The original purpose of coffees was to replace expensive or completely unavailable coffee. Today, however, there is plenty of coffee on the market and the price of coffees is on par with cheaper instant coffees. Rather than a substitute, they are an alternative for those who avoid caffeine or want to take advantage of the nutritional benefits of chicory. The consumer magazine dTest bought 17 different coffee substitutes in Czech shops and compared their ingredients. Although they all appear to be the same, their nutritional values can vary substantially.
In the editor’s basket ended up representing all the basic types: melta, chicory, cereal and malt blends. “Compared to coffee, coffee beans lack caffeine and antioxidants. However, they can offer other interesting substances instead, you just need to choose the right blend,” says Hana Hoffmann, editor-in-chief of dTest magazine. “Probably the most valuable coffee ingredient is inulin, a prebiotic fibre, but you can only find it in products with chicory. It is therefore a good idea to check the ingredients when choosing. Also because some products also contain sugar and milk substitute.”
In the past, people have tried to replace coffee with all sorts of things through trial and error. Roasted chestnuts, acorns, buckeyes, fruit tree stones, dates, grape stones, potatoes, rose hips, almonds or crucifers used to end up in the mills. Over the years, several raw materials have crystallised that are still used for the production of coffee beans today.
The path to a true coffee imitation is not easy, however, as none of the raw materials used can create a coffee impression on their own. The chicory root chicory is bitter, while the grain, malt and beetroot infusion lacks bitterness. Mixtures of several ingredients are the solution. You can often find a mix of grain coffee grounds and chicory. Other ingredients are added to some products, such as Jerusalem artichoke, beetroot or dandelion. But you may also find single-origin coffee or barley malt-based drinks.
Whether a coffee drink has been made with chicory, dandelion or malt affects not only its taste but also its nutritional value. The magazine dTest compared coffee drinks with instant coffee and found that the total carbohydrate content of the two did not differ much. In both cases, we can expect around 70 g/100 g. However, this is not the case for sugar. While instant coffee harbours an average of 6.5 % of it, we have to expect a range from 0 % to a staggering 67.1 % for coffee beans. “The aforementioned above-half sugar content was demonstrated by Frape Foods Bikava, which is the coffee equivalent of the 3 v 1 products and contains sugar and bleach in addition to a mixture of cereals and chicory. Among the pure coffee products, Biolinie Spald Coffee 100% had the highest sugar content at 32 %,” says Hana Hoffmann.
Another parameter in which real and non-real coffee can differ is the fiber content. Instant coffee contains 19 g of it in 100 g, but you may also see 31 g/100 g in coffee beans. Higher fibre content is typical of chicory coffee beans and the aforementioned record value in the dTest comparison was boasted by the 100% chicory Grana Chicory Cup. “On the other hand, we were surprised by the low declared value of Goodie Cofree. Although the ingredients say it contains 30 % chicory, the fibre content is only 1 g/100 g,” says Hoffmann.
dTest also searched the labels for listed additives and unusual ingredients. “Among their declared ingredients, we found emulsifiers, stabilisers, glucose syrup and added fat. However, the product did not contain coffee grounds, but apparently a milk substitute bleach,” notes the dTest editor-in-chief.
Coffee products are now sometimes presented as health drinks. However, this effort has its limits in the form of regulations on health claims. According to these regulations, only authorised claims can be used to highlight the positive effects of foods. Goodie Cofree and Life Style Dandelion Coffee violate these rules. The former promises, among other things, weight control, the latter even anti-cancer effects or detoxification of the body. However, such claims must not appear on the packaging.
What is the main source of coffee beverages today?
- Checannon root: contains inulin – an indigestible polysaccharide that passes through the digestive tract and acts as nutrition for the gut flora. Literature also reports a positive effect of inulin on calcium absorption in the body.
- Cress root: also contains inulin and differs from chicory in its higher concentration of bitter substances.
- Cereals: cereal “coffee” is made from roasted barley, rye or spelt. Sometimes cereal malt is also used – germinated cereal grains in which the original starch has been broken down into simple sugars. Cereal coffee beans, especially those with malt, usually have a higher sugar content.
- Sugar beet: is a typical ingredient of Czech molta. It also increases the sugar content of the drink and, above all, gives it a specific slightly earthy flavour.
- Wolf bean (lupina): it is a legume similar to soybeans, and contains a higher proportion of protein and fat compared to other coffee beans. In Germany, lupin “coffee” is still sold today, it is advantageous, for example, for celiacs who cannot drink cereal coffee products.