What You Must Know About Coffee Mold And Mycotoxins
Mold has received a lot of mostly negative attention lately. You may have read about the health dangers of mold growing in homes that have been blamed for serious health problems. But perhaps more alarming for coffee lovers, you may also have heard about harmful mold growing on coffee beans and the dangerous mycotoxins they can produce that can affect your health.
One study, published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, showed that over half of commercially available coffees are contaminated by mycotoxins, with regular coffee consumption contributing to human exposure to these dangerous compounds. There are even rumors going around that when coffee in the European Union is found to have mycotoxin levels that are too high, that coffee is brought over to the U.S. and sold here, as the U.S does not regulate the levels of mycotoxins in coffee.
Where’s the truth in all this? As a coffee lover, you certainly don’t want to give up your favorite beverage but at the same time, you don’t want to stick your head in the sand and put your health in danger either.
Regular coffee consumption has been shown to have a whole host of positive health benefits, including reducing inflammation, boosting cognitive health, improving your exercise performance, fighting depression, reducing your chances of developing some types of cancer, as well as type 2 diabetes, plus a reduction in your chances of developing Alzheimer’s. Coffee is also full of health-promoting antioxidants and protects your DNA from damage. Studies show you need to drink three to four cups of coffee daily to see these protective effects.
The news about coffee’s health benefits is great, especially when you already enjoy drinking this delicious brew. But if you are drinking coffee multiple times a day on a regular basis, your exposure to these dangerous molds in coffee and the harmful mycotoxins they produce is going to add up.
As a socially responsible coffee company, we are deeply concerned about this issue, not only for our company and product but for our customers. So you can be sure we have done our homework. Let’s get a deeper look at this issue:
The Fungus Among Us
First of all, let’s look at molds in general. What exactly is mold anyway?
Molds are a type of fungus, and like most fungi, produce airborne spores to reproduce. These organisms have been around for millions of years and their spores are literally everywhere. In the natural world, molds are a vital part of the ecosystem, breaking down organic wastes and enabling the recycling of natural materials. Molds make possible life-saving antibiotics such as penicillin and are also responsible for the delicious flavors found in Roquefort, Gorgonzola, and other blue cheeses.
As much good as molds do in the world, they can also present some serious problems. Certain types of molds produce toxic compounds known as mycotoxins (myco = fungus + toxin = poison.) Mold can also show up in the food chain, growing on dried fruits, nuts, spices, cereal grains, and yes, coffee. Molds tend to favor crops that have prolonged storage times, such as grains, corn, and coffee beans, and which may have been stored improperly.
Bad News - Mycotoxins In Coffee
There are several studies that involved taking samples of commercially available coffees and testing them for mycotoxins. The results ranged from twenty-six to a full forty-five percent of those samples testing positive for the presence of mycotoxins. And we’ve already brought your attention to the study that showed over half of commercially available coffees are contaminated by mycotoxins.
There are many different types of mycotoxins but the major ones that show up in coffee as a result of mold growth are the mycotoxins known as aflatoxin B1 and ochratoxin A. Aflatoxin B1 is a proven carcinogen (meaning a substance that causes cancer) and is associated with an increased risk of liver cancer. Ochratoxin A has not been researched as much as aflatoxin B1 but is thought to be harmful to the brain, as it depletes dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is essential for brain cell communication. Ochratoxin A also damages the kidneys and is also a carcinogen. Either of these mycotoxins is certainly not something you want in your coffee!
There are some people who make the claim that the levels of mycotoxins in coffee are too low to really worry about. But we all know that individuals react differently to exposure to different compounds, depending on such factors as the dose, pre-existing conditions, the person’s genetic makeup, and a host of other variables. Plus, the research on mycotoxins is incomplete. We really don’t know what a “safe” level of exposure really is or just how much you have to be exposed to in order to experience negative effects. There is also the negative “cumulative” effect of continued, daily low-level exposure to these harmful mycotoxin compounds.
The Bottom Line And What You Can Do
The mycotoxins found in coffee are clearly not harmless, with negative effects ranging from worsening of asthma to cognitive problems to an increased risk of cancer. Why would you want to risk exposing yourself or your loved ones to these mycotoxins in any amount when they can be easily avoided?
Fortunately, there are some things that happen naturally when coffee is processed that can reduce the levels of mycotoxins, such as roasting the beans. One study showed that roasting coffee beans reduced the levels of the mycotoxin ochratoxin A by sixty-nine to ninety-six percent. But even roasting doesn’t guarantee to reduce mycotoxin levels to zero. Somewhat surprisingly, the highest levels of mycotoxins were found in decaffeinated beans. Turns out that caffeine, besides helping you wake up in the morning, inhibits the growth of molds.
You want to make sure to get your coffee from a company that sources its product from reputable growers who store their coffee beans properly in an area that protects the beans from high relative humidity and warm temperatures, which minimizes mold contamination. You also want to be assured the grower will promptly discard any crops that show signs of mold infestation.
But in spite of a meticulous growing and storage process, plus roasting, it still appears that harmful mold has the very real potential of making its way into most commercial coffees available and into your cup, regardless of whether the coffee is organically grown or not.
The only way you can be sure you are getting coffee that is free from these harmful compounds is to purchase your coffee from a company that tests for their presence. Remember that in the United States, there is no requirement for coffee companies to test for the presence of mycotoxins in their products so the majority of coffee companies do not routinely test for these compounds.
You’ve Got The Edge!
Here at Edge Coffee, we consider any detectable level of mycotoxins in our coffee beans to be unacceptable. We test our green, unroasted beans using an impartial, third-party professional lab and reject beans that show any detectable amount. This testing ensures us, and you, our customer, that mycotoxins will never show up in your coffee cup.
Our mission is to bring you a great tasting, flavorful, antioxidant-rich cup of coffee that is not only fair trade and organic but is completely free of dangerous mycotoxins that could potentially damage your health or the health of your loved ones. Nothing could be more important. So enjoy your coffee without fear, because you’ve got the Edge!
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