Yes, there is such a thing as counterfeit coffee. Shysters will add cheap, low quality filler ingredients, like maize, soybeans, sugar, acai seeds and even mud, to the ground beans and try to pass it off as real coffee. Thankfully, scientists in Brazil have developed a test to detect counterfeit coffee.
This is actually a bigger problem than most would think it is. First of all, coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the entire world. There’s huge demand for it in the global economy, so scarcity of supplies and increasing prices encourage fraud. Secondly, there are very few ways to effectively detect counterfeit coffee. Although most of these raw ingredients look different, they’re tough to spot once everything’s been mixed, ground, and roasted.
“After roasting and grinding the raw material, it becomes impossible to see any difference between grains of lower cost incorporated into the coffee, especially because of the dark color and oily texture of coffee,” explains Suzana Nixdorf from the State University of Londrina.
Although the majority of these filler ingredients aren’t harmful, they still dilute the quality of the coffee and spoil the taste.
Nixdorf and her colleagues have developed a new, more accurate, quantitative way to measure the purity of coffee. Using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), the levels of different carbohydrates in a sample can be measured.
“We can now detect tampering with 95% accuracy,” says Nixdorf, adding that quality control agencies can use the same technique to determine whether tamperers have contaminated the product with other parts of the coffee plant. Although the coffee beans contain the same carbohydrates as the rest of the plant, which would logically make these latter parts harder to detect as filler, the proportions of each are different.
“The study certainly highlights a growing problem, and begins to address it,’ says Alan Crozier of the University of Glasgow. “It would be interesting to know what big producers of instant coffees do to check the quality of the beans they buy and how they check for adulteration.”