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How The Food Industry Will Be Making You Eat Those Used Coffee Grounds

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Used coffee grounds can be used in food rather than compost.

A new study reports that agricultural waste such as your used coffee grounds just might find its way into your chocolate.


Food Waste Research

According to a news release from the American Chemical Society (ACS) Fall 2020 Virtual Meeting & Expo, scientists involved in food processing waste stream research, report that milk chocolate can be made healthier and even tastier by adding food waste such as peanut skins and coffee grounds.

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While dark chocolate is well known for being relatively a healthier choice than milk chocolate due to its high levels of phenolic compounds that gives dark chocolate its antioxidant properties, researchers have found that they can use the waste from several food sources to bump up milk chocolate’s relatively low antioxidant state.

One source in particular are those little red papery skins that are removed from roasted peanuts during food processing to make peanut butter, candy and other products. As it turns out, those skins are actually nutrient rich containing up to 15% phenolic compounds by weight—"They're a potential goldmine of antioxidant bioactivity” sources state in the news release.

"The idea for this project began with testing different types of agricultural waste for bioactivity, particularly peanut skins," says Lisa Dean, Ph.D., the project's principal investigator. "Our initial goal was to extract phenolics from the skins and find a way to mix them with food."

In their research, scientists obtained peanut skins destined for waste from peanut companies and ground the skins into a fine power, which was then treated with an organic solvent to extract the desired phenolic compounds. Similar procedures were also performed on coffee grounds and tea leaves obtained from coffee and tea producers to also extract their antioxidant compounds.

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However, phenolic compounds by themselves are bitter and is part of the reason why dark chocolate is so much more bitter than its fat and sugar-loaded cousin.

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"Phenolics are very bitter, so we had to find some way to mitigate that sensation," Dean says.

To mitigate the bitterness, the phenolic extracts were combined with maltodextrin, a common food additive that you will see on the labels of instant and bottled or canned coffee products and beverages. The maltodextrin makes it easier to hide the bitter phenolics when incorporated into a final milk chocolate-based food product.

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Taste Test Results

During taste tests with their phenolic-supplemented milk chocolate, the researchers determined that as long as levels of added antioxidants were just under one percent, that a panel of sensory trained taste testers approved of the incorporation of the added phenolics. Furthermore, over half of the taste testers preferred the added phenolic compounds at a concentration of 0.8% over control samples of milk chocolate that did not have any of the additives. The bonus to this finding is that the phenolic-added milk chocolate actually has more anti-oxidant activity than most dark chocolates.

The only caveat to consuming milk chocolate supplemented with phenolics from peanut skins is the possibility of consumers with peanut allergies reacting unfavorably to the chocolate. Thus far, the phenolic powder made from the skins of peanuts has not tested positive for the presence of allergens, but scientists believe that the chocolate should still be labeled as containing peanuts to alert consumers to the possibility.

The news release states that the research is ongoing and will be further exploring the use of peanut skins, coffee grounds and other waste products for integrating into other foods.

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Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between coffee and healthy living. For continual updates about the benefits of coffee on your health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay

Reference:More healthful milk chocolate by adding peanut, coffee wasteAmerican Chemical Society news release 17 August 2020.