Thanks to a biophysicist, caffeinated muffins could be coming soon to a coffee shop near you — and they'll also be loaded with antioxidants. Professor Daniel Perlman of Boston-area Brandeis University has invented a coffee flour milled from par-baked green coffee beans that can be used in baked goods; a patent for the process was approved in December.
As the Boston Globe notes, a number of studies have been done in recent years focusing on the health benefits of coffee, but while many researchers agree that a few cups a day is good for you, they have yet to pinpoint what exactly is responsible for coffee's beneficial effects — though they suspect it may have something to do with "chlorogenic acid (CGA), an antioxidant that appears to modulate how rapidly the body breaks down glucose."
Just four grams of this flour will provide the same caffeine boost as a cup of coffee.
Perlman's newly patented process involves par-baking green coffee beans at a relatively lower temperature for a short period of time, which retains the CGA that's typically lost in the regular coffee roasting process. The resulting light-colored beans are no good for brewing and drinking, so instead, he turned them into a finely milled flour that has up to four times as much CGA as regular roasted coffee beans.
Antioxidants are great and all, but for caffeine fiends, the prospect of caffeinated baked goods is perhaps the more exciting part. Perlman, who's also responsible for helping to develop a number of other food products including the popular Smart Balance butter substitute and omega-3 enriched peanut butter, tells Eater he's been experimenting with baking with his new coffee flour, which is pretty potent stuff: "This flour contains 2.5 percent caffeine by weight, so if you were to put 4 grams of this into, say, a breakfast muffin, it would be the equivalent of drinking a cup of coffee."
And according to Perlman, consuming foods made with the coffee flour would be quite different from drinking, say, a caffeine-loaded energy bar or an energy drink like Monster: "Unlike some bars that are loaded with chemically purified or synthesized caffeine, this is natural food source caffeine," he points out. "I would expect it to be absorbed a little more gradually than the caffeine in a cup of coffee, so [it would offer] a more sustained release and longer-term stimulation than you get when you drink a cup or two of coffee."
"I have been baking with it as an ingredient, we've actually [given samples to] a number of companies who've used it in tests of bakery products, so it's a very user-friendly ingredient," he explains. "It's a fine flour which mixes with regular flours of any type you might choose – whether it's wheat flour, rice flour, whatever — so you can use this as an enhancing ingredient. I don't see this as being a direct one-to one replacement for regular flour since coffee beans are relatively expensive compared to wheat flour, so it's more of an enhancing nutritional ingredient to provide the antioxidants a well as the natural caffeine boost."
Perlman isn't the first to dream up flour made from coffee. A product called CoffeeFlour launched last year, and while it may sound similar to Perlman's creation, inventor Dan Belliveau says it's actually quite different: Rather than being made from green coffee beans, it's made from the coffee cherry fruit — a byproduct of the coffee bean harvest that's usually discarded — and is darker in color, with a deeper, earthy flavor more reminiscent of regular coffee. Perlman notes that this part of the coffee plant isn't generally recognized as safe under U.S. food safety regulations, saying, "In spite of publicity, it may be difficult to convince people that it's a good idea to eat vegetable materials that have not been routinely consumed by humans over many decades." But Belliveau says his product comes along with lots of other benefits: "Our utilization of the wasted coffee fruit provides many additional benefits like additional revenue to the farmers for a waste product, protecting the rivers from waste runoff, adding jobs in developing origin countries, and creating a nutritional ingredient for origin country food supply."
Developing antioxidant-loaded coffee products seems to be all the rage right now: Last month, coffee beans said to have many of the same health benefits as red wine hit the market. Called CoffVee, the inventor uses a proprietary process to infuse the beans with resveratrol, a polyphenol found in grape skins that's been linked to the prevention of cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.