Diminishing production in key growing regions like Brazil is causing some producers to use fillers like corn, soy, wood, twigs and even chunks of earth, according to researchers at the State University of Londrina in Brazil.
The research team, led by Suzana Lucy Nixdorf, is presenting a report on the use of fillers as well as a new test to determine their presence in coffee products at the American Chemical Society this week. Nixdorf says the team is pioneering research on a liquid chromatography and statistical tools process that can separate coffee compounds from fillers and other ingredients that may be adulterating ground products marked as 100% coffee. Identifying fillers and other impurities has traditionally been a subjective process run by professional coffee tasters that does not allow for accurate results, she says.
“These extra ingredients, though not harmful, make ground coffee go farther and increase profits for producers,” the research team suggested in an announcement yesterday. Added Nixdorf, “With a lower supply of coffee in the market, prices rise, and that favors fraud because of the economic gain.”
The initial report does not suggest at what point in the supply chain fillers are allegedly being used, nor does it mention any specific companies, but only refers to the alleged culprits as “producers.”
The researchers have compiled a long list of filling agents that have already been discovered in lab tests, including: Corn, barley, wheat, soybeans, rice, beans, acai seed, brown sugar or starch syrup. Many of these ingredients defy claims from producers noted by the researchers that the fillers may be the unintentional or unavoidable results of coffee production, the researchers say. Other fillers with a similar color composition to coffee found were: Wood, twigs, sticks, parchment, husks, whole coffee berries and clumps of earth.
“Because much of the coffee is composed of carbohydrates, researchers could develop a ‘characteristic fingerprint’ when using chromatography that separates out the real coffee compounds,” says Nixdorf. “The added, unwanted grain fillers generate different levels of sugars than the natural ingredients, so they are easy to identify.”