Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Gluten potential in "Fake Coffee"

I was just perusing the Internet today reading some of the latest science news floating around. I came across this article entitled "Fingerprinting Fake Coffee" that got my attention at first because of the strange headline, but furthermore, upon reading, for its rather concerning content.

In a nutshell, here's what's going on:

Basically since gourmet coffee prices are hitting astronomical levels, the temptation or incentive for producers to "cheat" rises - and, in this case cheating means cutting the pure coffee (which is a naturally gluten-free product) down with other things that could surely jeopardize the Celiac-safe nature of coffee. Because the producers are using potentially unsafe (i.e., perhaps gluten-containing) dilution ingredients to cheat consumers, the coffee may not be gluten-free after all. And, it's not like the producers are going to put anything on the ingredient list to indicate that they've jeopardized the purity of the coffee, since, after all, their entire strategy is based upon deception in hopes of increased profits.

The particular study cited above examined the widespread adulteration of Brazilian coffee, where tests showed one brand having 9% corn in it of all things! Sure, corn is gluten-free in it's pure form, and it was the most common cutting-agent detected, but the following quote is what concerned me:
"Gulab Jham and colleagues point out that such adulteration of Brazilian coffee is among the most serious problems affecting coffee quality -- with cereal grains, coffee twigs, and brown sugar sometimes mixed into the genuine article. Their research focuses on detecting corn, probably the most widely used adulterant."
That "cereal grains" statement really got my attention. Basically, because this entire "fake coffee" thing is about increasing profit by substituting other cheaper ingredients for coffee, it seems only likely that if wheat or other gluten-containing ingredients are cheaper than corn or coffee-twigs or what have you, that's what the perpetrators will use next, and there goes the safety of one of my favorite beverages! (and, some people are surely allergic to corn out there that expect coffee to be corn-allergy safe as well)

It's bad enough that greed drives people to dilute products and mislead consumers, but it's a whole other story when such scams could seriously impact the health and safety of unsuspecting buyers and coffee drinkers. This is something neither I, nor anyone else with gluten-intolerance or other food allergies, wants to worry about. Worse, the article made me thing about how if this type of behavior could affect coffee, it also may exist with other food products, especially anywhere that there is more money to be made through diluting an otherwise pure product -- what's next?... perhaps cocoa or chocolate will be next, or tea, or....

Let's all hope this isn't a widespread practice in the food industry!

6 comments:

Andrew Porter said...

Its bizarre what corporations will do to products - for years large companies have dilutes the quality coffee with robusta, just look at what they put into packaged food!
Adding sugar to coffee beans in Spain and Italy has been going on for a long time -I always suspected that sugar costs less than coffee and as you buy by weight?

John James said...

Is there nothing sacred anymore- large corporations seem to have left common sense and decency 'at home'
Just look at what they have done to packaged foods!

Mike Eberhart said...

Andrew/John, the one thing I didn't see mentioned in the study was anything about "corporations". For all I know, it is the growers, wholesalers, marketers, or packagers/retailers doing this. I guess somewhere along the line there are likely to be corporations involved, but I'm not drawing any conclusions.

Mike Eberhart said...

I meant to say this in the primary post, but I'll do so here: it seems that the safest way to avoid any sort of potentially dangerous/glutenous fillers would be to purchase whole bean coffee and grind it yourself. At least this method would allow you to probably see any filler items that could contain gluten.

Anonymous said...

I strongly suspect that "deep roasted" coffee beans are not gluten free. This is based on the burnt taste they attempt to give the coffee beans with their “deep roasted flavour” advertising. I think they have overdone the burnt taste and made it cheaper to producr by coating the beans with a gluten product before toastng them. Personally, I donnot like this taste and it causes me almost instant diarrhea. Years ago the burnt taste did not happen but good roasted coffee tasted like browned beans, not burnt grain flour. I suspect this is a faster way to inject the “deep-roasted” taste into coffee.

BTW: This is the reason I have found this site as I am starting to research a reason for this reaction to “burnt” coffee. I don’t like the cigarettes extinguished in my food taste elsewhere either.

After the coffee industry used carbon tetrachloride to decaffienate coffee, for years, who can trust anything they say?

Mike Eberhart said...

Anonymous,
I have never heard any direct correlation between "deep roasted" and gluten, per se. I would sure like to think that roasting is a true *process* and not some flavoring(s) added for "deep roasted flavor". Typically such flavorings would have to be disclosed on an ingredients list, though IF they used some gluten-containing flavor, that may not be disclosed perhaps -- especially in foreign-sourced coffees which wouldn't be subject to our regs. I personally have not encountered any issue with what you mention, and I regularly consume lots of coffee, including a few "dark roast" varieties. Like anything, we each have to figure out what our body does and does not like... so, good luck finding alternatives you can enjoy.