Matcha and golden milk lattes are great, but there’s a new coffee trend in town that has nothing to do with your morning brew. In fact, it has to do with the part of the coffee plant that’s typically discarded in the process of preparing coffee beans. This trendy new ingredient is coffee fruit — specifically coffee fruit extract — which some are billing as the next superfood.
WHAT IS COFFEE FRUIT?
If you’ve never actually thought about where coffee beans come from, you may be surprised to know they’re extracted from coffee fruit, also called coffee berries or coffee cherries — a small fruit that grows green and turns purple or red as it ripens. Typically, the beans removed from the fruit for processing, and the fruit itself is just thrown away.
“Coffee fruit in the United States is most often seen as a functional beverage ingredient, supplement, extract or tea,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a plant-based registered dietitian based in Stamford, Connecticut. In other words, you won’t find the whole fruit at the grocery store, but you’ll likely find bottled extract made from the fruit and containing many of the fruit’s nutrients. Unlike black coffee, which can be bitter, coffee fruit has a mild yet sweet taste similar to cherries or hibiscus. You can add a few drops of the extract to your morning coffee for some sweetness, or blend it into smoothies.
IS COFFEE FRUIT HEALTHY?
Coffee fruit extract, made by soaking the fruit and then reducing the liquid down to a sweet, concentrated syrup, has been linked to lower inflammation in the body and lower cholesterol levels, which is important for supporting heart health. It has less caffeine than coffee beans, so you can still reap benefits like increased energy, without the “crash” or jittery feeling coffee can cause.
“Coffee fruit is high in antioxidants and nutrients that help fight off cell damage and chronic disease,” Gorin says. These antioxidants increase the body’s production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. BDNF repairs broken neurons within your brain or helps it grow new ones.
“In another small study, 20 college athletes received either a placebo or 800 milligrams of coffee fruit extract for four weeks. The students receiving the placebo had higher antioxidant status at the end of the trial,” says Gorin.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT THE RESEARCH
“Most of the research I’ve seen on coffee fruit is preliminary, so it will be interesting to watch this area of research as more studies are completed,” notes Gorin. The goal of preliminary research is to figure out whether or not it’s worth doing more comprehensive research in a certain area, not to draw conclusions. So, we’ll have to wait for more research to come out before we can definitively say there’s any measurable benefit associated with coffee fruit extract.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE TRYING IT
Be mindful of how much you’re consuming since coffee fruit contains caffeine, which some people are more sensitive to, says Gorin. As with any food or herb, it’s a good idea to speak with a doctor or registered dietitian first if you take any medications or have food allergies.
If you’d like to try coffee fruit extract, make sure you’re buying it from a trustworthy source. “Check that you’re buying a product that has been third-party tested, so you know the product is both safe and contains the ingredients it says it does,” says Gorin. Supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so third-party testing is the only way to check credibility.
THE BOTTOM LINE
While more research is needed, there’s no harm in adding coffee fruit extract to a varied, well-balanced diet as long as you’re buying it from a trusted source. However, it can be pricey, and many budget-friendly whole foods like fruits and veggies can similarly provide antioxidants and other key nutrients like fiber.
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