What are Coca Leaves?
The coca plant (Erythoxylon coca) is native to northern and western South America. The leaves of the coca plant contain small traces of cocaine and for this reason, it is primarily grown for the illegal production of the drug, with the top producers being Columbia, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. This plant, however, does have legal uses as it is an important ingredient in various pain medications.
Coca-Cola and the Coca Leaf
In the late 1800’s, one of the primary flavors used in Coca-Cola was the coca leaf, hence the brand name. This use of raw coca leaves in the beverage has lead to the rumor that Coca-Cola, at one time, used cocaine in its ingredients. By the 1900’s, the use of raw coca leaves was stopped. In today’s production of Coca-Cola, the company uses a de-cocainized versions of the leaves (called spent coca leaves) as a flavoring. There is only one company in the United States that processes coca leaves; that company is the Stepan Company of Maywood, New Jersey. This company legally produces cocaine for use in pharmaceuticals and then sells the unspent coca leaves for use in Coca-Cola.