BeanScene Magazine

The truth about cáscara

From the May 2017 issue.
The truth about cáscara

It’s a 100-year-old product, but is cáscara the new superfood of 2017? BeanScene delves deep into the husk to discover what health benefits are linked to this coffee alternative.

Imagine there was a panel of experts that met annually to rule on which food should be upgraded to the classification of “superfood” (there isn’t, but go with us here). In 2017, it would be time for wheatgrass shots, camel milk, kale, and chai seeds to make way, because there’s a new superfood on the block and it goes by the name of cáscara.

Cáscara, the dried skins of coffee cherries, have normally been discarded into the wind or used in compost after the harvesting process. But revealing new information from an international laboratory might entice farmers – and consumers – to start thinking differently about the former “waste product” that’s neither tea nor coffee, but an ingredient all to itself.

Campos Coffee President Will Young says original scientific studies on cáscara by the University of Costa Rica have been “lengthy, data-based analytics” without third party verification and written in “scientific Spanish jargon”. Rather, Will says integrity was crucial to ensuring Campos could define and expand on data explaining cáscara’s health benefits.

“We wanted to make sure what we were saying was accurate and true,” Will says. 

Campos took matters into its own hands, working with coffee farmers at the Helsar De Zarcero micro-mill in Costa Rica to develop cáscara from the berries. Local farmer Ricardo Barrantes and his daughters worked to create a unique process of de-pulping and drying the organic coffee to create the unique, tea-like product.

The cáscara was then thoroughly tested by an Italian laboratory specialising in antioxidant analysis to determine the exact nutritional qualities of the coffee cherry tisane.

Cáscara has been found to contain high levels of flavanols, a type of antioxidant or polyphenols – a large class of bioactive compounds.

“Some antioxidants are more effective than others, but this particular one – flavonoid – well, it sits right at the top of the list. This is the ‘super-antioxidant’, and we in the coffee industry, have unlimited access,” Will says.

According to FoodWatch, polyphenols are found in high concentrations in tea, coffee, cocoa, fruit, spices, vegetables, and red wine. There are more than 4000, and include many sub-classes such as flavonoids, which are further divided into epicatechin, a type of flavanol present in cáscara.

This same epicatechin was subject to a 2015 study on cocoa flavonoids at The Mars Centre for Cocoa Health Science in Washington, DC. Research found that daily intake of cocoa flavanols could also significantly improve vascular function and reduce diastolic blood pressure in kidney patients on chronic hemodialysis.

“Given the chemical makeup of cocoa contains the same flavanol (epicatechin)content that appears in abundance in cáscara, it’s not a stretch to assume that cáscara could mimic these very positive cardiovascular benefits given the high levels found,” Will says.

The Italian laboratory states that while observational studies have shown that diets rich in polyphenol antioxidants are associated with a decrease risk of chronic diseases, “the mechanism behind this association” with cáscara is not clear.

Nutritionist Catherine Saxelby of FoodWatch says further research is needed to confirm if cáscara’s polyphenols will react in the same way, but from the outset, its potential health benefits are promising.
“From a nutritionist’s point of view, there’s a lot to love about cáscara,” Catherine says.

“It’s too early to tell how well these cáscara flavanols react. However, in cocoa, past polyphenol studies have shown benefits to the cardiovascular system by supporting healthy blood vessel function by increasing nitric oxide in the inner lining of blood vessels, thereby widening them and helping maintain blood flow, and promoting a healthy heart.”

In just one serving, cáscara offers 375 milligrams of flavanols in a cup, or 25 milligrams per 100 millilitres.

In comparison, a cup of green tea contains about 173 milligrams of flavanols, while a cup of filter coffee has a little more at 408 milligrams.

Catherine says what’s interesting to note from the initial study results is that unlike cocoa flavonoids, cáscara has almost no fat, cholesterol, protein, sugar, sodium or carbohydrates, with few calories (see table 1).

“In one 150-millilitre cup, cáscara is basically water with just a small 42 kilojoules or 10 calories with 2 grams of carbohydrates, and less than 1 gram of fibre, with little caffeine and lots of beneficial polyphenol antioxidants – called phytonutrients, which do wonderful things in the body to keep blood flowing freely, and helps with anti-ageing, inflammation, and metabolism,” Catherine says.

Considering that more than 25 per cent of Australia’s population is obese and more than 60 per cent overweight, Catherine says cáscara is a great alternative drink to replace high sugar content drinks, such as cola.

“It’s recommended we drink 10 glasses of fluid a day, and drinking brewed cáscara could easily be two of those glasses,” she says.

Prior to reviewing cáscara, Catherine had never heard of the word, nor understood what a coffee husk was.

“I thought cáscara was a laxative to be honest, similar to the plant Cáscara  Sagrada, a herb derived from the bark of a shrub that has been used for centuries for its laxative effect. But I’ve quickly learnt they are two different plants,” she says. “It took me a while to appreciate the flavour of the cáscara, which I thought was quite tart at first, but what really surprised me was how versatile this product can be used – in alcoholic drinks, as a hot tea-like drink, or a refreshing cold beverage.”

The Italian laboratory report also found cáscara’s caffeine levels to be significantly lower than coffee or tea, with 50 milligrams of caffeine in one 300-millilitre serving of cáscara, but still enough to satisfy daily coffee cravings. A typical espresso has 78 milligrams per 40 millilitre-serving.

The full article features in the April 2017 edition of BeanScene Magazine.

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Bonus Features

Nutritional claims
• Cáscara contains antioxidants called flavanols, similar to those found in tea, cocoa, and coffee.
• Cáscara contains 375 milligrams of flavanols in just one serving, with a lot less fat and fewer kilojoules (calories) than cocoa.

How to brew cáscara
Serves two cups
1. Place 10 grams of cáscara coffee-cherry in a plunger or teapot.
2. Add 300 millilitres of water at approximately 93°C.
3. Allow to infuse for three to five minutes.

Taste profile:
When brewed, cáscara embodies sweet, cherry flavours, with peach, berry and hibiscus notes. When chilled, its similar to a refreshing iced tea and works well with a sprig of fresh mint or rosemary or a few berries plus a big ice cube. Even try it as a top-up to an Aperol spritz.

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