Coke Versus Pepsi

There are many carbonated cola beverages on the market but Coca-Cola (Coke) and Pepsi-Cola (Pepsi) are the most recognized and best selling brands by far. While the commonly asked question of which is better boils down to a matter of personal preference, here is an attempt to shed some light on how these two popular soft drinks are similar and how they are different. (The focus here is on the non-diet versions).


Coca-Cola, also known as Coke, was invented in 1866 by Doctor John Pemberton, a pharmacist from Atlanta, Georgia. He initially sold the drink as a tonic or "patent medicine" at the soda fountain in Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta. Sales for the first year were a whopping $50.

Asa Candler, another Atlanta pharmacist, bought the formula for Coca-Cola in 1888 for $2,300 and began to aggressively market the product. He also incorporated the Coca-Cola Company. By the late 1890s, Coca-Cola was one of America's most popular fountain drinks.

Coke comes in a red can with white lettering and Pepsi comes in a predominantly blue can with red, white and blue in the logo. To support the war effort, Pepsi changed its logo from red to red, white, and blue in the 1940's.


Pepsi had its origins in 1893 when Caleb Bradham, a pharmacist in New Bern, North Carolina, concocted a soft drink known as "Brad's drink" that he sold in his drugstore soda fountain. This early formulation consisted of carbonated water, sugar, vanilla, rare oils, pepsin and kola nuts. In reference to the pepsin and kola nuts used in the recipe, the drink was renamed Pepsi-Cola in 1898.

After its incorporation by Bradham in 1902, the Pepsi-Cola Company flourished for a number of years but then fell on hard times in the years prior to the Great Depression. After suffering through several bankruptcies and owners, the company was acquired in 1931 by Loft Incorporated, a large chain of candy stores and soda fountains in the eastern U. S. Under Loft's management, the Pepsi-Cola Company once again became a thriving national brand.

During the Great Depression, Pepsi positioned itself as a serious competitor to Coke when it introduced a 12-ounce bottle of cola for just a nickel, half of what most other soft drinks - including Coke - were selling for at that time.


The Coke formulation has changed over the years. Initially, the primary ingredients were cocaine from the coca leaf and caffeine from the kola nut. This led to the name Coca-Cola - the "K" in kola was replaced with a "C" for marketing purposes. By 1904, the cocaine component in Coke was removed and replaced with spent coca leaves. Today, a cocaine-free coca leaf extract is used. In 1984, the cane sugar in Coke was replaced with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a less expensive sweetener - which some nutritionists say aggravates obesity and type-2 diabetes more than cane sugar.

Modern day Coke contains phosphoric acid, sugar, caramel color, carbonated water, and natural flavorings. The natural flavorings include coca and kola but the proportions and any additional flavorings are a closely guarded trade secret.

The ingredients in Pepsi have also changed over time. Today, the main ingredients of Pepsi, which are quite similar to those in Coke, are high fructose corn syrup, sugar, colorings, phosphoric acid, caffeine, citric acid, natural flavors, and carbonated water. The drinks are very similar in taste, color, and appearance: both are caramel-colored, fizzy, and exceedingly sweet.

Caffeine and Nutrition Information

A 12 ounce can of Coke contains 39 grams of carbohydrates (all from sugar - roughly 10 teaspoons), 50 mg of sodium, 34 mg of caffeine, 0 grams fat, and 140 calories. These numbers are similar to those of Pepsi (see below).

Pepsi has slightly more calories and caffeine than Coke but not enough to make a meaningful difference. A 12-ounce can of Pepsi has 41 grams of carbohydrates (all from sugar), 30 mg of sodium, 0 grams of fat, 38 mg of caffeine and 150 calories.

From a nutritional standpoint, there is no advantage of one drink over the other. Both contain way too much sugar and fat-inducing calories. And it doesn't really matter whether the drink contains cane sugar (like Pepsi's Throwback line) or HFCS: neither one is good for you and will add inches to your waistine.

Taste Preference

Although Pepsi and Coke are nearly identical chemically and physically, people routinely strongly favor one over the other once they've bought into the "culture" and taste of a particular drink. Studies of brain scans indicate that knowing which drink you are tasting affects your preference, perhaps due to the reinforcement of positive feelings associated with that particular drink.