Coffee has earned its position as a healthy, delicious drink. Yet, there has been a disturbing number of claims about mycotoxins in coffee. Is it time to check if you’re using mold-free coffee?
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Mycotoxins and mold in food products can result in nothing good. But then again, being needlessly alarmist isn’t going to help things either. So there’s a need to take a deeper look at the claims and see what the facts are.
Mycotoxins In Coffee – What Are They?
Mycotoxins are byproducts of fungi growing on the coffee. Mold/fungi growing on products isn’t a new problem. This problem affects several agricultural products, coffee is one of them. Improper storage of crops like grains and coffee makes them susceptible to the growth of mold and by extension, mycotoxins.
Ingesting mycotoxins can have adverse effects on health. They are, by definition, toxic and carry severe health risks. Amongst the various chemicals that form mycotoxins, two are worth special mention in reference to coffee.
- Aflatoxin B1: This is a known carcinogen and has several other harmful effects.
- Ochratoxin A: It’s not as well studied as Aflatoxin B1, but is thought of as a weak carcinogen with potential for several health issues.
Either of these toxins can make their way from the coffee beans to your brew. And they seem to be remarkably persistent throughout the process until they’re ingested.
Are There Mycotoxins In Coffee I Drink?
There is a good chance that the answer to that question is yes. Various researches have found that a very large percentage of available coffee beans contain mycotoxins. With almost 45% of commercially available coffee being at risk of mycotoxins, there can be cause for alarm.
However, it’s worth keeping in mind that this percentage merely reflects a true/false approach to the presence of mycotoxins in coffee. Commercially available coffees have a very low amount of mycotoxins if any at all.
Most countries have specific food safety laws that govern the presence and permissible levels of mycotoxins in coffee. Usually, the presence of mycotoxins (if any) is way lower than what laws would consider permissible.
By that metric, whatever coffee you drink is likely to be safe. It should be noted that different countries have varying tolerance to the presence of this chemical in coffee. Additionally, the general effectiveness of the governing authority might also come into play.
Another factor worth noting is that the liver does a pretty good job at metabolizing mycotoxins. Unless you’re somehow getting overly high doses of mycotoxins, you’re unlikely to be at risk.
That said, toxins are toxins! And even if there is no express danger, we would like our coffee brand to be free of mycotoxins, rather than have a “permissible amount”.
How Does Mold Affect Coffee, And What’s The Way Out
Coffee Processing For Mold Free Coffee
Coffee, as we know, thrives in warm and humid tropical regions. Well, that’s also the kind of environment molds love! To be fair, molds can be incredibly resilient and find room to grow in all kinds of environments. Warm tropical areas could be a favorite, but the temperate regions aren’t all that safe either. Remember, mycotoxins are also a big problem for grains.
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Back to coffee, seeing how mycotoxins are a big problem, farmers take several steps to ensure better protection. One of these is the wet processing of coffee, which removes all molds and mycotoxins from the beans.
Beans must be thoroughly dried before being packaged. Leaving moisture in the green beans might as well be akin to sending an engraved invitation to fungi for setting up shop.
As the beans arrive at the roaster, they’re carefully stored in dry and suitable environments. This too helps with reducing the risk.
Assuming that all the steps have been carefully executed, the risk of molds in coffee beans becomes dramatically low. But all this assumes perfect execution of various steps involved, including processing, drying, packaging, transport, and storage.
With so many moving wheels, there is always a risk of a misstep in one of the steps. Perhaps the beans weren’t completely dry. Or maybe the transport failed to keep them in an area away from humidity. Whatever the case, a small mistake can get mold and mycotoxins growing on the coffee beans.
Will Roasting And Brewing Coffee Beans Get Rid Of Mycotoxins?
Roasting involves subjecting coffee beans to a high temperature for reasonably long periods of time. In a broader sense, the temperature varies from 370 degrees F for a light roast to 540 degrees F for darker roasts.
Surely, this is enough to get rid of the problems?
Roasting does get rid of all the mold on the coffee. Molds don’t survive the temperature and duration of the roasting and will die off.
Mycotoxins, on the other hand, are a different problem. The bigger problem is, there doesn’t seem to be a research consensus on how roasts affect the presence of mycotoxins like Aflatoxin B1.
Some research, like this one, suggests that roasting beans makes a negligible difference to the amount of mycotoxins in coffee beans.
Another, more extensive research, suggests that roasting reduces the presence of mycotoxins by 69-96%.
I call this one more extensive because it actually follows the full procedure of roasting coffee beans. The previous one (with the claimed low effect of roasting) considers a medium roast temperature of 482F, but only for 150 seconds. That’s not nearly enough to fully roast the coffee beans. Either way, both researches are included here for perusal.
It is, however evident, that darker roasts and higher temperatures do a much better job at removing mycotoxins as compared to lighter roasts.
Brewing coffee doesn’t seem to have much effect on the presence of mycotoxins like aflatoxin B1. The amount of toxins in your beans will likely make its way to your coffee, irrespective of the brewing method used.
Mycotoxins And Your Choice Of Coffee
We’ve talked about the roasts earlier, but there are other factors at play when deciding the presence and amount of mycotoxins in your brew. Here’s a quick list to consider.
- Light roasts are likely to have a higher amount of mycotoxins than dark roasts.
- Instant coffee tends to have more mycotoxins than conventional coffee.
- Decaf coffee is more susceptible to mycotoxins and mold as compared to conventional caffeinated coffee.
Decaf likely has a higher risk of mycotoxins because of the lack of caffeine. Conventional coffee is protected by the presence of caffeine, which discourages the growth of mold and mycotoxins. However, since there’s no caffeine to play the same role for decaf, it is at a higher risk for mold.
Second, it’s important to not be alarmist. While the presence of mycotoxins is a truth, it’s also true that the presence is tiny. This amount is unlikely to have an adverse effect on your health.
Moreover, if you’re in a country with a competent authority (the FDA is pretty good at its job), there’s a good chance the said authority is monitoring the safety levels of mycotoxins in commercially available coffee.
As a final step, it is important how you store the coffee you buy. Coffee beans must be stored in a cool, dark place away from heat and moisture. Specialized coffee canisters are available to provide better storage of coffee.
Specialized coffee canisters store the precious beans (or grounds) in an airtight and safe environment. This prevents the beans from coming in contact with humidity, and in case of opaque containers, light too. However, it’s still better for the consumer to exercise safety and good practices for coffee storage.
Are There Coffee Brands Without The Risk Of Mycotoxins?
Sure, they say commercially available coffee is low mold coffee or the amount of mycotoxins is negligible. But what if I don’t want any mycotoxins in my coffee?
Thankfully, there are coffee brands that fulfill that requirement. The goal for these brands isn’t to stay within the legally permissible amount of mycotoxins. Instead, they strive to have no mycotoxins in their coffee – none at all.
For people who are worried about mycotoxins, these brands might prove to be a useful solution. Even if we go on claiming that mycotoxins aren’t a health risk, it is certainly unsettling that the harmful chemicals are present virtually everywhere. Heck, they’ve even been detected in breast milk.
It’s also worth remembering that these toxins aren’t limited to coffee. Other food items are also a risk factor, including grains, beer, dark chocolate, peanut butter, and several others. So perhaps it is a good idea to push for more food brands to take a mycotoxin-free approach, rather than calculating permissible levels.
Getting My Mold-Free Coffee
Mycotoxins are a problem, and they seem to be pervasive across the food items we eat. Coffee is just one of the products affected by this problem. Thankfully, authorities take note and run constant checks to make sure that food products, including coffee, don’t have mycotoxin levels that are harmful to humans.
To put it simply, you don’t quite need to worry about the mycotoxin content of your brew. However, many of us would like for our coffee to be mold-free and without mycotoxins, rather than being within permissible levels. Brands and companies offering mycotoxin-free coffee are worth noticing and encouraging.