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Forklore

Really the Real Thing

July 10, 2002|CHARLES PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What's in a cola? Once upon a time, it was the seeds of Cola acuminata, a 65-foot tall West African tree in the same family as the cacao plant.

Cola seeds, which can be more than an inch long and weigh up to half an ounce, are bitter because they contain tannin and caffeine. Conveniently, the bitter taste gradually disappears because of the action of ptyaline, the enzyme in saliva that breaks starches into sugars.

In West Africa, cola seeds are chewed to ease hunger and give energy, which they do--they have a stimulant effect with few secondary effects. That's why cola seeds were used in cola drinks, because colas were originally marketed as pick-me-ups. Cola also has the property of making anything tasted after it taste sweeter.

Cola drinks once were served hot, like coffee or cocoa. But like the coca leaves that once went into one well-known cola, cola seeds now are scarcely used.

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