Today’s molecule – furan

I don’t need ANY bad news about my espresso coffee!

From FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology, via “Eurekalert

Here is their press release…

“Coffee in capsules contains more furan than the rest”

Coffee in capsules contains more furan than the rest, although the levels are still within safe health limits.

“Preparing a coffee in a drip coffee maker is not the same as making one in an espresso machine or from capsules, because these give rise to differing levels of furan”, Javier Santos, a professor at the Department of Analytical Chemistry at the University of Barcelona and lead author of the study, tells SINC.  Concern has risen over recent years about the presence of this compound in foods, because of its toxic and carcinogenic effects in animals, as well as the fact that the International Agency for Research on Cancer has listed it as a possible carcinogen in humans.

“The results, published online in the Journal Food Chemistry, reveal that higher concentrations are found in espresso (43‐146 nanograms/mililitre) than in coffee made in drip coffee makers, both in the case of normal coffee (20‐78 ng/ml) and decaffeinated coffee (14‐65 ng/ml).  The levels of these toxic products were “slightly lower” (12‐35 ng/ml) in instant coffee, but a great deal higher in those made from the capsules of a well-known brand, which showed up higher levels (117‐244 ng/ml).”

“The reason for these higher levels is due to the fact that hermetically-sealed capsules prevent furan, which is highly volatile, from being released, while the coffee makers used to brew this coffee use hot water at higher pressures, which leads to the compound being extracted into the drink”, says Javier Santos. The longer that coffee is exposed to the air in cups or jugs, meanwhile, the more the furan evaporates. ”

“Different values, but not dangerous: The researcher stresses that, in all these cases, the levels of the substances found are within the limits considered to be “safe” to health. In fact, the team has estimated the amount of furan ingested as a result of coffee consumption in Barcelona, obtaining values of 0.03‐0.38 micrograms/kilogram of body weight, which is less than the maximum acceptable level (2 μg/Kg of body weight). In order for furan ingestion to exceed the maximum acceptable values, a person would have to drink at least 20 cups of capsule coffee or 30 espressos per day (for the brands with the highest furan content), or 200 instant coffees. These estimates were made on the basis of 40 ml cups and an average body weight for coffee drinkers of around 70 Kg.”

“The study also shows that furan concentrations are lower if coffee is roasted at low temperatures over a longer time (140ºC for 20 minutes) than in coffee roasted under usual conditions (200‐220ºC for 10-15 mins).”

Furan, like acrylamide, is one of a group of carcinogenic substances that can form when foods and drinks are subject to heat treatment. They are the result of a reaction, known as the Maillard reaction, between carbohydrates, unsaturated fatty acids and ascorbic acids or its derivatives.”

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M.S. Altaki, F.J. Santos and M.T. Galceran. “Occurrence of furan in coffee from Spanish market: contribution of brewing and roasting”. Food Chemistry 126 (4) 1527, June 2011 (Available online December 2010). Doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2010.11.134.

One thought on “Today’s molecule – furan

  1. Interesting. Some facts that puts this information in perspective:

    Roasting
    - Espresso is roasted darker than other sorts of coffee.
    - European roasters (particularly in the North/Scandinavia) generally roast lighter than American. E.g. Starbucks French roast coffee is not far from “pure charcoal” with very little left of the original coffee flavour.
    - Coffee is preferably consumed between 1 and 4 weeks after roasting. Earlier than 1 week and it will usually have a noticeable smoky aroma. It’d be interesting to see how old the non-capsule coffee was (after roasting) that the researchers used, and also the time between roasting and packaging of the capsules
    - During roasting, coffee beans develop an internal CO2 pressure, resulting in a continuous flow of CO2 out of the beans over a period of a few weeks, protecting the coffee from developing (rancid) off flavours. Hence: one should buy a decent grinder as well as whole beans.

    Brewing
    - A capsule-based cup is the result of brewing on far less coffee compared to a proper espresso machine (about 1/3). If the amount of furan is in the cup, the ratio in the pure capsule vs non-capsule coffee is hence even higher

    So, the conclusion should perhaps be to buy a grinder and whole beans and stay with expensive speciality coffee from Scandinavia ;)

    Thanks for the tip, …again

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