Sun 16 Jan 2011
Technically speaking, as occasionally I am wont to do, a cola beverage is one that contains an extract of the nut of kola trees — Cola nitida and Cola acuminata — native to African rain forests. Kola nuts are popular in Central and West African countries, where they are chewed for their slightly narcotic effects — the nuts have from 2 to 3.5 percent caffeine — and in fact form part of the social fabric. They were an important ingredient in Coca-Cola, invented in 1886 in Columbus, Ga., by John Pemberton. In fact the world-iconic if not cosmic brand-name Coca-Cola could stand for “cocaine-caffeine,” though cocaine, derived from the leaves of the coca plant, was eliminated from the formula in 1903. Nowadays, however, few cola-type beverages, perforce non-alcoholic, contain actual cola extract, being made primarily from “cola flavorings,” citric acid and a few spices, particularly cloves and vanilla.
The motivation for this brief disquisition lies in my recent exposure to a new product from Virgil’s, whose excellent root beer I extolled in a post last August. The new product (at least in this market) is Virgil’s Real Cola. Here’s the list of ingredients:
Purified carbonated water, unbleached cane sugar, clove bud oil, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cassia oil, orange and lemon oils, lime juice (less than 1%), phosphoric acid. Contains no preservatives and no caffeine. Gluten free.
Virgil’s soft drinks — the brand is owned by Reed’s Inc. — do not use high fructose corn syrup, universally found in soft drinks made around the world because it’s cheaper than sugar, though HFCS is linked to obesity. Anyway, the lack of caffeine in Virgil’s Real Cola would seem to deny its assertion to being “real,” in the sense that Coca-Cola is the “real thing” in its embrace of caffeine-ness. I have never been a fan of either Dr Pepper — the period after “Dr” was eliminated in 1950 as a typographical distraction — or Pepsi-Cola or RC Cola, and Virgil’s Real Cola, which I tried three times, tastes to me like a combination of those soft drinks, so I was not impressed. Virgil’s Root Beer, on the other hand, is terrific, and perhaps once a month, if I’m in Whole Foods or Fresh Market, I’ll indulge in this guilty pleasure.