Monday, March 11, 2013

Apple #628: Food and Drink with Caffeine

This past week, someone was talking about how he used to drink tons of espresso and coffee all day long. Then one day his heart was racing.  Super speedy.  It would not stop.  For, like, days.

Espresso. One shot of this gets you 1/3 of the way to your maximum caffeine intake for the day.
(Photo by Mimi Wysong, from Gimme Coffee

He went to the doctor, the doctor shrugged and said, "Quit the caffeine."  Then he listed the stuff this guy could not have.  Most of them were the usual suspects: coffee, tea, chocolate, and mushrooms.


Yes, the doctor said, mushrooms have caffeine. (But he was wrong! All the nutritional data I have checked says mushrooms have zero caffeine.)

A couple days after I heard this, I saw an article from the New York Times that said some plants have caffeine in their flower-nectar. The bees pick up the caffeine as they're collecting pollen, and the caffeine helps them remember where that flower was, or at least, they're much more likely to return to the flowers with caffeine than to the ones that don't.

The nectar of coffee plants and four kinds of citrus plants -- grapefruit, lemon, pomelos, and oranges -- has caffeine. Bees apparently like caffeine.
(Photo from NPR)

So what else has caffeine?

Caffeine Reference Points

First, to put the amounts of caffeine in perspective, the recommended maximum amounts of caffeine per day are as follows:

Children: no more than
4 - 6 years 45 mg/day
7 - 9 years 62.5 mg/day
10 - 12 years 85 mg/day

Adults: no more than
200 - 300 mg/day, or 2-4 cups of coffee/day

How much is too much?
500 - 600 mg/day, or 4 or more cups of coffee/day

More than 4 of these per day, and you're probably doing damage to something in your body.
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

By the way, a lot of manufacturers like to say their product has "only as much caffeine as one cup of coffee." But they never tell you any details about that cup of coffee.  How many ounces is it?  Is it instant coffee, or were the beans roasted and ground? Are those Arabica beans, or Robusta beans, or some other higher-caffeine-content bean?  Or is it really espresso that they're choosing to call "coffee?"  Saying something is equal to one cup of coffee is like saying, it's equal to whatever the heck I want it to be.

Where Caffeine Occurs Naturally

  • Caffeine occurs naturally in some plants.  Scientists think that the caffeine's bitterness acts as a natural pesticide to some insects.  But, as that study cited in the NYT discovered, caffeine is attractive to other kinds of insects, like bees, and bees apparently like it because they visit plants with caffeine more frequently than those without. So caffeine helps the plants in another way by aiding pollination.
  • Various sources say that anywhere from 60 to 100 species of plants contain caffeine.  But nobody ever names all those species.  They totally wimp out and just repeat those numbers.  Even that NYT article said only "coffee and some citrus plants."  I would love to know what those citrus plants are, but they didn't name names.
  • All the sources I consulted that do name some names only mention the plants we already know about, because these are the species that contain the highest amounts of caffeine. 
  • I really wanted to talk about the lesser-known sources, but since nobody ever says what they are, we'll have to be content with the more commonly-known sources of caffeine. So here they are. Caffeine %s indicate how much caffeine is present in the plant.

The amount of caffeine in a coffee bean depends on which species, how it's been fertilized, how it's roasted, and all sorts of other variables. But it averages about 1.5%.
(Photo from Kevin Burton's Blog)

  • Coffee.  There are about 25 species of coffee plants.  Which species is harvested and how the beans are roasted will affect how much caffeine is present in a cup of coffee.  The most popular coffee bean is Arabica, and that has about 1.2% - 1.8% caffeine per bean.
  • Tea.  The leaves of the tea plant are what we use to make tea, and it's the leaves that contain caffeine.  Black or green, white or Oolong, decaf or regular.  Unless it's herbal, in which case it contains no actual tea leaves, it's got caffeine in it.  Black tea leaves, which have the highest levels of caffeine are about 3% caffeine.
  • Kola. These are the nuts from the evergreen Cola trees which grow wild in Africa and are cultivated in South America. The nuts, which are dried and used in soft drinks, are about 2% - 3.5% caffeine.
  • Cacao. Caffeine is present in the seeds or beans of the cacao plant (cocoa).  The seeds grow inside a hard-shelled pod, which is about the size of a small football and holds about 30-40 seeds.  It's the cocoa bean which is turned into chocolate.  One cocoa bean is about 0.05% - 0/3% caffeine.

Other Naturally-Occurring Sources of Caffeine, or Stuff that's a Lot Like Caffeine

  • Guarana. Brazilian and Paraguayan plant that, like coffee, has seeds that contain caffeine.  Actually, the compound is called guaranine, but scientists say it's so similar to caffeine, it might as well be considered the same thing.  Guarana is starting to become popular as a way to sneak caffeine into products without saying so directly.  One guarana bean is about the same size as a coffee bean, but it contains a lot more caffeine -- anywhere from 5% to 10%.
Guarana plant. Those seeds give me the creeps.  They look like eyeballs.
(Photo from Herbal Biosolutions)

  • Yerba mate (pronounced mah-tay). This is a shrub that grows in South America, and it's often used to make tea.  Like guarana, the stimulant that it contains (mateine) is very similar to caffeine, so similar that many people say it's the same thing. The leaves and the twigs contain mateine, and either or both may be used to make tea and other products.  Yerba mate is being used in more food products as another one of those sly sources of caffeine. Lots of places that sell it hail its antioxidant properties, but some studies show that people who drink a lot of it seem to be more likely to get cancer. Yerba mate is about 1% - 2% caffeine.

Cultivated yerba mate plants are allowed to grow as tall as 15 feet.
(Photo from Yerba Mate Tea Gourd

Yerba mate in dried form
(Photo from Florida Herb House)

  • Guayusa (pronounced gway-yoo-sa). Another South American plant that grows along the Amazon. Ecuadorans have been drinking guayusa tea for a very long time.  It's a relative of yerba mate. The leaves contain caffeine, but they also don't have any tannins so there's no bitterness.  It's just starting to take hold in the US. Caffeine content in the leaves is about 3%.

Guayusa plant.
(Photo from Socialphy)

Guayusa in dried form. One tea-drinker says, despite the promises of no tannins = no bitterness, unless you brew it exactly right, it turns out to be so bitter it's undrinkable.
(Photo by Jessica Leibowitz)

  • Yaupon. This is a holly tree that grows in the southeastern part of the US, typically between the coastline and the outer edges of woods. It also grows in Argentina. The young leaves and twigs contain caffeine, and Argentinians drink yaupon tea. The leaves are 0.65% to 0.85% caffeine.

Yaupon looks like a cross between holly and coffee plants. Which is pretty much a good way to think of it.
(Photo from Countryside Nursery)

A lot of people grow Yaupon as an ornamental shrub because it naturally grows in rounded, wind-sculpted shapes like this (the yaupon bushes are on the right.)
(Photo from Will Cook's page about Yaupon)

Manufactured Products that Naturally Have Caffeine

  • Anything that's made with any of the above plants as ingredients will naturally contain caffeine. What you do with those caffeine-containing plant things, how you process the beans or the leaves, and how much you put into the food or drink will have a big effect on how much caffeine the manufactured product contains.
  • Coffee (beverages). Generally speaking, coffee products have the highest amount of caffeine.  But different types of coffee beverages will have different amounts of caffeine.  Espresso has the highest amount of caffeine: 63 mg/oz.  Plain ol' black coffee has about 12 mg/oz. Coffee liqueur has 9 mg/oz.
  • Coffee (foods). Any foods such as ice cream, cookies, pies, cakes, etc. that contain coffee or are coffee-flavored will also contain caffeine.  Again, the amounts vary widely depending on what that product is. Starbucks' coffee ice cream has 5 mg - 7.5 mg per oz.
  • Tea (beverages). Different kinds of tea leaves will have different amounts of caffeine.  How long you steep the tea will slightly affect the caffeine content, too.  Generally speaking, black tea has the most caffeine: 150 mg - 200 mg per 8 oz cup.  White tea has the least: 33 mg - 55 mg per 8 oz cup.
  • Decaf coffee or tea, by the way, still contains some caffeine.  Processors soak the beans or the leaves which allows some of the caffeine to be taken out, but they can't remove all of the caffeine.  In the US, a 6 oz cup of decaf coffee still has about 3 - 6 mg of caffeine.  Think of "decaf" as meaning "less caffeine" as opposed to "no caffeine."
  • Colas (beverages).  Coke (2.5 - 3 mg/oz) and Pepsi (2.6 mg/oz - 3.25 mg/oz) come to mind first and foremost.  They are made with kola nuts so naturally, they will contain caffeine.  But some other soft drinks are not made with kola, but they have caffeine added to them.  Mountain Dew (4.5 mg/oz), Sunkist's orange soda (3 mg/oz), and Barq's root beer (2 mg/oz) are a few. 
  • Chocolate. Milk, dark, semisweet, baker's -- it's all got caffeine. Chocolate cookies, cakes, pies, candies, pudding, chocolate milk, ice cream, breakfast drinks, breakfast cereals, gum, yogurt -- if it's got chocolate in it, it's got caffeine.  Not much, somewhere between 2 mg and 25 mg depending on how much chocolate is involved and whether it's dark (more caffeine) or milk (less) chocolate. The higher the cocoa solids, the more caffeine.  Dark chocolate has more cocoa solids, so it has more caffeine. White chocolate has no cocoa solids, only the fat from the cocoa bean (some argue that therefore it shouldn't even be called chocolate).  No cocoa solids, no caffeine.

Mmm, chocolate. If I had this photo as my desktop wallpaper, I would lick the screen. Like, every five minutes.
(Photo from FreeTopWallpaper)

  • Guarana, yerba mate, guayusa, or yuapon (beverages). US manufacturers are just dipping their toes into these products, and they're trying out various combinations and mixtures.  It appears as though the FDA hasn't had time to get to these things yet because people are selling teas and canned beverages and also "nutritional supplements" with wildly varying amounts of caffeine/caffeine-like stimulants in them.  Some supplements have as much as 800 mg of caffeine. Egad. Read the labels, and don't buy all that "antioxidant properties, cures migraines, reduces inflammation" snake oil crap they're dishing to get you to buy their stuff.

Manufactured Products that Have Caffeine Added

  • Energy drinks.  Where do you think that "energy" is coming from?  The bizarre food coloring they've added to it?  Naw, it's caffeine!  Full Throttle energy drink has 12.5 mg/oz, or 200 mg total. Red Bull has 9.5 mg/oz, or 80 mg total. Redline Power Rush has a whopping 140 mg/oz, or 350 mg total. The FDA is looking very hard at these things because they're often marketed to teen-agers, who shouldn't have more than 100 mg of caffeine per day.

I have 2 thoughts on Red Bull: 1) the "wings" are caffeine; 2) they named themselves Bull.
(Image from Red Bull Brand Blog)

  • Energy drinks combined with alcohol.  These were pulled after the FDA said they were being marketed to young people, but here again, energy = caffeine.  MillerCoors' Sparks contained 214 mg of caffeine per 16 oz can.  The reason the beer & alcohol companies wanted to be able to sell these is that if you mix caffeine with your alcohol, you tend to feel less tired, and you drink more which means you buy more of their alcohol.
  • Diet pills.  Caffeine makes you speedy, speediness reduces your appetite and burns more food, you lose weight. Not in a healthy way, mind you, but it does happen.  Please don't take this as a recommendation to take speed to lose weight.  The FDA banned that sort of thing a long time ago. These diet pills may not containe speed, but they do have enough caffeine to be hair-raising. Zantrex-3 has the caffeine equivalent of 12 cups of coffee -- 3 times the maximum amount for an adult in a day.
  • Pain relievers. Excedrin is the most well-known among these. One Excedrin pill has 65 mg, which means the dose recommended by Excedrin has 130 mg, or close to your caffeine limit for the day.
  • Snacks with caffeine added. Manufacturers are adding caffeine to more and more foods because people get hooked on the caffeine buzz, so therefore people will get hooked on their latest HappyGoodTime SnackBuzz thing. Some products which now have caffeine added: 
      • sunflower seeds
      • breakfast oatmeal
      • beef jerky
      • breath mints
      • gum
      • gummy bears
      • Jelly Bellies
      • lollipops (ThinkGeek makes a maple-bacon variety with caffeine)
      • popcorn
      • Cracker Jack
      • There's even a soap infused with caffeine.

Foods with caffeine added. Some real oddball items in this mix.
(Photo from NPR)

There's even caffeinated soap. A bar of Shower Shock made by ThinkGeek sells for $6.99.
(Photo from ThinkGeek)

Plants that Don't Have Caffeine but that Interact with It

  • Grapefruit -- one of those citrus plants with caffeine in the nectar -- slows the rate at which caffeine is metabolized.  So if you eat grapefruit while you're having your morning coffee, your caffeine buzz will last longer.
  • A similar thing is true of vegetables in the Brassica family. These include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli.  They don't actually contain caffeine, but they can make your body absorb more of the caffeine you take in from other sources. So if you have coffee with your Brussels sprouts, the sprouts will give your coffee more of a kick.

Mmm, Brussels sprouts, roasted, a little caramelization, shown here with some maple syrup.... mmm. Try some with your coffee -- unless you've already had enough caffeine for the day.
(Photo and recipe from Rachel Cooks)

About those mushrooms.  I've checked nutritional data for all sorts of varieties of mushrooms -- oyster, Crimini, enoki, Maitake, portabella, shiitake, straw, and white -- in various forms -- raw, cooked, microwaved, stir-fried, canned, even in tomato sauce.  Not one of them has any caffeine.  Zero. Nada. Zilch.  None.

That doctor must have been taking some of those other kinds of mushrooms, know what I mean?

Mushrooms. Ain't no caffeine here.
(Photo from A World Community Cookbook)

MayoClinic, Caffeine: How much is too much?, Yerba mate: Is it safe to drink?, Caffeine content for coffee, tea, soda, and more
Livestrong, How Much Caffeine is in a Coffee Bean?
Espresso Cafe, Coffee Plants
Choice Organic Teas, How Much Caffeine is in Tea?
Amano Artisan Chocolate, Chocolate Does Have Caffeine
Only Foods, Kola Nut - Benefits, Extract, Powder, Allergy and Side Effects
Encyclopedia Brittanica, Kola Nut 
Guarana Facts & Fiction
WebMD, Guarana
Mi Yerba Mate, Yerba Mate, Mateine not Caffeine
Elena Conis, Yerba mate tea: Drink in moderation, The Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2009
Yerba Mate US, Yerba Mate Health and Chemistry
Medicine Hunter, Guayusa: The New Tea in Town
Stash Tea, Guayusa
Will Cook, Duke University, Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria)
University of Florida, Yaupon holly
Natural News, Yaypon holly offers antioxidant benefits, caffeine, September 22, 2011
Self Nutrition Data, Foods highest in caffeine, Mushrooms
Stuart Exchange, The Caffeine Content of Your Daily Indulgences 
Health Magazine, 12 Surprising Sources of Caffeine
WebMD, Caffeine Shockers: Products Surprisingly High in Caffeine
Allison Aubrey, Not Just for Coffee Anymore: The Rise of Caffeinated Foods, NPR, December 17, 2012
Ella Rain, Foods that Contain Caffeine, love to know diet
Health Canada, Caffeine in Food
Today Food, Looking for a buzz? 5 secret caffeine foods, September 2, 2010
Livestrong, Caffeine in Vegetables, January 3, 2012

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