Dr Pepper is definitely one of the more mysterious sodas. First of all, it’s opaque, which automatically makes it more intriguing than Sprite or ginger ale, which are literally transparent, seemingly hiding nothing. But even in the dark soda category, Dr Pepper holds an air of the unknown. Root beer, birch beer, cream soda, and their ilk all have names describing what they are. Even Coca-Cola, which has its own share of mystery, is so ubiquitous that even if we don’t know exactly what it’s made up of, “Cola-Cola flavored” is close enough, and at least we know that “cola” is the name of a flavor. Ditto Pepsi-Cola. Yet Dr Pepper remains unexplained. What is Dr Pepper supposed to be? What flavor is Dr Pepper?
To answer this, the better question is perhaps, “What are the 23 flavors of Dr Pepper?” After all, the good doctor is known for its “authentic blend of 23 flavors.” So, what are they? The ingredients list is unfortunately completely unhelpful here, noting that Dr Pepper is made of “carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural and artificial flavors, sodium benzoate (preservative), caffeine.”
Ah yes, those pesky, vague natural and artificial flavors.
Of course, if Dr Pepper revealed the full formula on the can, you could just go and make your own knockoff in your bathtub, which wouldn’t be good for business. However, Dr Pepper superfans have done their best to crack the code, and according to Mashed, the best approximation of the flavors is amaretto, almond, blackberry, black licorice, caramel, carrot, clove, cherry, cola, ginger, juniper, lemon, molasses, nutmeg, orange, prune, plum, pepper, root beer, rum, raspberry, tomato, and vanilla. This blend allegedly gives Dr Pepper its flavor—can’t you taste the tomato? And the distinctive pepperiness comes from clove, black licorice, and, of course, pepper itself.
Get all the top food rankings, new product reviews, and other grocery content delivered to your inbox every other week.
If you want to know why the beverage is called Dr Pepper, the answer is much weirder than you might think. First of all, it turns out Dr Pepper is the “oldest major soft drink” in the U.S. It was invented in 1885 at a drugstore in Waco, Texas. As to the name: “Wade Morrison, the drug store owner, named it ‘Dr. Pepper’ after Dr. Charles Pepper, a Virginia doctor who was the father of a girl Morrison was once in love with.” Now, keep in mind this is from the official Dr Pepper corporate website. But if it’s to be believed, then Dr Pepper is almost certainly the only soda brand named after the father of an ex-lover, but we’ll have to double check if there was a jilted Henrietta Sunkist somewhere in the past to make certain.
Finally, I discovered one other unusual and interesting thing while rooting around on Dr Pepper’s website. There is something called the “Pepper Pack,” which you can join. The website cautions, “Only the most devoted, most passionate, most 23-flavor-loving Dr Pepper fans are encouraged to enter beyond this point.” Sadly, if you are brave enough to enter, you still can’t. The page notes that “applications will be open soon.” So what is this Pepper Pack? We’ll just have to see.
Truly, it remains a mysterious beverage.