Why Marks & Spencer Cola Has More Of ‘the real thing’ Than Coca-Cola Does, Why Dalston’s Has the Most And Nine Unusual Things To Do With Cola

“A hamburger with ketchup and Coca-Cola? That’s the most intense symbiosis of sweet and savoury imaginable”

Ferran Adrià

Probably not very good for you

Alright – I can see that Coca-Cola (or other brands of cola) probably aren’t all that good for you.

Apparently Coca-Cola is the world’s second most recognised word, after ‘hello’, yet it’s probably one of the most unhealthy drinks a human being can imbibe.

It scores about the same on the pH scale as battery acid which explains why it’s useful for all kinds of cleaning jobs – rust, blood, oil, grease, marker pen … burnt pans (tomato sauce will also clean burnt pans for the same reason, it’s the high acid content). It will clean the terminals of car batteries, and used together with foil will polish up chrome. In a recent session with my hygienist she told me, chipping away chunks of plaque, that the water company had declared her loo the cleanest in Newbury. “Uhma..whumma..dumm…wi?” I asked, prone and with mouth clamped open. It transpired that one method was to pour down a can of coke.


A bit of history

The earliest form of Coca-Cola made in the nineteenth century contained cocaine elements from coca leaves (I remember when I was given them to chew in Cuzco – visitors are given them to ward off altititude sickness – they resulted in a slightly numb mouth). Nowadays it’s the caffeine element which wakes you up, with caramel giving it colour – non-diet colas contain about 10% sugar.

So as a regular drink it’s probably not recommended.

health benefits of Coca Cola
Not many health benefits to Coca Cola….

Which cola has the best taste?

However, every now and then as a cooking ingredient it has its uses. The flavour in colas is provided by citrus fruits and spices. Coca-Cola won’t specify exactly which in its famous brand. However, a taste test carried out by the Financial Times in August this year, put Marks & Spencer cola above ‘the real thing’ in terms of flavour and quality. The M & S cola uses barley malt to sweeten rather than caramel, and citric acid rather than phosphoric acid which most other colas do. It contains concentrates of apple, carrot and hibiscus (the label doesn’t specify the ratios or quantities).

But now there is the ultimate. Dalston’s Drinks, founded by ex-barman and chef, Duncan O’Brien, makes a hand-mashed cola which contains a natural dye made of carrot, hibiscus and apple to make the red-brown colour as well as chicory root fibre provide sweetness and help control glucose levels. Go here to learn more about how it’s made. You can get Dalston’s Drinks (they make other non-alcoholic drinks) from Waitrose.

How is cola used most successfully in cooking?

  • Most famously of all, in Nigella Lawson’s recipe for gammon where she cooks a joint of gammon slowly for a couple of hours in a couple of litres of cola together with a couple of onions afterwards roasting it with a traditional glaze of mustard and black treacle.
  • It’s a key ingredient together with a tin of tomatoes for making your own homemade baked beans
  • As the acidic element in marinades, especially those used for BBQs
  • Poach a jointed duck in a saucepan with two cans of cola and a 150ml bottle of soy sauce. Cover and simmer for about an hour, serve with plain Basmati and pak choi. For a more detailed post on this go to Dynamic Duck With Cola.
  • With pulled pork: like the gammon this needs to be cooked slowly. Put a boneless joint of pork in a large saucepan, and add onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Pour a couple of cans of cola over to cover, cover with a lid and cook eight to ten hours over or in a very low heat (in the simmering oven if you have an aga). Take the joint out to let it rest, and reduce the remaining liquid if necessary to make richer gravy. Use any leftover meat in sandwiches.
  • With chicken: put a jointed chicken in a plastic bag and marinate overnight in the fridge in a mix of cola, olive oil, crushed garlic, dried oregano, celery salt, Demerara sugar and freshly ground black pepper. Put the whole thing, marinade and all, into a Le Creusset ovenproof, lidded casserole and bake for an hour an hour at 180°C. Then turn the pieces, take off the lid, move to a hotter oven (or turn up the oven to about 210°C) and cook another 15-30 minutes, basting about ten minutes in, to get the chicken golden.
  • In a Dracula with ice cream and strawberry coulis.
  • In a Cuba Libre cocktail with rum and lime.

Coca Cola symbolism in art

ai wei wei

The image above shows a Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) vase, emblazoned, some might say desecrated, by Ai Wei Wei with the Coca-Cola logo. In the same exhibition, at the Royal Academy, there is another artwork entitled ‘Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn’.

I’m not really in favour of anything beautiful, whether it be a Buddha statue or an elegantly turned urn, being destroyed or desecrated regardless of the age of the item (although age of course gives additional historic as well as replacement value) or the identity of the destroyer.

I can, somewhat unpersuaded, go along with the ‘it’s art’ concept. But surely then the argument for it being art should be applied consistently? When a protester named Maximo Caminero smashed one of Ai Wei Wei’s urns (or at least a joint effort between Ai Wei Wei and a potter living a couple of thousand years ago), Ai Wei Wei condemned him.  Fair enough – he hadn’t paid for it, but perhaps the condemnation might have come better from another voice.

It raises questions about what really is art, and is there a kind of universal morality which governs it…at the very least the exhibition certainly causes pause for thought…

Music to listen to as you sip your Coca Cola?

How about Elgar’s Overture Cockaigne?

This post is dedicated to Louise Chambers.
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