When a new food product is invented, the creator obviously has good reason to keep the recipe close to his or her chest. But in certain cases, the "secret recipe" for a food or drink product takes on a life of its own, and adds to the overall lore and appeal of the product itself.
Secret recipes are nothing new. Back in the old days, before the government required food and drink manufacturers to list ingredients on the label, legitimate companies as well as snake oil salesmen made good money selling products they claimed could cure everything from arthritis to stomachaches, all based on a "secret recipe." These tonics usually did more harm than good, thanks to the fact that active ingredients ranged from nothing at all to morphine and cocaine. Once the labeling laws were passed, many of these tonics disappeared entirely, but some wiggle room remained.
It was still possible to maintain a somewhat secret formula, and Coca-Cola certainly capitalized on that. By being allowed to list only "natural flavors" as a catch-all for certain groups of ingredients, they were able to keep the world guessing as to what exactly went into the magic elixir.
Today, it's harder than ever to keep a formula secret. Chemists and food scientists are able to break down just about any food product and figure out exactly what goes into it, and whole books have been published claiming to reveal the recipes to foods with famous secret formulas. But in reality, until the company itself comes out and releases the exact recipe (as McDonald's did with its "special sauce"), we'll never know for sure exactly what goes into these foods and drinks.
-Dan Myers, The Daily Meal
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