"Fortified" coffee: flim-flam alert

by JulieCraves on November 25, 2007

Spava Coffee [which went out of business after this post was published] is organic coffee “fortified” with natural ingredients to “enhance wellness.”  There are currently five varieties, such as “Calm” and “Clarity.” It’s amazing to me the number of news sites and blogs (with the exception of TheShot) that have reported on this, regurgitating press releases and not critically assessing this product. Let’s take a look.

The supplemental ingredients are added to coffee by first being powdered and added to directly to ground coffee, or dissolved in water or propylene glycol and then sprayed on whole beans, according to the patent application.

The nutrition information on the packages indicates that the quantity of the supplements in the coffee are very small, a practice known as “angel dusting.” The labels specify these amounts are as packaged. In other words, before the coffee is prepared. Even if you received the full 20 mg of ginkgo per serving in the “Clarity” coffee, for example, this is far below the dose of greater than 120 mg (used daily for extended periods) that two studies suggested may be effective (although not for mental clarity in healthy adults).

“Fortifying” coffee in this way also assumes that the ingredients are delivered in the form that preserves the potency and properties of the biologically-active compounds (which may not be ground-up powder), that chemical properties of the ingredients remain stable through the coffee brewing process, and that these compounds are not altered by the potent chemical properties of coffee and caffeine itself.

Finally, you have to believe that these supplements actually “enhance wellness.” The health benefits of most of them have little peer-reviewed science behind them. Vitamin B6 has not been proven to help depression as suggested by Spava for their “Calm” coffee, and the 150 micrograms per serving is 9 times less than the 1.3 milligrams or more recommended dietary allowance. Echinacea, an ingredient in the “Immunity” coffee, is unproven in helping bolster the immune system. The other ingredient, Siberian ginseng, is derived from the plant Eleutherococcus senticosus, which is a cheap alternative to Panax ginsengs. It contains none of the active compounds in Panax species that have been scientifically studied.

And so on. Spava Coffee is a feel-good product not from a literal perspective, but a psychological perspective.

Perhaps this is a benign, clever marketing tool, although Spava’s parent company Voyava Republic has received criticism for its plan to improve the nutrition of Mexican children by giving them fortified coffee. The company and the local coffee co-operative, La Selva, believe they can deliver adequate doses of folic acid and iron via coffee, which they say the kids drink anyway. As discussed above, this is dubious to me. If the company wants to help, why not just do the obvious and provide standardized, accepted nutritional supplements? Presumably because under the current deal, Voyava profited by selling La Selva its technology and equipment, and La Selva got a deal where 10% of Voyava’s fortified coffee must be from Chiapas. I also have to wonder if Mexican children typically suffer from folic acid deficiency, given that some of the best sources of folic acid are common foods in tropical regions:  beans, eggs, and citrus fruits in particular.

Update: In a recent announcement, Spava revealed the amount of folic acid in their coffee will be 80 micrograms. This is a third of the RDA, and 20 micrograms less than the amount used in fortified flour. Even the amount in flour has been criticized as being far too little to help prevent birth defects, the reason for flour supplementation. Read more in this New York Times piece.

Overall, the concept of fortified coffee just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Revised on November 28, 2020

Posted in Coffee news and miscellany

marye December 2, 2007 at 4:19 pm

This is ridiculous! Manufacturers are trying to enrich everythign with the hope that it will make them ore money..maybe an enriched vodka next?
Great article. Thanks. :)

BirdBarista December 2, 2007 at 5:10 pm

Ironically, Marye, there is already caffeine-enriched vodka.

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