Coffee shortages have increased the chance of having filler ingredients added to your cup of coffee.
These extra ingredients, though not harmful, increase profits for coffee producers, according to researchers.
Their report will be part of the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society, in San Francisco.
A test to detect counterfeit coffees is becoming more important in light of growing shortages in regions such as Brazil where droughts and plant diseases have cut coffee supplies.
“With a lower supply of coffee in the market, prices rise, and that favours fraud because of the economic gain,” says research team leader Suzana Lucy Nixdorf of State University of Londrina in Brazil.
In 2012, a study from the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens and the Environment stated that 70% of the world’s coffee supply might disappear by 2080 because of conditions caused by climate change.
But shortages due to more immediate issues already are occurring.
Brazil typically produces 55 million bags of coffee each year but, according to some reports, the projected amount for 2014 will likely only reach 45 million bags after an extensive drought in January.
That’s about 42 billion fewer cups of coffee this year.
Now, however, Nixdorf and her team at State University of Londrina in Brazil have developed a way to nip coffee counterfeiting in the bud.
“With our test, it is now possible to know with 95% 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,” she says.
The problem, she says, is that “after roasting and grinding the raw material, it becomes impossible to see any difference between grains of lower cost incorporated into the coffee, especially because of the dark colour and oily texture of coffee”.
The team is now analysing several fillers which are considered impurities rather than adulterants.
These impurities can even be parts of the coffee plants, introduced at harvest, that are not really supposed to be in the final product.
Wood, twigs, sticks, parchment, husks, whole coffee berries or even clumps of earth that are almost the same colour as coffee have been found.
Identifying them is essential because if there is a large amount of impurities, they were probably added purposefully and not by accident, as some producers claim, says Nixdorf.
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