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Does Your Ground Coffee Have a Dirty Little Secret?


"Favors fraud."

Unless you're grinding your own beans, you might be getting more than coffee in your cup of pre-ground java.

Image source: American Chemical Society Image source: American Chemical Society

According to research that will be presented at the American Chemical Society's upcoming meeting, your coffee could be hiding fillers like rye, wheat and corn. But this group of scientists developed a test to detect these and other coffee fakers.

Why the fillers? According to the researchers, the fillers are often included in ground coffee to increase profits while using less of the tasty — yet more expensive — product.

"With a lower supply of coffee in the market, prices rise, and that favors fraud because of the economic gain," team lead Dr. Suzana Lucy Nixdorf from the State University of Londrina in Brazil said in a statement.

The researchers estimate that the amount of coffee produced this year in Brazil, for example, will be about 10 million bags less than usual due to an earlier drought. For coffee drinkers, that equates to a loss of 42 billion cups.

Purists might still want the convenience of a pre-ground roast though while also wishing to avoid fillers in their brew.

That's where Nixdorf's test comes into play and could be used at a higher level to gauge a roaster's quality before their bags hit consumer shelves.

Previous tests, which used microscope analysis or even went by taste, were considered biased. The test developed by Nixdorf's team, however, uses liquid chromatography and other statistical tools to allow for unbiased analysis. In chromatography, the compounds in coffee, which carry a "characteristic fingerprint," will show up at a specific part of a test paper, while other fillers would show up elsewhere, making them obvious.

"With our test, it is now possible to know with 95 percent accuracy if coffee is pure or has been tampered with, either with corn, barley, wheat, soybeans, rice, beans, acai seed, brown sugar or starch syrup," Nixdorf said.

Front page image via Shutterstock.

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