Coffee

What’s the number one source of antioxidants in American’s diets? Blueberries? Strawberries? Oranges? No, no and no. It’s coffee. Researchers at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania found that no other food or beverage comes close to providing as many antioxidants in American’s diets as coffee as people drink a whole lot more coffee than they eat antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.

Origin & History

Before coffee reaches our cups, it is nothing more than the seed of a tropical shrub that will only bloom through sun, heat and rain, and plenty of care.

Who first thought of roasting the seeds of the coffee tree and why? We will without doubt never know. The early history of coffee in human culture is as obscure as the origin of most of the world's great foods. All that is known is based on references in written documents of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Middle East.

The discovery that the seeds of the coffee fruit tasted good when roasted was undoubtedly the key moment in coffee history. It marked the beginning of the transformation of coffee from an obscure medicinal herb known only in the horn of Africa and southern Arabia to the most popular beverage in the world, a beverage so widely drunk that today its trade generates more money than any other commodity except oil.

Coffee & the caffeine-argument

A skeptic might counter that it is caffeine, not flavour (or the roasting necessary to develop that flavour), that made coffee into one of the world's most important commodities. This argument is difficult to sustain, however. Tea, yerba mate, cocoa, coca and other less famous plants also contain substances that wake us up and make us feel good. Yet none has achieved quite the same universal success as coffee.

Furthermore, coffee - without caffeine - figures as an important flavouring in countless candies, cakes and confections. And people sensitive to caffeine happily choose to drink decaffeinated coffee in preference to other caffeine-free beverages.

What hooked people to coffee?

More likely it is both the aromatic characteristics of roasted coffee and its stimulant properties that hooked people to this beverage. One of the many intriguing characteristics of coffee is the complexity of its aromatic agents; at the moment about 700 - 850 substances have been identified as possible contributors to the flavour of roasted coffee. These figures do not include all of coffee's many additional non-flavour-influencing components. Over 2,000 substances have been identified in green Arabica coffee beans. These formidable numbers make coffee one of the most complex of commonly consumed foods and beverages.

Researches in Wales found that after drinking coffees, people had better moods and did better on tests as well. They concluded that a daily cup or two of coffee boost mood and alertness.

“A lot of new research suggests that coffee – in moderation – is fine,” says Molly Kimball, RD, a sports and lifestyle nutritionist at the Ochner Health System’s Elmwood Fitness Centre in New Orleans. “And the polyphenols – a type of antioxidant – in coffee are the same as those in fruit and wine.”

Sources:

  • Selene Yeager. The Doctors Book of Food Remedies. New York: Rodale Inc., 2007.
  • Anne Vantal. Book of Coffee. London: Hachette Illustrated UK, Octopus Publishing Group Ltd, 2004.
  • Kenneth Davids. Home Coffee Roasting: Romance & Revival. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2003.
 
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