Are there mycotoxins in coffee?

roasted coffee beans

by Matt Gibson

Mycotoxins are toxic compounds that are present on coffee and other dried goods that come from mold. Mycotoxins are present in lots of different foods, but are especially significant in dry goods, such as grains, nuts, cereals, and coffee. Mycotoxins are responsible for causing all kinds of health problems, including cardiomyopathy, brain damage, kidney disease, cancer, and hypertension. Coffee with high levels of mycotoxins can often taste bitter, causing drinkers to add flavoring agents to their coffee to offset the bitterness, such as sugars and creamers. 

Mycotoxins are mostly found in low quality coffee brands. Cheap coffees are available at cut rate prices because they are made with low quality beans. Many budget priced coffee brands make blends which are composed of different kinds of coffee beans, sometimes mixing beans that are grown in many different parts of the world. When companies are sourcing their coffee beans from a variety of different countries, there is a much greater chance that some of the beans they are using contain mold. When coffee is stored in damp conditions, especially in buildings with poor ventilation, it is much more susceptible to mold formation. 

Mass market coffee brands are typically not concerned with testing their coffee for mycotoxins and mold, nor do they try to use cleanliness in their marketing campaigns to try to target customers who might be concerned about the toxins present in their coffee. The companies that do test their coffee for mold levels often charge a premium cost for the peace of mind that your coffee beans are free of large amounts of mycotoxins. 

The most prominent mycotoxins found in coffee crops are aflatoxin B1 and ochratoxin A. Both of these toxic compounds are considered carcinogens that, when consumed in large quantities, can be hazardous to your health. These toxins are not uncommon in the environment, and can be found on many crops, especially on dry goods. Trace amounts of ochratoxin A can be found in the bloodstreams of just about everyone in the world, and in trace amounts, these toxins are not considered harmful. 

It’s natural to be concerned about dangerous compounds being present in the products you consume, and it is always best to do research about the products that you buy and take pride in the choices you make about what you put into your body, as you only have one body, and you should do your best to take care of it so that you can enjoy health and longevity during your limited journeys around the sun. 

When it comes to mycotoxins in coffee however, many studies have been conducted which have shown the presence of mycotoxins in coffee beans, both in green coffee beans, and after roasting, which is believed to remove between 65 – 96 percent of mycotoxins on coffee beans prior to packaging. And though the mere presence of these mycotoxins is alarming to learn, these same studies have also shown that the levels of mycotoxins found in coffee are well below safety standards and regulations.

Aside from coffee, many other foods contain traceable, but harmless amounts of mycotoxins. These include grains, peanut butter, dark chocolate, raisins, and alcoholic beverages like beer and wine. As long as you are not consuming mycotoxins in large amounts, they pose very little threat to your health. The safety regulations which are imposed by agencies like the EPA in the United States or the EMA in Europe, set the standards for allowable levels of mycotoxins in foods and beverages on the market. Products are tested regularly to ensure that companies are abiding by protocol, and when products are found to be above safety level recommendations, they are recalled and removed from shelves. 

It is also widely misreported that mycotoxins are responsible for coffee tasting bitter, which is simple misinformation and untrue. The bitterness of coffee is due to the tannins it contains. Some coffees are more bitter tasting, while others are more heavily acidic and less bitter. The presence of trace amounts of mycotoxins on the coffee beans have absolutely no influence on the bitterness, or the taste of the coffee once it’s brewed whatsoever.  

All that being said, the higher the quality of coffee you choose to invest in, the more likely you are to avoid the presence of mycotoxins. Coffees that are grown at higher elevations are less likely to contain mycotoxins if properly roasted and stored. Organic, small coffee farms that produce single origin coffees are more likely to be processed and stored in responsible ways, and are therefore less likely to contain high levels of mold and toxins. 

Though mycotoxin levels in most caffeinated coffees are typically well below dangerous amounts, decaffeinated coffees are another story altogether. Caffeine plays a very important role in protecting the coffee beans from mold formation, and once it is removed from the beans, they become much more susceptible to mycotoxin growth. One decaffeinated capsule coffee that was tested was shown to contain six times the allowable amount of mycotoxins. If you drink decaffeinated coffee, you should definitely look into purchasing decaf beans from reputable brands that regularly test their products for mycotoxins. 

Learn More About Mycotoxins and Coffee

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