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Mycotoxins in Coffee What You Need to Know

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Despite having a bad reputation in the past, coffee is now touted as being healthy and packed with much-needed antioxidants. Some studies have even shown that coffee drinkers live longer and have a lower risk of serious diseases, so having a few cups of coffee a day is actually going to be beneficial to your health, not detrimental.

​However, recently there’s been a lot of buzz in the media about Mycotoxins in coffee, these potentially harmful chemicals can pose a higher risk of disease and are harmful to us, if we ingest enough of it. Some experts also say that a lot of the coffee on the market is contaminated with Mycotoxins and it’s a gamble if you can find and buy coffee beans without Mycotoxins present (wow scary stuff!).

When I first heard about the risk of Mycotoxins in coffee I was shocked. I love coffee as much as anyone else and the thought of potentially ingesting these harmful chemicals nearly made me reach for the tea bags (I said nearly). So I decided to take a closer look into coffee Mycotoxins to actually see if there’s any truth to the matter and if we should all be concerned about these poisonous toxins lingering in our coffee.

​What are Mycotoxins?

The term Mycotoxins sounds scary enough as it is and might even discourage you from buying coffee ever again. However, before you ditch the coffee, the truth is Mycotoxins in coffee are nowhere near as scary as you first might think.

​Mycotoxins are naturally occurring fungi or mold that can be found living and growing on almost all the crops grown around the world. There are roughly 300 Mycotoxins that are currently known, and they all have different modes of action as well as different chemical structures. Mycotoxins are most commonly found in areas where there’s high moisture content, warmer temperatures, and relatively high humidity, all of these factors make for the perfect breeding conditions for Mycotoxins to grow and thrive.

​Now it’s important to note that not all fungi and molds are detrimental to your health after all penicillin was discovered from mold and also not forgetting edible mushrooms that have some significant health benefits. However, when it comes to Mycotoxins in coffee, it should be noted that they are a different strain of mold and the dosage of this mold actually determines the level of toxicity in us, humans.

​With that being said, when we talk about Mycotoxins in coffee the heart of the debate is whether these toxins are fully removed from the coffee before it makes it into your morning brew. Let’s take a closer look.

Mycotoxins and Coffee

​In the very early stages of coffee production, the beans are green in color and are essentially in a raw state. At this early stage, mold can form as the coffee beans are being stored and transported to be roasted or even when the coffee is sat waiting to be processed into ground coffee.

​Two types of Mycotoxins can be found in coffee, Aflatoxin B1, and Ochratoxin A.

Aflatoxin B1

This Mycotoxin is a known carcinogen and studies have shown that in large doses it can have harmful effects.

Ochratoxin A

This is a Mycotoxin that’s commonly found in coffee as well as grains, fruits, spices, and even beer. This type of Mycotoxin can also be transmitted to eggs and meat via contaminated feed.

​All this might sound scary, but in most cases, you have nothing to worry about.

​All of the top coffee producers carefully regulate the Mycotoxin levels in their coffee. While not every country does this monitoring, well over 100 coffee producers do and include details in the exports of their coffee.

​Another factor that can help to remove Mycotoxins from coffee is the roasting process. The roasting process actually contributes to destroying a lot of the lingering molds and fungi present in the coffee beans; some studies have shown that during the roasting process as much as 90% can be removed.

​Finally, the caffeine in coffee also acts as a Mycotoxin inhibitor. We all know that a cup of coffee is loaded full of caffeine and let’s be honest that’s one of the reasons why we love the stuff. But caffeine does much more than just lift us from our slumber it also acts as a Mycotoxin inhibitor, the more caffeine present in your coffee means fewer Mycotoxins.

coffee beans on a purple platter

How Can You Reduce the Risk of Mycotoxins in Coffee?

So there is a chance that the coffee you are drinking may contain Mycotoxins (albeit a minimal amount) but how can you reduce your risk of getting Mycotoxins in your coffee or even eliminate these unwanted toxins completely?

​Below I have listed some simple, proven steps that will allow you to enjoy your cup of coffee without having it ruin your health.

​1. Don’t Drink Decaffeinated Coffee

​Simply don’t drink decaffeinated coffee (I don’t know why you would want to?). As I mentioned above the caffeine in coffee helps to prevent large amounts of Mycotoxins from growing. Simply put, the caffeine acts as a Mycotoxin inhibitor.

2. ​Processed Using the Wet Method

​Always try and drink coffee that’s been processed via the wet method. Mycotoxins are typically formed during the drying stage of coffee processing, and wet beans are much less likely to contain these molds and fungi over dry beans.

3. Growing Environment ​

​The environment where the coffee beans have been grown also plays a role in the number of Mycotoxins in coffee. Mold spores are far less likely to grow at higher elevations so buying coffee beans that have been grown and harvested in the mountains of Central America, for example, is a simple way to decrease the risk of Mycotoxins in your coffee.

4. Type of Coffee Beans​

​The type of coffee beans can also be a factor in coffee Mycotoxins. Even though Robusta varieties do contain more caffeine than Arabica (remember caffeine acts as a Mycotoxin inhibitor), they are also prone to containing more Mycotoxins. If you want to drink coffee without Mycotoxins, always opt for Arabica beans over Robusta beans, but again the risk is minimal, so if you enjoy your Robusta there is no need to ditch them (go on live dangerously).

5. Coffee Blends​

​Even though coffee blends may taste good, there isn’t an easy way to tell where the beans have originated from, and in some cases, coffee has been blended to mask the “bad tasting” beans that would have otherwise be thrown away. My tip would be to try to stick to single-estate products rather than these large major brand names of coffee.

To Summerize Coffee Mycotoxins

​Almost all of the coffee you can get your hands on will carry a low risk of Mycotoxins, and even if they do contain small trace amounts you would have to consume a heck of a lot for it to do any real damage.

​To be honest, there is more chance of ingesting higher doses of Mycotoxins in a handful of peanuts than in your cup of Joe. The presence of Mycotoxin in coffee is so low in today’s coffee society that most government agencies don’t even allocate resources to study it anymore, it’s simply not worth the time or effort; apparently.

​It’s also worth pointing out that Mycotoxins are not only ingested but also inhaled as well, so unless you live inside of an airtight bubble you’re probably being exposed to Mycotoxins on a daily basis in your environment as well as some of the other foods you eat.

​There are far more health benefits of drinking coffee which outweigh the minimal risk of consuming too many Mycotoxins that there’s really no reason why you should be worried.

​Go on, grab a cup of coffee! You only live once!

Mark Morphew

Mark is the Editor-in-Chief of the popular coffee blog - Bean Ground. He's been active in the catering and hospitality industry for over 20 years. When he's not fiddling around with a new coffee gadget, you'll find him busy working on his other passion, web development. You can discover more about Mark here.