Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, May 18, 2006


Page 15



Flavored Colas: Wave of Future…and of the Past




And now on grocery shelves and in soft drink machines is “black cherry vanilla” Coca-Cola. It came on the market in January and will be supplanting vanilla Coke, introduced in 2002.

Too, there is lime-flavored Coke, inaugurated last year, and cherry Coke, in bottles and cans since 1985.

Futurists might foresee the day when a computer, resembling the food replicator on “Star Trek, the Next Generation,” will deliver a Coca-Cola with virtually any flavoring you might dictate. A lemon Coke. A pineapple Coke. Even a chocolate Coke.

While that’s off in the future, it would probably surprise young flavored-Coke guzzlers of the present to hear that it also harks to the past. I can remember the availability of flavored Coke in the 1950s, and the addition of ingredients not sanctioned by the maker of the Coca-Cola syrup started a good long time before then.

It wasn’t high-tech apparatus that produced one’s choice of a flavored Coke…the equipment was called a “soda fountain.”

The Coca-Cola Company, itself, did not make flavored colas then; the soda jerk did.

I recall Truman’s drive-in at the corner of Wilshire and Westwood Boulevards in the 1950s where I’d order a Coke and would have to decide which among the panolply of available soda fountain flavorings I wanted to have added.

While their selection was large, just about any soda fountain had cherry, lime, or lemon flavoring available. And, of course, they had to have Hershey’s syrup on hand, used in malted milks, milk shakes, banana splits, chocolate phosphates, and so on—and were bound to have vanilla syrup (the foundation of cream soda), as well.

Flavor experimentation at drug store soda fountains was commonplace from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. If you’ve been reading these columns over the past weeks, you’ll know that many of today’s popular soft drinks—including Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper—were invented by pharmacists. One flavor combination after another was tested by them until they came up with their formulas.

Once cola came into existence in the late 1890s, enterprising druggists and soda jerks (clerks who jerked the handles on the apparatus) tried out the addition of various syrups they had at hand. For example, a department store let it be known in an ad in the June 28, 1912 issue of the Lincoln (Neb.) Daily News that its soda fountain served “Cherry Cola” for five-cents a glass.

Some of the flavored colas came to be marketed in bottles. A 1942 Delaware court decision recited: “Lime Cola was registered in the United States’ Patent Office in 1916; was advertised in various publications as early as 1917, and is still being sold.” Cherry cola and lemon cola were also available in bottles in the early 20th Century.

Innovative concocting by pharmacists and soda jerks was by no means confined to adding flavors to colas. Raymond Pracht, in a column published in a Riverdale, Ill. newspaper, The Pointer, on Sept. 1, 1938, said of soft drinks:

New drinks and mixtures…are carefully memorized. First ingredients are mixed countless ways to make the new mixture and when finally the ingenuity of the artist is exhausted the mixtures themselves mix.

“It becomes a distinguishing trait for young man to have an extensive repertory of soft drinks. I greatly envy the sport who can order a double-triple-something-or-other while I must placidly content myself with a vanilla coke.”

Combinations that were hit upon included cream soda and chocolate. I can’t find any reference to it on the Internet, but I recall a bottled soft drink in the 1950s which I liked called “Cream of Cocoa.”

Soft drink flavor experimentation goes back many centuries. Flavoring was added eons ago to naturally carbonated mineral water.

A chemical process for carbonating water was discovered in 1767, and the first carbonating apparatus in the U.S. was patented in 1810. But the first commercially successful soda fountain was devised in 1832 by John Mathews of New York City. His six-foot-long contraption featured multiple spigots to add various flavorings to water, which the device caused to be bubbling through injection of carbon dioxide gas.

Matthews is considered the father of the soda fountain, though not actually the inventor of it. After 1832, soda fountains gained popularity. The opening of a new grocery store was announced in the Aug. 11, 1843 edition of the Milwaukie (Wisc.) Sentinel; the ad noted that the store had “an excellent SODA FOUNT, with Lemon, Sassaparilla, Pine Apple, Strawberry, and Raspberry Syrups.”


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