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What's Really in Your Cup of Coffee?

Science & FoodBy Science & FoodSeptember 20, 2016 7:00 PM


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Guest post by Nessa Riazi


Photo credit: Discovered in Ethiopia around 850 AD [1], coffee has continued to excite the tastebuds of its many admirers. Sneaking its way into tiramisu, ice creams, and meat marinades, this brewed beverage contributes a complex array of flavors to modern-day gastronomy. What is the science behind coffee’s alluring aroma?We can look to the Maillard reaction for some answers. Also known as “the browning effect,” this reaction involves the carbonyl group of reducing sugars and the free amino acid groups of proteins [3]. The different smells and flavors of coffee depend on the kinds of amino acids present and the various combinations created with reducing sugars. Melanoidins are the resulting compound and give roasted coffee beans their signature chocolatey brown hue.


Photo Credit: Pat PalowskiRoasted coffee beans are composed of over 800 aromatic chemical compounds--as compared to around 250 found in their green form [3]--allowing them to take on many nuances in flavor, whether nutty, meaty, floral, buttery, spicy, coconut-y, earthy, and even honey-like [1]. Different compounds can contribute different aromas. For instance, aldehydes offer a fruity flavor, furans a caramel-like essence, and pyrazines an earthiness [2]. Ultimately, due to the terroir in which various coffee beans are grown, different roasting methods and durations, as well a several other factors, the multifaceted nature of coffee’s flavor results.In addition to the rich array of flavor compounds that coffee contains, coffee may also offer potential health benefits. It has been reported to reduce one’s risk for Type II diabetes, dementia, Alzheimers, and may even help to fight off free radicals with its high antioxidant levels [4]. Free radicals refer to any toxins from one’s environment or those that naturally occur in the body which can harm and damage cells [7]. Increased coffee consumption is also reported to result in a decreased risk for Parkinson’s disease, possibly due to coffee’s protection of the blood-brain-barrier [5]. However, due to its acidic properties, coffee can also promote ulcers.Looking to spice up your coffee? Next time try adding a bit of ground cardamon. Due to cardamon’s ability to counteract excess stomach acidity [6], this pairing may just turn your coffee-drinking world upside down.


Photo Credit: References Cited: [1] “Coffee Chemistry: Coffee Aroma” and “Coffee History.” Coffee Research. Accessed 23 August 2016.[2] Compound Interest.Accessed 23 August 2016.[3] Foodseum. “The Chemistry of Coffee.” The Red Fork: Official Blog of Chicago Foodseum. 29 December 2015. Accessed 23 August 2016.[4] “12 Health Benefits and 6 Disadvantages of Coffee.” Warrior Coffee. 10 June 2016.[5] Paddock, Catharine. “Drinking Coffee: More Good Than Harm?” Medical News Today. 9 July 2012. Accessed 23 August 2016.[6] McIntyre, Anne. “Cardamom: Elettaria Cardamomum.” Herbal Medicine Ayurveda. Accessed 15 September 2016.[7] Bushak, Lecia. “Health Benefits of Coffee: Caffeine Acts as an Antioxidant, Fights Free Radicals.” Medical Daily. 4 May 2015. Accessed 15 September 2016

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