Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Coffee contains – gasp! – CHEMICALS!!!!!!

Ever wonder just what is in a cup of coffee? At first, you might not want to.

coffeePhoto source: Simone♠13

On the short list, in addition to caffeine, your average brew also contains:

  • Dimethyl disulfide, which contributes to the odour of human waste
  • 2-Ethylphenol, a cockroach pheromone
  • Putrescine, a toxic breakdown product of rancid meat 

While I don’t believe the article writer set out to have this effect, a couple comments indicate he has in fact scared some readers. Of course, it all depends on how you want to take it. Some might be made uneasy at the mention of strange-sounding chemicals with scary qualifiers, and opt to eschew their coffee tomorrow morning. I, however am not about to abandon my sweet, caffeinated nectar of the gods morning cup just yet.

Coffee’s been around for a while now, and (debates about small effects on overall health aside) it’s safe to say that the compounds in coffee, especially at cup-a-day levels, are harmless. This presentation of facts is a good illustration that one shouldn’t be scared of something just because it has chemical names attached to it. The unknown is scary and chemicals particularly intimidating, but any everyday material could be made to sound scarier if placed in the right light.

That cup your coffee’s in? Aluminum and silicon oxides
The table it’s sitting on? Reducing sugar polymers and lignins
The spoon you mixed with? Smelted iron-carbon alloy

You don’t even want to know what sort of nasty phytochemicals are in that banana you were about to eat.

The point being, just because you can name something chemically (and even describe potentially unsavoury places it might be found in nature or industry), that doesn’t make it bad for you. When someone says that a product contains (cue spooky music) chemicals, that person is trying to scare you, usually to buy their product. Case in point:

Note that they never say those chemicals are not present in their product (they are), just that they are present in the competitors. Sneaky bastards.

Anyways, that said, I’m thirsty. I’m off to grab a nice cold glass of dihydrogen monoxide.

Wired Science: What’s Inside a Cup of Coffee?


Steve said...

I guess I'll go ahead and point out that appending the prefix "pro" automatically negates any sort of fear, for me at least. Hand me a bucket of turpentine that contains loads of "pro-chemicals", and I will down that sucka before you can say "don't be an idiot".

Same goes for pro-vitamins and pro-biotics.

Greg Baute said...

Reminds me of this guy who thought he was brilliant for smoking 'organic' cigarettes.

What a joke the whole thing is.