A while ago I wrote a post about Artisanal Coffee and included some images of coffee cherries. It got me thinking… How is the coffee fruit separated from the bean? Can we eat the fruit from the coffee berry after we extract the bean? What does it taste like? What happens to the coffee fruit if we don’t eat it? What are the environmental impacts of coffee production with regard to coffee fruit waste? Here’s what I found out!
Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy!
Are Coffee Trees Related To Cherry Trees? How Are Similar Are The Berries?
Though the fruit has similar appearances, the plants are indeed very different in appearance and are not related.
Coffee is from the Coffea Species, whereas Cherries come from the Prunus Species.
Prunus is a stone fruit, and Coffea contains seeds.
-There are over 900 varieties of sweet cherry trees! The berries are usually quite dark, sometimes almost purple or black. There even are pinkish-yellow varieties, though they are unusual.
As a result of years of cultivation, sweet cherry trees produce fruit that is large, plump, and juicy!
-Sour cherries are related to regular cherries. They are bright red when harvested and have a tart, almost acidic flavor. The acidity helps them to retain that bold color when dried, frozen, or juiced. And cooking brings out their sweetness. I think these cherries look quite similar to the fruit of the coffee tree.
We have quite a few Sour Cherry trees growing in our neighborhood; though they are not as sweet as cherries; I think they differ in the amount of sugars they contain but they have a mild taste of cherry and a delicious tang. My kids love to pick them and come home with big bowls full, which I make Cherry Syrup for cherry coffee and Cherry Jelly. It's really surprising how similar sour cherries are to coffee cherries!
Coffee trees are small trees native to tropical climates, South America containing the world’s largest coffee plantations. Like the seeds, the coffee berries most often contain large amounts of caffeine!
There are over 120 different varieties of coffee tree, Coffea Arabica ( Arabica Coffee) and Coffee Canephora ( known as Robusta Coffee) being the most commonly cultivated.
-One huge difference between coffee trees and cherry trees is the flowers. In contrast to vibrant pink cherry blossoms, coffee trees often have white flowers.
Coffee farmers often prune the coffee tree to be more bush-like for convenience and to increase cherry production.
Are Coffee Cherries Edible? What Do They Taste Like?
Coffee seeds are commonly called beans, but they are, in fact, a fruit!
Though the cherry-like fruit looks really similar to sour cherries or even unripe sweet cherries, they don’t taste of cherry!
Coffee Cherries are described as having a sweet flavor, and each plant may produce fruit with different flavors, such as watermelon, jasmine or hibiscus! According to The Coffee Chronicler, a ripe coffee cherry tastes like a watermelon combined with a raspberry or apricot.
-The dried whole fruit can be eaten like raisins, and it’s sometimes around into a flour that is said to have a fruity flavor.
My 11 year old daughter kindly illustrated the layers of the coffee cherry. You can clearly see the thick outer skin, the coffee pulp, parchment, silver skin and green beans.
How Is The Coffee Bean Extracted From The Coffee Fruit?
The best coffee processing method is a matter of debate. The three methods used in commercial coffee production are Washing, The Dry method ( often called Natural Method), and Semi Washed.
–Washed coffees are often regarded as superior due to their consistently high quality and fewer impurities.
Washed Coffee Processing involves large quantities of water and often expensive machinery, but results in a higher quality coffee.
Ripe coffee cherries are soaked in water before the beans are extracted and allowed to dry.
–The Dry Method, or Natural Processing Method, as its sometimes called, dries the bean and the cherry together. The coffee seed is then separated from the cherry.
Naturally processed coffee beans are generally thought to have a fruitier flavor profile.
Because the coffee bean is in contact with the fruit for a longer period of time, only the ripest, freshest, and most developed fruit is chosen for this method.
The fruit’s organic material begins to ferment as soon as the cherries are picked and is susceptible to mold and other defects during the drying time. It can take three to four weeks for the whole cherry to dry completely.
Once it’s dry, it will be run through a hulling machine that uses friction to remove the coffee fruit and the parchment layer. The green coffee beans are then further processed before being stored until it is ready to be shipped.
–Honey Coffee, also known as Wet Hulled or Semi-Washed Coffee, involves fermenting and drying the coffee beans while still preserving their mucilage or sticky outer layer. Exposure to sunshine is crucial, as is how often the bean is turned during this stage. They are often heaped for 15-minute intervals to control evaporation and fermentation process. Honey Coffee takes at least three times longer to produce compared to washed coffee.
This video is informative if, like me, you like to nerd! He visits a coffee orchard and talks us through the basic steps to make a cup of coffee from a small batch of arabica beans. He picks the ripe coffee cherries from which he extracts the raw coffee beans. He then dries and roasts the green beans by hand, the whole process taking several days.
How Is Coffee Fruit Consumed?
There is a list of health benefits associated with the fruit of the coffee tree. Such as high levels of antioxidants and antioxidant compounds, along with chlorogenic acid, said to play an important role in reducing the risk of many diseases(including some cancers, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease).
The highest levels of chlorogenic acid are found in green coffee beans, but coffee cherry pulp also contains high levels.
Antioxidants help to remove free radicals from the body and prevent or reduce the damage caused by oxidative stress.
As a result, a range of products have been developed from this waste product, such as Coffee Cherry Extract, Cascara Tea, and Coffee Flour. All tout the health benefits of coffee fruit, but what does the current research say? Are there any adverse effects from these products on the health of consumers?
There have been concerns raised as to the safety of the production of these products. The drying process leaves the fruit susceptible to mold growing. Mold produces harmful mycotoxins, which cause adverse reactions. Though available in many health stores around the world, some of these products are not recommended for sale in the European Union for this reason.
Many of the studies conducted have been animal studies, and further research is required.
Is there a way to harvest the potential health benefits of these super berries without compromising safety? Perhaps production in small batches to control the process better and improve safety is an option.
Coffee Cherry Extract
A quick search on Coffee Cherry Extract has one wondering if it is a miracle cure. Health benefits such as improved brain function and brain health, reduced oxidative stress, and weight loss are claimed. Not to mention protection against cell damage caused by free radicals, it is also listed as a cure for high blood pressure. Like many products on the market, whole coffee fruit extracts need additional studies and further research to build scientific evidence…
Also often called Coffee Fruit Tea or Coffee Cherry Tea, is a herbal tea made from the dried skins and pulp of the coffee fruit. As there is a growing market for herbal teas, it seems a good idea to use the leftover coffee fruit to make tea both from an environmental perspective and also for the supposed health benefits. It has a lower caffeine content and eliminates the concern for consuming Akrilimides to get a caffeine kick- chemicals released in the roasting process.
There have been some concerns as to possible adverse health effects with this product in particular as the dried coffee cherries can easily develop mild during the drying process.
Starbucks has copped on to the potential of coffee fruit and has created energy drinks that contain caffeine derived from the fruit of the coffee plant rather than a roasted coffee bean. I haven’t yet come across these drinks but it’s likely they will be sold at grocery stores.
It needs to be clarified if this product includes any of the health benefits of the coffee fruit…
Could this be a viable product that encourages sustainability in coffee production?
Dr. Daniel Perlman, senior scientist at Brandeis University specializing in functional foods believes it might be!
Coffee flour is made by grinding the dried cherries to a powder. It’s naturally gluten-free and has a high antioxidant content. Apparently it doesn’t taste or smell like coffee but has a fruity taste.
One tablespoon of coffee flour contains about the same amount of caffeine as 1/3 cup of black coffee. My feeling is that it’s rather a lot of caffeine for some people. But it will be interesting to see if we will find this specialty flour in supermarkets in the near future! And if there will be the same issues regarding harmful mycotoxins, further studies are likely required.
What Are The Environmental Impacts Of Coffee Production With Regard To Coffee Fruit Waste?
A lot goes into the production of coffee so that coffee lovers can enjoy the convenience of buying at the grocery store or picking up their morning coffee on their way to work. But it’s no secret that most coffee production comes at a cost to the environment, which has raised many questions I’m yet to answer.
Which method of bean extraction is least detrimental to the environment, and what happens to the coffee cherry fruit after the bean is extracted?
At a quick glance, dry-processed coffees, which involve fermenting the whole coffee fruit, use fewer natural recourses. But is its fruity flavor as popular with coffee consumers?
It’s clear from recent research that coffee cherries may have a place in the consumer market, but for the moment, the beneficial effects may be outweighed by potential contamination with mild. Are there any adverse health effects related to coffee farmers handling coffee cherries? Though the coffee industry has drastically improved its image over the last decade, there is room for improvement! This is what I found out…
Water that is used for washing and fermentation of coffee cherries needs to be carefully disposed of to avoid contamination of groundwater. Is this a practice that is taken seriously among the world’s coffee producers?
In Sweden, we have systems in place to make use of biowaste. Microorganisms break down compost collected from households, farming, and food production and produce gas used to fuel our local bus services and transport goods. One of the best things is that leftover organic material is used as a fertilizer. Is this a solution to the large amounts of coffee cherry waste?
It wasn’t easy to find accurate information on this topic, and I hope to update this post as I find out more, but for the moment, I hope that these questions raised can start a discussion over your next cup of joe about the environmental aspects of coffee production!
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Hi, I’m Holly!
I want this space to be a source of wisdom, inspiration, and delicious recipes. Whether you’re looking to discover a new hobby or simply craving a great recipe, I hope you’ll find something that sparks your interest here!