The face and nutritional cross of coffee in capsules

In 2016, single-dose coffee was introduced into the CPI calculation, making official what was already evident: the capsule coffee maker is one more element in the kitchen. The sector continues to grow, reaching 37.3% of consumers and, although average expenditure on "conventional" coffee still exceeds single dose (55% and 45% of the market are distributed, respectively), the figures are approaching.

The battle of leading brands to maintain the uniqueness of their system against compatible capsules is understood, although several judgments have given the reason to non-original single-dose manufacturers, expanding the market.

Ease of use, variety of options and process cleanliness are essential pieces of its success, but the key is a positioning strategy through segmentation, targeting very different audiences, creating needs and covering the aspirations of all of them.

In variants such as "macchiatos" or "lattes" coffee is the least of which can carry cream, coconut fat or sugar (sometimes more than 30% of the content)

If we talk about macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats), the nutritional value of coffee is negligible. What is interesting is its bioactive compound content (caffeine included) for its physiological effects, and this is very variable depending on the variety of grain, roasting or method of preparation (among others).

In any case, when you analyze coffee from a nutritional point of view, you study exactly that, coffee. Not all the dressings that can go with you,

All coffee capsules contain only coffee. They identify well, because they are not required to display the list of ingredients, nor do they specify the nutritional value. However, the huge offer of single-dose also sneaks in insane products under the disguise of innocent coffee capsule,

If you can find a thousand options to make a cup of coffee, it is even more difficult to choose drinks that also carry other ingredients. The differences between them are not only in the organoleptic properties (the body, taste or aroma of coffee are distinguishing characteristics of coffees alone, but they remain in the background in composite drinks), but in their nutritional profile. We can find coffees cut or with milk that look a lot like the ones we would prepare at home. But in creative variants such as "macchiatos", "mochas", "cappuchinos" or "lattes", coffee is the least of it, and can carry cream, coconut fat or sugar (sometimes more than 30% of the capsule's content). Ingredients with which we would rarely prepare a coffee and that, in the comfort and anonymity (they are, but are not seen) of the capsules, we can incorporate daily into the diet without knowing. Again, the ingredients list will help us make a conscious choice,


Are we exposed to contaminants?

Fear is the engine of hoaxes and the reason that they spread so easily and persist in time. One of them linked the use of coffee capsules made from aluminum, to the risk of cancer. Somewhat complicated, because although IARC does consider aluminum production to be a carcinogenic activity for humans (because there is exposure to other compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and asbestos in the process), it leaves dietary aluminium out of this classification.

Neurotoxic effects are recognized, and that is why the European Food Safety Authority has established a tolerable weekly intake (TWI) of 1mg/kg body weight. The greatest exposure to aluminum occurs from the diet, but its biggest contributors are cereals, fruits and vegetables, beverages (other than water) and food additives, not food-related materials. Precisely because it is known that a part of the population could be exceeding The TWI, the regulation is particularly guaranteed and restrictive with the migration of aluminium from packaging, utensils and other materials, and reduces it to 10% of what it would consider acceptable under normal conditions. That includes the coffee capsules,

The cup of coffee in a capsule contained more caffeine than that made in an Italian coffee maker (two to three times higher)

The other side of the coin is found in two compounds that are carcinogenic and can appear in coffee. All over the coffee (not just in the capsule). They're the furan and the acrylamide,

Furan is a compound that appears in canned and canned foods, in addition to coffee, and is considered "possibly carcinogenic". It is very volatile, so the more contact with the air, the less furan; that's why the way food is prepared determines its final concentration. Thus, pout coffee has less quantity than filter or espresso. Capsule coffee also has high levels as it is virtually isolated from the atmosphere until consumption,

For its part, acrylamide is a "probably carcinogenic" compound that appears when heating over 120oC foods containing reducing sugars and amino acids. That is, in the frying, roasting and baking of many products, including coffee. With the added drawback that the roasting conditions of coffee directly affect its quality, and it is difficult to reduce the acrylamide content without its properties being adversely affected.

The French Food Safety Agency has assessed the exposure to chemical compounds from the consumption of coffee in capsules and, in addition to not finding contaminants such as phthalate or bisphenol A, determined that the level of cobalt, chromium, nickel, tin, copper, zinc and also acrylamide, was slightly higher but not significant in the capsules, compared to traditional coffee. It did determine that the capsule coffee cup contained more caffeine than that made in an Italian coffee maker (between two and three times higher), a value very similar to that obtained from coffee made with espresso.

Both acrylamide and furan are considered a concern for EFSA, but coffee is just one of the foods that expose us to these compounds (and the contribution of coffee in capsules is very variable).

The environmental damage

The most immediate problem with single-dose coffee is sustainability. The capsules contain organic matter (coffee remains) and are made up of various materials (aluminum and different types of plastic), which makes it difficult to recycle and limits it to the clean spots or initiatives of the brands themselves, which have programs for the collection and management of used capsules. This requires a consumer commitment to store and move waste to specific points, and it should also be considered that the environmental footprint is not only due to physical material, but also to its manufacturing, transport, reverse logistics and recycling process.

The most immediate problem with single-dose coffee is sustainability. They contain materials that make it difficult to recycle

To reduce its impact, initiatives ranging from the manufacture of compostable capsules are being launched, to legislative proposals that prohibit their use in public buildings (Hamburg was a pioneer in 2016) or restrict their sale (in Spain are adding Navarra, the Valencian Community or the Balearic Islands).

But if the factors in the success of this coffee consumption formula have been the strategy of large companies and the choice of consumers, it is these same elements that can direct the capsule coffee sector to a more sustainable model.

It would not be wrong if, when choosing a coffee, in addition to worrying about our own health and that of the planet we also did so for that of the people who live from their cultivation. To be annoyed at finding out whether with our daily gestures we are contributing to generating value in a society or if, on the contrary, we are perpetuating inequalities. Perhaps this should be a priority reason in our election,