I was fascinated to learn that the Stepan Laboratory in Maywood, NJ is the nation’s only legal commercial importer of coca leaves, a proven ingredient in the legendary beverage Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola was invented by John Stith Pemberton who sold his formula for Coca Cola in 1888. He was a biochemist from Georgia and served with the confederate army in the Civil War. He was hurt and cut by a saber wound to the chest in April of 1865 at the Battle of Columbus and soon became addicted to morphine to help relieve the pain.

Pemberton started mixing tonics and pain relievers that were morphine free to provide pain relief and to get him off the morphine. It was from this formula where he experimented with coca and coca wines that he found provided a cure to anxiety and depression along with a peaceful feeling.

With the threat of alcoholism at a high rate following the Civil War he focused more on the leaves then the coca wines which were alcohol based now calling the alcohol free concoction as a new “brain toxin”.

In 1888 Pemberton fell ill and was bankrupt but never wanted to sell his brain tonic patented formula. Shortly before his death, Pemberton’s son disagreed and wanted the money, so while in Atlanta; Pemberton’s son sold the patent to the recipe to Asa Riggs Candler for $1750 which in today's economy is about the equivalent of $50,000. Pemberton died in August of 1888 very shortly after giving up the patent.

The process of the coca leaves is important. As you know coca leaves contain cocaine and we know what that can do. Shortly after the turn of the century in around 1903 Coca-Cola removed the cocaine from the leaves, resulting in what they call “spent leaves” which still provided Coca-Cola with the flavor of the important coca leaves without the cocaine.

This was all done by the Stepan Company Laboratory here in Maywood which is the only facility in the United States that is allowed by the Drug Enforcement Agency to import and process coca leaves.

The leaves mainly come from Peru with an estimated 100 metric tons of the leaves arriving to the Maywood plant each year. At the plant Stepan extracts the cocaine and gives extract from the spent leaves to Coca Cola and the cocaine goes to Mallinckrodt Pharmacy which uses the cocaine in medications.

So the next time you’re enjoying a refreshing Coke know that you have a little bit of Jersey on your palate.