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Food & Wine

What's the deal with green coffee?

Photo By: Sarah Manning/Special to the Town Crier
Photo Sarah Manning/Special To The Town Crier Ready for a break from the bold flavor of roasted beans? Green coffee may be for you.

If you visit Starbucks, browse the supplement aisle of Whole Foods Market or read popular health blogs, you may have noticed a new trend waltzing its way into view. Green coffee and its extract have arrived on the food scene, trailing behind them claims of natural energy and weight loss. So what’s the deal with this beneficial beverage, and should you be drinking it?

All coffee starts as raw, unroasted green seeds. Found in pairs at the center of red, cherrylike fruits, their flavor and quality improve as the fruit ripens. Once farmers harvest the ripe coffee berries, processing happens in one of two ways. Water processing to remove the seeds is quicker but wastes water through contamination. Drying the fruit takes a bit longer but has less impact on the environment. Seeds removed from the fruit using one of these methods are then dried. The result is green coffee.

The raw beans (actually seeds), now a pale-green color, have very little taste. Most coffees you see on the shelf or buy in cafes have been roasted to varying degrees to bring out the bold flavors and dark colors. Some traditional Arabic coffees include green coffee beans to temper acidity. But the coffee you and I are probably used to has been toasted to aromatic perfection.

Recently, Starbucks introduced a “Refreshers” beverage with “natural energy from green coffee extract.” Prompting customers to rethink how they re-energize, the website says processors pull natural caffeine and “other good stuff” from the beans to make an extract. This concentrated green coffee elixir mixes with fruit juices to create drinks. I’m left wondering, what’s the other good stuff?

According to greencoffee.org, the good stuff is antioxidants and health-promoting properties. In a 2011 study by Joe Vinson, chemist at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, green coffee extract promoted weight loss and lowered blood pressure in 16 participants over 22 weeks. Vinson advises taking multiple capsules of green coffee extract daily (while maintaining a healthful diet and exercise) to mimic the results.

TV’s Dr. Oz also claims green coffee extract can aid weight loss. He and Vinson suspect that a chemical called chlorogenic acid speeds metabolism. Chlorogenic acid is found in high quantities only in green coffee beans – roasting removes most of it.

But don’t run out and buy yourself a bottle of green coffee extract just yet. A health reporter for ABC News recommended erring on the side of caution when interpreting Vinson’s study.

It’s important to note that the study was only conducted once, so results have not been repeated. And although participants did not experience side effects during the 22 weeks of experimentation, longer-term implications of green coffee supplementation remain unknown.

Plus, green coffee is still coffee. According to the Starbucks website, a Venti-sized drink with green coffee extract contains 60-85 mg of caffeine. Compared to a shot of espresso with 40-75 mg of caffeine and a cup of regular brewed coffee at approximately 100 mg, green coffee can still stir up your morning buzz. If you’re sensitive to the effects of caffeine, use caution when experimenting with green coffee extract.

Los Altos resident Sarah Manning blogs weekly about her culinary adventures. To read her food blog, visit www.thechocolatefigSF.com.

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