Coffee is one of the world’s most widely consumed drinks and, if anything, consumption is only set to rise.
If you have ever seen coffee beans used as decoration on a cake or in the foam on a latte and wondered about questions like these, look no further. We have all the answers for you here.
What is coffee?
Ok, so we all know that coffee is a drink that many of us rely on to help us wake up in the morning and kick-start the day. That drink is made from the seeds of the fruit of the Coffea plant, specifically of two species of the plant, arabica and canephora (more commonly known as robusta).
We take those seeds – usually we call them “beans” although this is not strictly accurate – and we process them, roast them, grind them and brew them into the delicious drink we know and love.
If you take “green” (raw) beans and try to brew them, you will not end up with coffee. In fact, you won’t end up with very much at all beyond what seems like dirty water. The flavors of coffee are created during roasting – that’s when the magic happens.
The active ingredient that wakes us up and makes us feel alert, as most people are aware, is caffeine. Coffee made from robusta beans has roughly twice that made from arabica beans.
A bad press
People have tended to see coffee as something to be consumed with great moderation if at all. Those who drink a lot often feel guilty about the habit and frequently talk about “cutting down” in the same way as a smoker or someone who drinks too much alcohol.
Many health benefits
However, it seems that the bad reputation the drink has acquired could be largely undeserved. Far from being damaging to health, in recent years, medical science has begun to show that coffee can offer a broad range of health benefits to regular drinkers.
As long as coffee is not consumed excessively – and with the exception of people suffering from certain conditions that make coffee consumption inadvisable – it is now becoming widely accepted that drinking coffee is advantageous.
Most people know that coffee makes us feel more awake and alert. It has also been demonstrated that the caffeine in coffee can help improve memory and performance in some mental tasks.
Research has also found a link between coffee drinking and a reduced risk in many conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, certain forms of cancer, type II diabetes, and depression, to name but a few. It also seems to have a detoxifying effect on the liver.
Can you eat coffee grounds?
Does eating coffee beans have an effect?
While most of the studies conducted have been related to coffee consumed as a drink, since everything in the drink is found in the beans too, eating the beans should have the same effect.
In fact, since not everything from the beans makes it into brewed coffee, if anything, the beans should be more potent, so let’s have a look at some of the health benefits related to eating coffee beans.
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Antioxidants – from eating raw coffee beans?
One of coffee’s health-giving properties comes from that fact that it is a rich source of antioxidants. In fact, it is thought that coffee is now the number one source of antioxidants in the modern American diet (3).
What are antioxidants and why do we need them? Antioxidants are important because our bodies use them to fight against something called “free radicals”.
Without going too deep into the science, free radicals are types of molecules present in our bodies that can damage our cells. Antioxidants can help us prevent or limit this damage (4).
Specifically, coffee is rich in chlorogenic acids, a powerful antioxidant. It is found in green beans, but over half can be lost during roasting and even more during brewing, suggesting that the most effective way to obtain a high dose of chlorogenic acid is to eat green coffee beans.
Caffeine – from chewing coffee beans?
Caffeine is the world’s most commonly used psychoactive drug and most people ingest it by drinking coffee. This is the active ingredient that wakes us up in the morning and helps us fight drowsiness when we are need of a boost (5).
However, we are now beginning to understand that caffeine has a whole range of other health benefits beyond helping us out the door each morning.
Many of the positive effects on health we mentioned earlier are thought to come from caffeine. These include helping detoxify the liver and fighting Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, various types of cancer and type II diabetes.
Caffeine has been shown to increase concentration levels and improve performance in some mental tasks. Studies have also shown that caffeine helps reduce depression and even lowers the risk of suicide (8, 9, 10).
While most people obtain these benefits naturally through the daily consumption of coffee beverages, if you wanted to “take” coffee as a preventative medicine, it would also be possible by eating coffee beans.
One coffee bean contains about 6mg of caffeine. Since the recommended daily allowance of caffeine is about 400mg/day, you could potentially achieve the same benefits by munching though around 60 beans per day.
However, since the caffeine would be delivered more directly to the body via the mucous membranes in the mouth, the immediate effects would be felt more quickly than if you were drinking coffee.
This means if you choose to eat coffee beans, you probably shouldn’t eat them all at once.
Fiber – from coffee beans?
Fiber is an essential part of our diet. When we consume food, the waste products move through our digestive tract into the intestines and are expelled as stool. Eating enough dietary fiber ensures that this process continues smoothly.
If we don’t have enough fiber in our diet, it may lead to constipation, which can be an uncomfortable – and occasionally dangerous – condition.
30 coffee beans contain as much as 3g of fiber, equating to about 10% of our recommended daily amount. However, if we consume coffee as a beverage, our bodies don’t receive any of this.
This means that consuming coffee by eating the beans allows us to receive an extra benefit we wouldn’t have just from the drink.
As we can see, there are many benefits we can obtain either by drinking coffee or by eating the beans. However, there are also some negative effects associated with coffee.
Catechol and caffeine, both found in coffee, are known to increase the production of stomach acids. If too much is produced, it may rise up the esophagus.
For this reason, in some people, drinking coffee results in heartburn. Eating coffee beans would only increase the effect, so for those who suffer from heartburn after drinking coffee, eating the beans is inadvisable.
Coffee contains cafestol and kahweol, both of which may cause high cholesterol. There is between 10 and 40 times more present in beans than in the drink.
It has not been conclusively proven that coffee causes high cholesterol, but for those considered high-risk, consumption of beans is not recommended.
Finally, coffee is known to have a strong and fast-acting laxative effect in some individuals, and the effect is even more pronounced with the direct consumption of beans. If coffee has this effect on you, you are probably best off not eating beans to avoid any embarrassing situations (11).
Should you eat the beans?
There are many health benefits of coffee as well as some negative side effects. These effects are only magnified by eating the beans. This means that eating coffee beans could potentially be very good for your health.
However, coffee beans are not particularly pleasant to eat. Green beans before roasting are said to taste grassy, woody and highly acidic. They are hard to chew, and most people would not enjoy eating raw coffee beans.
Perhaps more people will have tasted roasted coffee beans at least once. They are extremely bitter, and they break into a grainy texture when you bite them, making chewing coffee beans unpleasant for most people.
While you can enjoy a range of health benefits from regularly eating coffee beans and you can enjoy the quick pick-me-up effect of caffeine from chewing on beans, you can also enjoy almost all the same benefits from the drink.
While there is no danger in eating coffee beans in moderation, if the beverage is so delicious and the beans for most people are so unpalatable, why would anyone choose to eat the beans?
While you can eat the beans if you choose to, for the most part, there wouldn’t seem to be any compelling reason why you should.
In short, many of the benefits can be obtained from the drink. The one benefit we mentioned that is not associated with the beverage, dietary fiber, is much easier to find elsewhere. If you enjoy eating coffee beans, that’s fine. We just don’t see why you would want to.
There is, of course, one exception to this. Chocolate-covered coffee beans. We find them absolutely delicious. So perhaps the takeaway is this: eating coffee beans is fine, although we prefer the drink – but if you want to eat chocolate-covered coffee beans, it certainly won’t do you any harm!
Do you eat coffee beans? Do you like the flavor? Why do you do it? Or maybe you hate them! Whatever you have to say, please leave us a comment as we love hearing from you – and if you enjoyed this article, please don’t forget to share!