TIME Diet/Nutrition

Your Coffee Might Have Wheat or Twigs Hidden in It

Man on desk holding cup of coffee, close up
Monica Rodriguez—Getty Images

Scientists are developing a way to identify counterfeit coffee

Do you think your morning cup of joe — before you put the cream and sugar in, anyway — is pure unadulterated ground beans? Think again.

Coffee shortages caused by climate change have increased the likelihood that the coffee grounds we use have “fillers” in them like wheat, soybean, brown sugar, barley, corn, seeds, and even stick and twigs — which, in addition to being misleading could also cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to the undeclared fillers. When ground up and mixed with coffee, it can be difficult to tell there are foreign objects.

A team of Brazilian researchers is developing a process to detect counterfeit coffee, since some estimates have shown that 70% of the global coffee supply could run out by 2080, with Brazil losing out big time. According to the researchers, Brazil usually produces about 55 million bags of coffee every year, but projections for 2014 put them at only 45 million.

To identify fillers in coffee that may be added on purpose, the researchers use liquid chromatography, which sensitively separates components within a mixture for identification. Since coffee is made up of carbohydrates, the researchers believe they could create what they refer to as a “characteristic fingerprint,” which would identify what’s coffee, leaving behind the fake stuff.

“With our test, it is now possible to know with 95 percent accuracy if coffee is pure or has been tampered with,” said study author Suzana Lucy Nixdorf of State University of Londrina, in Brazil, in a statement.

The research is still under development, but the team is presenting their findings at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

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