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Do You Know Nutrition: Which decaffeinated coffee is better?

By By Phylis Canion
Jan. 29, 2013 at midnight
Updated Jan. 28, 2013 at 7:29 p.m.


I am a decaffeinated coffee drinker and have switched to naturally decaf since reading your column. I have read that naturally decaf is coffee that is decaffeinated through a water carbon filter and coffee that simply states decaffeinated has caffeine removed through a chemical process but wondered if you knew how this process came about? Is this a new process?

Here is a bit of coffee history. Dr. Ludwig Roselius, head of a large European coffee business, had for years searched for a way to remove caffeine from coffee without compromising the taste or aroma. Then, in 1903, a shipload of coffee consigned to him was deluged with seawater during a horrific storm in passage. Since the coffee was unfit for commercial sale, Roselius turned it over to his researchers for experimentation purposes.

One important discovery emerged: sea-washed coffee beans reacted differently from the normal coffee beans previously tested. This suggested a new approach to the problem of taking caffeine out of the coffee, and a new series of experiments began, from which emerged the forerunner of the process in use today where water removes 99 percent of the caffeine without injuring the delicate taste of aroma of coffee.

Roselius named the new product Sanka, a contraction of the French phrase sans caffeine (without caffeine). Unlike the water process, the traditional process involves using chemicals. It softens the beans by steam first then washes them for about 10 hours with either methylene chloride or ethyl acetate solution to absorb the caffeine from the bean.

The solution is then discarded, the beans are resteamed to remove any remaining solvent (methylene chloride boils away at 114 degrees, ethyl acetate at 104 degrees), then the beans are dried to their original moisture content. The dangers of chemical use in the decaffeination process is that methylene chloride is considered a superior solvent since it can evaporate at lower temperatures and leaves no trace in the beans.

Ethyl acetate can be extracted from various fruits and vegetables and is therefore considered a naturally found chemical, although most ethyl acetate used in the decaffeinating process is synthetically produced.

And for a bit of useless information, did you know coffee is the world's second most traded commodity (petroleum is No. 1)?

Coffee trees can only be grown where there is not a winter frost.

Coffee is grown in more than 53 countries worldwide, and coffee has no calories. Lastly, the lighter the coffee bean, the higher the caffeine content.

Thought for the week: Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, email her at doc.phyl@yahoo.com. This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.

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