Monday, 23 April 2012

What's In Coffee Mate?

There’s a series of ads running on Dubai Eye at the moment in which chemical company BASF extols the wonders of chemistry. And what better way to celebrate the achievements of chemistry than to look at how the marvel of modern food chemistry can be used to create a non-dairy creamer. A conversation with Jordanian blogger and coffee mate fan Roba Al Assi yesterday prompted me to pop the lid on that yummy tasting powder and see just what it is you’re putting in your mouth with your morning coffee. What I found was similar in many ways to Tim Horton’s recipe for happiness, a recipe many people found fascinating.

The first thing we should note about Coffee Mate is that each 3mg serving contains 1 mg of saturated fat and 2mg of carbohydrate as sugar. In other words you’d be as well off dipping a sugar lump in some ghee. The second noteworthy thing is that nobody ever uses a 3mg serving.

A Spoonfull of Coffee Mate Contains:
Glucose syrup
Arguably the precursor to controversial cheap sweetener high fructose corn syryup, glucose syrup is a concentrated commercial sweetener made by treating the starch in vegetable crops such as corn and maize (Sourced from the US, read this as genetically modified corn). Corn syrup is sweeter and cheaper than cane sugar.

Hydrogenated vegetable oil (may contain coconut, palm kernel and/or soybean oil)
This is where that saturated fat comes in – and don’t forget that 3mg (or a level teaspoon) of coffee mate contains 5% of your recommended daily intake of saturated fat. As a guideline, you could drink half a cup of whole milk to get the same saturated fat hit as three milligrammes of coffee mate. I do love the ‘may contain’, too. Oh, and the soybean oil is probably from genetically modified beans.

Palm oil is a nasty little ingredient I have written about extensively before. It’s a crop responsible for major deforestation of the Indonsian rain forests because it provides a cheap, stable at room temperature, fat much beloved of food processors. Expect to find it lurking in biscuits, ice creams and all sorts of processed packet sauces, mixes and other foods.

Added to that, this (already very high in saturates) oil is ‘hydrogenated’, which means it’s been heat-treated with hydrogen to change its composition – basically turning the unsaturated fats in the palm oil into saturated fats, known as trans-fats. Trans-fats are controversial and many manufacturers and retailers (including the UK’s Marks and Spencer) are acting to remove trans-fat content from the foods they sell after a number of studies linked trans-fat consumption to significant increases in the risk of heart disease.

Sodium Caseinate (a milk derivative)
This is an odd ingredient, as it is permitted by the US FDA to be an ingredient in 'non dairy' creamers, and yet is, as it says on the tin, a 'milk derivative'. Casein is a protein found in milk and this ingredient, which is a thickener and adds a 'dairy taste' to products, is obtained from fresh and/or pasteurized skimmed milk by acid coagulation of the casein. The mix is then neutralised using sodium hydroxide and powdered. Yummee!

Dipotassium Phosphate
A stabiliser, tagged by the US FDA as ‘generally regarded as safe’ which never quite sounds as good as ‘safe as houses’, does it? It’s used to keep the powder powdery. Other uses of dipotassium phosphate include as a fungicide and pesticide. Interestingly, its use as a pesticide on food crops in the US has not been approved. But it’s safe, right?

Sodium Aluminium Silicate
Apart from finding its way into your daily cuppa as an anti-caking agent, this ingredient has been approved by the EU as a game repellent. Which is nice, no? A lovely cup of deer repellent to start the day!

Monoglycerides, Acetylated tartaric acid esters of mono- and dyglycerides
Also known as E472e. Mono and diglycerides are fats, used to extend shelf life, add a creamy flavour and help to bind other ingredients together. There's a lot of debate about them as they have appeared on food labels in place of hydrogenated oils, although they're a sort of new name for an old friend as they are, themselves, hydrogenated in the production process. The latter ingredient is sometimes referred to by the more friendly acronym DATEM.

Artificial Flavour, Colour
Nothing natural here, then...

So there we have it, the full skinny. Now you can nip off and slide a spoon of processed sugars, saturated fat, pesticide and deer scarer into your cup of instant coffee and know it's doing you good!


Roba said...

Hahaha, you're so awesome, Alexander. Fortunately for me though, those scary-sounding ingredients won't scare me away, because everything we eat is full of crap, even when you're trying to lead a healthy diet like me :) (I'm really healthy with no junk food, etc. but I suck with being healthy with drinks... soda, CoffeeMate, too much happy alcohol... Plus, my CoffeeMate is fat free, with a large "No transfat" label ;)

Alexander McNabb said...

The 'fat free' version still contains trans-fats, but substitutes the bulk of them with corn starch.

It's still icky.

Paty M said...

excellent post!

Luke said...

Nice post. The sad thing is that you could probably post a new product everyday until you die (of natural causes we hope, and not bumped off by a "food" manufacturer) and will have still only scratched the surface.

Anonymous said...

Hi this post has some false/misleading information:

All Coffee Mate in the Middle East has 0g trans-fat (regardless of the label claim)

Most of these ingredients you mentioned are common in processed food, especially vegetable oil.

Casein is simply milk protein and nothing to worry about. And a product with casein is still lactose free, So people with lactose intolerance won't be harmed.

Please check your sources

Anonymous said...

Also, it does not have artificial colors

Luke said...

Dear anonymous

"Most of these ingredients you mentioned are common in processed food"

You may be trying to defend this product, but that sentence shows your ignorance and blind faith in the companies you buy your food from.

Doh! Just because it is common, doesn't mean it is OK!

Can you substantiate your claim re. the trans-fat? You are telling us we shouldn't pay attention to the label. Seems somewhat bizarre.

"Casein is still lactose free". Really? So are many other things in my fridge. For that matter, it just occurred to me that my sofa is lactose free too.

Lactose = milk sugar. Casein = milk protein.

There are plenty of people who are casein intolerant too. They can't even use nail varnish (yes, some contain casein) but that misses the point. The problem is the process and the fact you are putting it in your mouth after the process.

Why would you use the product anyway? If you can't keep the milk fresh, drink your coffee black. Simple.

Eliot said...

I do enjoy these posts. Think you might mean grammes, not milligrammes...?

Michael Garsva said...

Thanks for your info re coffeemate. I wrote them asking for specifics and they said the FDA forbids(!) them from disclosing such information as thy are only able to report that they have "no" Trans-fats. So sad that this is yet another example of the FDA being bought off by corporation s and no longer protecting the public.
Mahalo from Hawaii,

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