeniably a better businessman than Pemberton, he made one significant misstep. At the turn of the century, Coca-Cola was usually sold at pharmacies and drug stores as a fountain drink. When bottlers approached Candler to see if he’d be interested in allowing them to distribute it in glass containers, Candler thought so little of the idea he allowed them to package the drink for a fee of just one dollar.

His inadvertent generosity proved profitable for bottlers across the country, including rival sodas: So many knock-off brands appeared that consumers had trouble telling them apart from the real thing. To alleviate the problem, Coke advised bottling partners to try and come up with a design that could be recognized by feel as someone dipped their hands into an icebox. A bottling plant in Indiana designed a chunky glass container shaped like a cocoa bean in 1916. They didn’t know Coca-Cola contained no actual cocoa. (It used coca, which contained trace amounts of cocaine until the company removed it circa 1900.) Still, the bottle became iconic, and Candler went out on a high note: After leaving the company that same year, he became mayor of Atlanta.

3. IT HIT THE SPOT FOR INFANTS.

Though some of the more serious health effects of sodas are well-documented today, Coke enthusiasts of the late 1800s were not exactly concerned with the effects of sugar water on babies. Fussing infants were sometimes given drops of the drink in the hopes it might calm them down.

4. NEW COKE ACTUALLY HUNG AROUND FOR A LONG TIME.

While the tragic story of New Coke’s 1985 debut has been well-documented, not many realize that Coke clung to the idea of an alternative formula for a very, very long time. After consumers berated the company into bringing back their original flavor just months after New Coke’s debut—test marketing subjects who endorsed it were never told it was going to replace the original—the company tried to rebrand it as Coke II and continued offering it to bottlers until 2002. It may have been in the hope that persistence would pay off: The revised formula allegedly contained fewer ingredients and was cheaper to produce than Coke Classic. If consumers had rallied, the company might have saved over $50 million a year.

5. THE CANS WERE INVENTED FOR SOLDIERS.

The only thing more pervasive than Coke’s distinctive bottles are its aluminum pull-top cans, which were born out of necessity: The company came up with them so they could be shipped to armed forces overseas. While practical, the materials needed were rationed during World War II and the company couldn’t produce them for troops until the conflict ended. Convenient and easily distributed, Coca-Cola began offering them to civilian customers in 1960.

6. THEY ONCE MADE CLEAR COKE FOR A RUSSIAN GENERAL.

Nick Amoscato via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Coke’s global expansion was expedited during World War II, when bottling plants were erected specifically to handle the demands of supplying men overseas. The distribution also caught the attention of foreign consumers: General Dwight Eisenhower introduced Coke to Georgy Zhukov, a Russian general who had resisted Nazi forces. Zhukov loved it, but feared Stalinist-era Russia would frown upon his enjoying a distinctly American and capitalist product. He requested Coke produce the drink for him in a plain bottle and make it colorless to resemble vodka; Coke complied. Russians didn’t get the Classic version until 1985.

7. THEY TRIED TO REPLACE COFFEE.

When Coca-Cola realized a good portion of their customers—by one estimate, 12 percent—consumed their sugary, caffeinated drink in the morning instead of coffee, they decided to launch an aggressive marketing campaign promoting themselves as a morning pick-me-up. "Coke in the Morning" was launched in several test cities in 1988, with the idea being that it would be easier to guzzle a cold can of soda than a hot cup of water. (The company was careful, however, not to imply soda could replace orange juice. They owned Minute Maid.)

8. THEY ONCE FILLED CANS WITH DISGUSTING WATER ON PURPOSE.

In 1990, Coke mounted an expensive promotional campaign dubbed "MagiCans." When consumers purchased soda, they had a chance at acquiring a special spring-loaded can distributed at random that would spit out a rolled-up bill valued from $1 to $500. To make sure buyers couldn’t tell the weight of a "real" Coke from that of a prize container, the company filled it with a solution consisting of water, chlorine, and ammonium sulfate. While it tasted and smelled foul to discourage drinking, some consumers gulped it down anyway—and then threatened to sue. (Rival Pepsi ran a similar contest, but didn’t bother with the misdirection: It just gave consumers a number to call to claim a prize.)

9. PEPSI DID THEM A HUGE FAVOR.

In 2006, two Coca-Cola employees were caught trying to sell rival Pepsi trade secrets, including information on a beverage still in development, in exchange for an escalating series of payoffs from $5000 to $75,000. The employees handed over confidential papers and even a liquid sample to someone they thought was a Pepsi executive: It was an FBI agent. Pepsi had alerted both Coke and the FBI of the offer. A Pepsi spokesman told CNN that competition “must be fair and legal.” The two carbonated corporate spies received prison terms of five and eight years, respectively.

10. THEY HELPED MAKE MAX HEADROOM A STAR.

The bizarre, pseudo-animated Max Headroom character was created as a virtual television star in the UK by record company Chrysalis in 1985. Sensing his appeal for young consumers, Coca-Cola licensed Headroom that same year and made him the center of their ad campaign with a series of commercials directed by Ridley Scott. According to Coke, the spots helped Headroom gain a 76 percent recognition rating among teenagers.

11. THE SECRET FORMULA IS REALLY NO BIG SECRET.

Much has been made of how fiercely Coca-Cola has guarded its formula over the decades. Dubbed "7X," it’s said to be housed in a corporate vault and accessible only to top executives. In 2011, NPR’s This American Life announced that they had come across the recipe via the papers of an Atlanta historian named Charles Salter, who had seen it in a pile of documents belonging to Coke inventor John Pemberton. In addition to fluid extract of coca, the drink purportedly includes lemon oil, cinnamon oil, nutmeg oil, and caramel. Responding to the ensuing media flurry, Coke insisted it was, if anything, an old version of the solution—but they never acknowledged whether they had checked NPR’s list of ingredients against their own.

12. WANT THE BEST COKE? TRY MCDONALD'S.

iStock

The two consumer-product giants have been joined at the hip since 1955, when McDonald’s owner Ray Kroc contacted the company about providing fountain drinks for his burgeoning chain of fast-food shops. Coke has since partnered with the Golden Arches on menu development (like smoothies) and even allows them to use its corporate facilities when expanding globally. The best perk of all, however, might be with the drink itself. According to The New York Times, Coke ships its syrup to McDonald’s locations in stainless steel containers, not the conventional plastic bags other suppliers use. The result is said to be the most delicious, freshest Coke available.

This piece originally ran in 2016.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Why Does Asparagus Make Your Pee Smell Funny?
iStock
iStock

The asparagus has a long and storied history. It was mentioned in the myths and the scholarly writings of ancient Greece, and its cultivation was the subject of a detailed lesson in Cato the Elder's treatise, On Agriculture. But it wasn't until the turn of the 18th century that discussion of the link between asparagus and odorous urine emerged. In 1731, John Arbuthnot, physician to Queen Anne, noted in a book about food that asparagus "affects the urine with a foetid smell ... and therefore have been suspected by some physicians as not friendly to the kidneys." Benjamin Franklin also noticed that eating asparagus "shall give our urine a disagreeable odor."

Since then, there has been debate over what is responsible for the stinky pee phenomenon. Polish chemist and doctor Marceli Nencki identified a compound called methanethiol as the cause in 1891, after a study that involved four men eating about three and a half pounds of asparagus apiece. In 1975, Robert H. White, a chemist at the University of California at San Diego, used gas chromatography to pin down several compounds known as S-methyl thioesters as the culprits. Other researchers have blamed various "sulfur-containing compounds" and, simply, "metabolites."

More recently, a study demonstrated that asparagusic acid taken orally by subjects known to produce stinky asparagus pee produced odorous urine, which contained the same volatile compounds found in their asparagus-induced odorous urine. Other subjects, who normally didn't experience asparagus-induced odorous urine, likewise were spared stinky pee after taking asparagusic acid.

The researchers concluded that asparagusic acid and its derivatives are the precursors of urinary odor (compared, in different scientific papers, to the smell of "rotten cabbage," "boiling cabbage" and "vegetable soup"). The various compounds that contribute to the distinct smell—and were sometimes blamed as the sole cause in the past—are metabolized from asparagusic acid.

Exactly how these compounds are produced as we digest asparagus remains unclear, so let's turn to an equally compelling, but more answerable question:

WHY DOESN'T ASPARAGUS MAKE YOUR PEE SMELL FUNNY?

Remember when I said that some people don't produce stinky asparagus pee? Several studies have shown that only some of us experience stinky pee (ranging from 20 to 40 percent of the subjects taking part in the study, depending on which paper you read), while the majority have never had the pleasure.

For a while, the world was divided into those whose pee stank after eating asparagus and those whose didn't. Then in 1980, a study complicated matters: Subjects whose pee stank sniffed the urine of subjects whose pee didn't. Guess what? The pee stank. It turns out we're not only divided by the ability to produce odorous asparagus pee, but the ability to smell it.

An anosmia—an inability to perceive a smell—keeps certain people from smelling the compounds that make up even the most offensive asparagus pee, and like the stinky pee non-producers, they're in the majority.

Producing and perceiving asparagus pee don't go hand-in-hand, either. The 1980 study found that some people who don't produce stinky pee could detect the rotten cabbage smell in another person's urine. On the flip side, some stink producers aren't able to pick up the scent in their own urine or the urine of others.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Food
15 Rich Facts About Fudge
iStock
iStock

You probably know the basics about this decadent dessert: It's rich, it's creamy, and it comes in a variety of mouth-watering flavors. (Red velvet cake batter fudge? Yes please!) But there is plenty more fun trivia to digest. In honor of National Fudge Day, we’re serving up the sweetest morsels.

1. WHEN THE DESSERT WAS INVENTED, IT CHANGED THE PREVIOUS MEANING OF FUDGE.

In the late 17th century, fudge was a verb meaning "to fit together or adjust [clumsily]." Then around 1800, the word was used to mean a hoax or cheat. By mid-century, the use of the term “Oh, fudge!” as a kid-friendly expletive had come into favor, and was often used when something had been messed up. It’s believed that the first batch of fudge was created when someone was trying to make caramels and “fudged” up. The name stuck.

2. IT HAS STRONG TIES TO BALTIMORE.

The earliest origin story for fudge dates back to 1921, when Emelyn Battersby Hartridge, a former Vassar student, wrote a letter describing her introduction to the treat. She claims that while attending classes in 1886, a classmate's cousin living in Baltimore made the dessert, and this was her first knowledge of it. She also mentions a grocery store, probably in Baltimore, that sold fudge for 40 cents a pound.

3. THE TREAT BECAME WILDLY POPULAR AT VASSAR.

Two years after discovering fudge, Battersby Hartridge got ahold of the recipe and made 30 pounds of it for the Vassar Senior Auction. In Vassar, The Alumnae/i Quarterly, they claim the sweet became so favored that “students would make it in the middle of the night, dangerously diverting the gas from their lamps for the task.”

4. STILL, IT TOOK A WHILE FOR COMPANIES TO MASS-PRODUCE IT.

Skuse’s Complete Confectioner was known as a guide for all things dessert—but the first editions of the book, printed in the late 1800s, didn’t include any recipes for fudge. In later editions, they made up for lost time, including recipes for rainbow fudge (food colorings), Mexican fudge (raisins, nuts, and coconut), maple fudge, and three types of chocolate fudge.

5. AMERICANS MAY HAVE STOLEN THE CONCEPT FROM THE SCOTS.

Fudge is thought to be a descendent of tablet—a medium-hard confection from Scotland. The two treats use similar ingredients, but fudge is richer, softer, and slightly less grainy than its European cousin.

6. THERE'S A WORLD RECORD FOR THE LARGEST SLAB.

The 5760-pound behemoth was crafted at the Northwest Fudge Factory in Ontario, Canada in 2010. It reportedly took a full week to make, and while ingredients aren't available for this record, the previous record holder contained 705 pounds of butter, 2800 pounds of chocolate, and 305 gallons of condensed milk.

7. MAKING FUDGE TAKES SOME SCIENCE.

Early fudge recipes were prone to disaster, with one 1902 magazine explaining "fudge is one of the most difficult confections to make properly." With candy thermometers not becoming commonplace for several years, most recipes required boiling and hoping for the best. Eventually more foolproof recipes were created that included corn syrup (which helps prevent the crystallization that can result in a gritty texture) and condensed milk or marshmallow crème.

8. IT'S NOT ALL THAT DIFFERENT THAN FONDANT.

Fudge is actually a drier version of fondant—not the stiff, malleable kind so often seen on cake decorating shows, but the kind found in candies like peppermint patties and cherry cordials. 

9. A TINY ISLAND IN MICHIGAN CONSIDERS ITSELF THE FUDGE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD.

There are upwards of a dozen fudge shops on 4.35-square mile Mackinac Island in northern Michigan. (Permanent population on the tourist destination: just shy of 500, per the 2010 census.) The oldest candy shop on the island, Murdick’s Candy Kitchen, opened in 1887, while May's Candy claims to be the oldest fudge shop.

10. MACKINAC ISLAND CRANKS OUT OVER 10,000 POUNDS OF FUDGE DAILY DURING PEAK SEASON.

For production, fudge makers ship in about 10 tons of sugar each week and roughly 10 tons of butter each year. Every August, the island hosts the Mackinac Island Fudge Festival, complete with events like Fudge on the Rocks, where local bartenders craft fudge-y libations.

11. FIRST LADY MAMIE EISENHOWER WAS A HUGE FUDGE FAN.

She even crafted her own recipe—named Mamie’s Million-Dollar Fudge—which her husband, Ike, quite liked. It included chopped nuts and marshmallow crème.

12. THE HOT FUDGE SUNDAE WAS CREATED IN HOLLYWOOD.

C.C. Brown’s, an iconic ice cream parlor on Hollywood Boulevard, was credited for dreaming up the idea to drizzle melted fudge over ice cream in 1906 (earlier sundaes had other syrups, like cherry). Sadly, the shop closed in 1996, but the treat remains popular.

13. THE BRITS HAD A SWEET NAME FOR FUDGE.

A description of fudge, found in the 1920 tome Harmsworth’s Household Encyclopedia, read, “A sweetmeat that hails from America, but is now popular in other countries.” (To be fair, in the UK the term "sweetmeat” is applied to a variety of sweet treats.)

14. AT ONE POINT, YOU COULD BUY A LIFETIME SUPPLY OF FUDGE.

Harry Ryba, known as the fudge king of Mackinac Island, once offered to mail out a lifetime supply of the candy—three pounds a month—to any customer willing to pay $2250 upfront. “A lifetime, being yours or mine, whichever ends sooner,” he said, per The New York Times. Not a bad deal, considering he passed away at age 88.

15. FUDGE CAN KEEP FOR A LONG TIME.

Airtight packages of the confection can be frozen and stored up to a year without losing any flavor, which means that you can feel free to give in to temptation and buy a larger chunk while on vacation this year. And about that lifetime supply…

All images via iStock.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios