Flour Power in the Java Bean

Amanda Gleeson

The website Mashable called it “the best invention since sliced bread.” Bon Appétit dubbed it “the next superfood.” The Today show’s anchors made pancakes with it. Coffee flour, developed by Brandeis biophysicist Dan Perlman ’68, got media outlets and many other observers buzzing this winter.

Two decades ago, Perlman and nutritionist K.C. Hayes developed the “healthy fats” blend in the Smart Balance buttery spread. Now, on his own, Perlman’s invented and patented what he says is a healthier form of coffee.

To make the typical cup of java, coffee beans are roasted at above 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 15 minutes, then ground. The problem is that this method reduces the amount of chlorogenic acid (CGA) in the final product. CGA is an antioxidant thought to be beneficial in modulating sugar metabolism, controlling blood pressure, and possibly treating heart disease and cancer. One study found CGA levels in coffee dropped anywhere from 50 percent to nearly 100 percent by the time the roasting process was finished.

Perlman wondered what would happen if the coffee bean were “parbaked” — similar to parboiling, except cooked in an oven rather than a pot of water — at a lower temperature and for less time. After some trial and error, he determined 300 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 10 minutes worked best. The concentration of CGA in the bean, around 10 percent of the bean’s weight, barely dropped.

The parbaked coffee bean can’t be used to make coffee. It isn’t roasted long enough to develop flavor. So Perlman cryogenically mills the bean in an ultra-cold and chemically inert liquid-nitrogen atmosphere to protect the bean’s beneficial constituents from oxidation. At the end of the process, you get a wheat-colored flour. Its taste is nutty, pleasant and mild.

Though it isn’t yet commercially available, coffee flour could be blended with regular flours for baking, used in breakfast cereals and snack bars, or added to soups, juices and nutritional drinks, Perlman says. Or, to compensate for the CGA lost during traditional coffee roasting, regularly roasted beans could be blended with parbaked ones.

Green coffee bean extract-based nutritional supplements, which are already on the market, have been touted, most prominently by the TV personality Dr. Oz, as a way to lose weight and fight obesity. The evidence to support this is scant.

But the evidence supporting CGA’s benefits is much stronger. And parbaking is far less expensive than the extraction methods used to produce green coffee bean extract supplements, Perlman says.

Coffee flour may bring a whole new jolt to breakfast soon.