A few months back This American Life aired a program entitled Original Recipe, all about uncovering what was possibly the original formula for Coca-Cola. This episode was one of the radio show's most popular, gathering enough traffic to their website to temporarily shut it down. Obviously we're dying to know what gives Coke its one-of-a-kind flavor. So what went into this alleged original formula? Oils of orange, lemon, nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, and neroli, an oil derived from the blossom of the bitter orange tree.
As it turns out Andrew Schloss, author of Homemade Soda formula for Natural Cola is pretty similar to the recipe This American Life uncovered. The syrup is made with the juice and zest of oranges, lemons and limes, as well as dried bitter orange peel. It's simmered with cinnamon, nutmeg, and coriander, and finished off with vanilla and the unlikely addition of browning sauce, a blend of caramel color and vegetable concentrate that gives this cola its dark, caramel flavor. Schloss also recommends adding a bit of gum arabic for a richer mouthfeel, but I found that this soda was absolutely fine without.
With its herbal citrus notes, this Natural Cola is far more nuanced and delicate than today's Coke, and it lacks that certain tooth-aching sugariness. Its complexity is almost amaro-like—dark and filled with rich, sweet aromatics, a more grown up take on a cola.
As always with our Drink the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Homemade Sodas to give away this month.
- 1 quart water
- Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
- Finely grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
- 3 large (5-inch) cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces
- 2 tablespoons dried bitter orange peel
- 2 teaspoons coriander seed
- 1/4 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon gum arabic (optional)
- 2 pounds sugar
- 1/4 cup browning sauce, such as Kitchen Bouquet
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the Natural Cola Syrup: Combine the water, lemon zest, lime zest, orange zest, cinnamon, bitter orange peel, coriander seed, nutmeg, and gum arabic (if using) in a large saucepan. Whisk together until the gum arabic dissolves. Stir in the sugar and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Boil for 1 minute.
Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon, lime, and orange juices, along with the browning sauce and vanilla. Let cool, then strain.
This syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
To mix with seltzer: Pour 1/2 cup cola syrup into a tall glass. Add 1 1/2 cups seltzer and stir until just blended. Add ice and serve.
To carbonate with a siphon: Combine 3 1/4 cups water and 3/4 cup cola syrup in a 1-quart siphon. Charge with CO2 according to the manufacturer's directions. Siphon charged sodas can be stored in the siphon in a refrigerator for up to 5 days. Dispense as desired into tall glasses filled with ice and serve.