Tongue? I don't want anything coming out of a cow's mouth. Of sugar and decaf

03 August 2013
Tongue? I don''t want anything coming out of a cow''s mouth. Of sugar and decaf
Here is an old joke: a fellow went into a restaurant and asked 'What's the special of the day?' The waiter replied, 'Beef Tongue.' The fellow said, 'Ugh! I don't want anything coming out of a cow's mouth.  Fry me up a couple of eggs!'

Yes, I know that you are probably thinking that I'm out of my mind, and that's reasonably true, but believe me: this is about decaffeinated coffee and wrong myths.

Myth: coffee is decaffeinated using toxic chemicals
Let's start saying that the word chemical is mistakenly used in a negative way(*). Water, for example, is a chemical substance, as are furfuryl mercaptan, vinyl guaiacol and 3 metossi 2 isobutylpyrazine. They sound ominous, do they? Well, they are only four of the more than 800 natural chemical substances contained in the coffee, and I dare even the more extreme treehugger to avoid the chemical substance H2O in his diet...

The traditional decaffeination method involve the use of ethyl acetate, an organic compound produced using ethanol (drinking alcohol) and acetic acid (the main component of vinegar). Doesn't sound so bad anymore, does it? By the way, if you drink wine (as you should...) you are drinking plenty of ethyl acetate, since it is one of the products of fermentation.

Since it seems that many has an interest in slandering this method of decaffeinating coffee, let's go further and see how the sugar that many put in their coffee is produced.

Raw sugar made from sugarcane is often bleached by sulphur dioxide to produce white crystals, a quite toxic gas, but it doesn't seem to attract all the attention that the traditionally decaffeinated coffee does. Rightly, I would say, because even if sulphur dioxide is a toxic chemical compound, there are no traces left in sugar and traces are contained in many other products that we normally eat without causing us any harm, like wine, dried fruit and many other where is indicated as E220 on the ingredients list.

Lime (calcium hydroxide) is also used in the production of sugar (but also in the preparation of alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, or to pickle food, just to make a few examples).

But why the traditional way to decaffeinate coffee is better than other processes that use steam? The problem is that any method to remove caffein from coffee use steam or hot water, thus removing part of the flavours that we'd rather have in our cuppa. The shorter the exposition to steam, hot water or heat, the better. In the traditional (or direct) method, the coffee beans are steamed, not soaked in water saturated with oils and other solids from the coffee bean, and the result is a coffee just slightly milder than the original one.

(*) Chemical free or chemical-free is a term used in marketing to imply that a product is safe, healthy or environmentally friendly because it only contains natural ingredients. The term is a misnomer, as nothing that physically exists is free of chemicals. The term "chemical" is roughly a synonym for matter, and common natural substances such as water and air are considered chemicals. (From Wikipedia)


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