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Recycle coffee grounds.

One of the major problems of advanced nations is solid waste. Millions of tons are produced in the U.S. each year and production is rapidly increasing. Destruction by burning is banned because of air pollution. Disposal is generally restricted to landfills and recycling. Already many communities enforce individual separation of paper, metal and glass from other solid waste for resale and reuse. Will their attention next be focused on secondary waste streams such as coffee grounds?

In the aggregate, this represents no small amount. Some two and half billion pounds of coffee are annually imported into the U.S. At roughly 20% extraction in the typical coffee maker, this would leave approximately two billion pounds, equal to one million tons of waste grounds. The problem is diffused by being divided up into relatively small amounts in the various households, restaurants and other feeding institutions.

Household grounds are usually discarded with other refuse. Some people observe an old practice of dumping the grounds down the kitchen drain on the theory that their absorbent characteristics aid in cleaning by removing grease or other foreign material that may have accumulated inside the walls of drain pipes. Most sewage commissions frown on this practice. I knew a soluble producer who discharged his waste grounds in the sewer, arguing that "Every housewife does it". He didn't get away with it and reverted to the more customary practice of mixing them with fuel oil as boiler feed.

Chemical analysis of grounds from percolators and other coffee makers indicate they consist of approximately two-thirds fiber, both soluble and insoluble, one-sixth each vegetable oil and protein; and one to two percent minerals -- calcium, magnesium, iron and phosphorus. Like any agricultural product, there is variation in each component from season to season depending on soil, fertilization, climate, rainfall, etc.

Accordingly, I would like to present what many will consider an outrageous "modest" proposal for the recycling of coffee grounds, but which has scientific and nutritional merit: Utilize them for their food value.

Having been discarded as waste for well over three centuries --during periods of both famine and plenty, the first question raised is, "are they edible"? The green beans, because of their caffeine content have never been looked upon as part of our daily diet and would not be recommended for this reason. But decaffeinated green beans are just as edible as raw soy beans, lentils, chick peas or other seeds. That is to say as such they would be wholesome, but not palatable. When cooked in boiling water or toasted, they become a natural food. Thus, grounds from roasted coffee would be equally a natural food containing no chemicals and no additives. They might be better described as a food with the undesirables subtracted.

But emphasis should be put on its high content of desirable edible fiber. Both kinds-soluble and insoluble-are necessary for our health and well-being. Eating the high quality refined foods with unsightly bran and other fibers removed is now considered a cause for many of the serious ailments we suffer.

Adding back fiber, at considerable expense which is being accomplished with many of our cereal foods, is believed by many to improve our health greatly by retarding or preventing gastro-intestinal ailments, heart and circulatory problems, even diabetes, cancer and many other serious, even life-threatening diseases. In coffee grounds we have a valuable, no-cost health food which can be an asset to any civilized diet.

A major problem in convincing the public of the dietary value of exhausted grounds lies in the long tradition of discarding them as waste products. For over 300 years, people have been throwing them away as an unquestionable nuisance. Can this state of mind be overcome? I believe it can with proper education and the dual emotional appeal of environmental benefit and health food.

Questions as to the edibility from the effect of roasting on the beans will be raised. Will this high temperature treatment affect eating quality? On the contrary, thermal processing improves the attraction of most foodstuffs. Bread and carbohydrates must be baked and the portion exposed to the highest temperature, the crust, is often the most flavorful. Meat, fowl, peanuts and others are uniformly roasted before reaching the table.

During the prohibition era and among societies where alcoholic beverages are frowned upon, men, after indulging, often chew and swallow roasted coffee beans before coming home, making social calls or returning to work. This serves a dual purpose. It gives their breath a coffee aroma as if they had just had a cup of brew instead of a snort, and the caffeine from the bean helps keep them awake. This demonstrates that roasted coffee can be eaten with empumity by adults; and extracted grounds can even be eaten by children.

Accepting the fact that coffee grounds are edible nutritious and desirable dietary components due to their high fiber content, there remains the problem of making them palatable. We must face the fact: Directly out of the coffee maker, the wet grounds may have attractive coffee flavor, but they also exhibit an objectionable, earthy, fibrous mouth feel, which would make even the most fervent environmentalist and health food advocates reject it. But with some ingenuity, it can be made palatable and possibly even attractive in flavor.

To eliminate its harsh mouth-feel, it should be reduced to a fine powder. It may be incorporated in any food product where its fibrous nature will not be conspicuous or affect the basic texture of the product. It should be borne in mind that its moisture will retain some coffee flavor which may enhance the effect of the final product.

Once reduced to a fine powder, it may be incorporated in any baked, cooked or roasted product where its residual coffee flavor will blend with whatever flavor is desired. Alone, it can be deemed to import a mocha effect and would be a natural for any chocolate delicacy.

In an experiment, actually incorporating wet grounds into an oatmeal raisin cookie recipe without further change, it produced a good, brown acceptable but not gourmet biscuit. Served without mention of ingredients, recipients usually took seconds and thirds. When informed of the new component, they became more critical. Ingenious housewives and food technologists, I'm sure, could make even a better product.

In general, most recipes would have to be modified, to take into account the added moisture from the grounds as well as the added solids. Other products that might serve as vehicles for this type of dietary fiber include breads, cereals, crakers, cakes, puddings, candies, etc.

One precaution must be noted. The wet grounds should be used fairly fresh; else they must be dried or frozen for storage. If they are stored wet for several days-even refrigerated-they are likely to become moldy and thus unsuitable for food use. Grounds from factories producing soluble coffee are different in dietary properties from the coffee maker type, as the soluble fiber has been hydrolyzed and removed by the higher temperature or extraction. They have a larger percentage of insoluble fiber, and would necessitate different treatment.

Coffee grounds are one of the richest sources known of dietary fiber, and it is a shame to trash them. Where whole grain cereal contain 15-20% fiber, grounds deliver as much as 60-70% of equally valuable fiber. Besides, any reduction in solid waste is a boom to our communities burdened with high disposal costs.

Perhaps some day we may even see coffee advertisements proclaiming: "Our brand is so good, even the grounds are edible".
COPYRIGHT 1992 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:use as high fiber dietary supplement
Author:Lee, Samuel
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Previous Article:What's happening in flavored coffees (roaster, retailer, iced profile).
Next Article:Poland: nation struggles to privatize in a difficult economy.

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