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Kola Nut Bowl
Kola Nut – Image Bob Walker | Bandundu Region DR Congo

Coca Cola and the Kola Nut

It’s one of the world’s favourite soft drinks, but how much do you really know about Coca Cola? It’s sold in over 200 countries worldwide and it is estimated that 1.8 billion servings of the drink are consumed every day. But did you know the original recipe featured the Kola nut, which is a fruit grown in tropical regions of West Africa?

The nut was originally prized for its medicinal properties which may account for the fact that it was actually invented by a pharmacist named John Pemberton as an alternative to alcoholic drinks during the temperance movement in the late 1800s.

You might have guessed by now that the ‘cola’ in the name of the iconic drink comes from the name for this African nut. The Kola nut, along with coca, sugar and carbonated water comprised the main ingredients in the early recipe for the beverage. By the late 19th century Kola nuts were being shipped to Europe and America by the tonne.

In West Africa the nut had already been a prized commodity for centuries. Growing on the evergreen Kola tree, the nuts are very rich in caffeine and micro-nutrients that boost immunity, improve metabolism and alleviate gastric issues.

The Kola nut is highly significant in West Africa where it plays an integral role in religious and ceremonial events and social gatherings. The offering, sharing and eating of kola nuts signifies a channel of blessing on these occasions. It for this reason that Kola bowls and serving dishes crafted with care are themselves significant objects. The lidded metal bowl pictured is one such example.

So next time you pour yourself a glass of ice cold Coca Cola think of the tropical forests of West Africa, the Kola nut, and it’s wider cultural significance beyond the Western world.

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