Researcher Suzana Lucy Nixdorf is one of several scientists leading the effort to thwart coffee counterfeiters. She and a team of researchers at State University of Londrina in Brazil have developed a test that can indicate the presence of non-coffee fillers.
"With our test, it is now possible to know with 95 percent accuracy if coffee is pure or has been tampered with, either with corn, barley, wheat, soybeans, rice, beans, acai seed, brown sugar or starch syrup," Nixdorf said.
But Nixdorf says her test is only effective early in the coffee production process. "After roasting and grinding the raw material, it becomes impossible to see any difference between grains of lower cost incorporated into the coffee, especially because of the dark color and oily texture of coffee," she explained.
Traditional tests for ascertaining the purity and quality of coffee involves tasting and examining ground under a microscope, measurements Nixdorf and others say are objective.
The new test developed by Nixdorf and her colleagues are a form of liquid chromatography -- a series of lab techniques used to separate mixtures. Scientists are using the techniques to identify impurities like wood, twigs, sticks, parchment, husks, whole coffee berries or even clumps of earth. Testers can than use statistical models to more fairly determine whether the amount of impurities is likely to be back by accident or on purpose.
Nixdorf and her team are schedule to share and discuss their research tomorrow in San Francisco with attendees of the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.