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Caffeine: Natural Sources and Man-Made Uses

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Caffeine, perhaps the most popular natural drug in the world, is a stimulant found in many plant species including coffee, tea, and cocoa, although a variety of other plants produce caffeine-like chemicals.

Natural Sources:

Caffeine, perhaps the most popular natural drug in the world, is a stimulant found in many plant species including coffee, tea, and cocoa, although a number of other plants produce caffeine-like chemicals.

Less commonly used sources of caffeine include the yerba maté and guarana, two South American plants that have only recently become known around the world, used with greater frequency in the preparation of teas and energy drinks. Two of caffeine's alternative names, mateine and guaranine, are derived from the names of these plants.

A typical energy drink made with guarana can contain as much as 259 mg of caffeine; twice the caffeine found in coffee beans (about 2–4.5% caffeine in guarana seeds compared to 1–2% for coffee beans).  As a dietary supplement, guarana is an effective energy booster, but the long-term effects of this and similar chemicals are as yet unknown.

While individuals often report varying effects from caffeine consumption, the disparity between the various natural caffeine sources is most likely due to the fact that plant sources of caffeine also contain widely varying mixtures of other xanthine alkaloids, including the cardiac stimulants theophylline and theobromine, and other substances such as polyphenols that can form insoluble complexes with caffeine which affect their absorption and metabolization rate.

Although the amount of caffeine can also vary according to commerical brand and method of preparation, coffee is, without a doubt, the most popular natural sources of caffeine. A six-ounce cup of instant coffee typically contains about 60 mgs of caffeine, while the same amount of automatic-drip coffee contains around 140 mgs which often influences the method by which a coffee drinker prefers his or her coffee.

For tea drinkers, teas like the pale Japanese green tea gyokuro, for example, contain far more caffeine than much darker teas like lapsang souchong, which has very little.  Common green tea typically found in supermarkets or offered in Japanese and Chinese restaurants are generally lowest, with only 35 mgs per six-ounce cup; black tea can contain up to 75 mgs, depending on brand and country of origin.

For the past century, caffeine has also been a common ingredient of soft drinks such as Coca Cola, originally prepared from kola nuts. The kola nut, a native to tropical Africa, is one of the most popular natural sources of caffeine among West African cultures and is traditionally chewed or roasted for use in some regional drinks.

Of the commonly used varieties and sources of caffeine, cocoa is said to be one of the healthiest natural sources. One ounce of baking chocolate contains about 25 mg of caffeine, but a glass of chocolate milk barely reaches five mgs.

Man-Made Uses:

Decaf Coffee: In 2007, Consumer Reports tested 36 cups of decaffeinated coffee from six coffee outlets including Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts and discovered that compared to the caffeine found in a regular cup (generally around 100 mgs), the decaf samples had less, but some still contained over 20 ml.

Super-Chocolate: While it’s commonly known that the darker the chocolate, the higher the caffeine content, Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Bar has almost as much as a can of Coke--31 mgs. Other chocolate, like the limited edition Snickers Charge, is fortified with 60 mgs of added caffeine--about the same as a cup of tea.

Ice Cream: Many popular brands of ice cream now have coffee flavors that contain as much as 30 to 45 mgs of caffeine per half cup, which is about the same as a can of Coca Cola.

Non-Cola Soft Drinks: Some brands of root beer such as Barq’s regular and diet flavors contain as much as 23 mgs of caffeine per 12-ounce can, which is just 12 mgs less than a can of Coke. And though you wouldn’t expect it, Sunkist’s orange soda has 41 mgs of caffeine, and A&W Cream Soda has about 25 mgs.

Energy Water: Capitalizing on the fortified water trend is a new concoction sold by various bottling companies: caffeinated water. Utilizing guarana, Propel’s Limited Edition Invigorating Flavor has 50 mgs of caffeine, as does VitaminWater’s energy flavor.

Breath Fresheners: The makers of Jolt Cola, which had the maximum amount of caffeine allowed in colas before it was reformulated as an energy drink, also sell caffeinated gum and mints. Two pieces of Jolt gum provides the caffeine in a cup of coffee.  Three of Penguin’s caffeinated mints equal the caffeine content of a cup of coffee, and just one Foosh mint contains the same buzz.

Energized Sunflower Seeds: Marketed as a healthier alternative to energy drinks, these seeds are infused with caffeine, plus natural energy boosters taurine, lysine, and ginseng. One serving of energized seeds has 140 mgs of caffeine, about the same as four cans of Coke.

Morning Spark brand instant oatmeal: Instead of adding the traditional fruit or nuts to this already extraordinarily healthy food, Sturm Foods has added caffeine to its instant breakfast. The packaging boasts that a serving has about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.

Perky Jerky brand beef jerky: While Perky Jerky actually has less fat, sodium, and fewer calories per serving than traditional beef jerky, it packs in about 75 mgs of caffeine, about the same as a can of Red Bull.





Images via Wikipedia.org

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James R. Coffey

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