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The Coffee Bean Gets a Certified Reference Material

Coffee beans.
Credit: Mike Kenneally/Unsplash
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Scientists at the Korea Research Institute of Standards and Sciences (KRISS) have developed the world’s first certified reference material (CRM) for the coffee bean.

The CRM allows for the accurate measurement of five nutritional elements (calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and copper) and three harmful elements (lead, mercury and cadmium) within the dried fruit.

The paper detailing the CRM was published in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry.

A reference bean

CRMs are written standards used to maintain the quality of products and verify the accuracy of analytical methods that test them. Prior to the KRISS researchers’ work, there was an international CRM for caffeine, but no such material for coffee beans.

To fill this gap, the Inorganic Metrology Group at KRISS began work by freeze-drying a batch of raw coffee beans that they then ground and mixed to create a homogeneous sample, which was then sterilized through irradiation.

According to domestic Korean regulations, the permissible limit for the total lead content in roasted coffee, instant coffee and other coffee products is 2 mg/kg or less. In Europe, the cadmium content in dried edible coffee beans is regulated to be 0.05 mg/kg or less, and the lead content is restricted to 1 mg/kg or less. In this new CRM, the lead, mercury and cadmium content are all approximately 0.1 mg/kg, which meets the standards for both domestic and European regulations.

The new CRM also employs isotope dilution mass spectrometry for measurement. With this method, the KRISS team said they have achieved an accuracy that is more than three times better than that of the conventional measurement methods used by food testing institutions.

“This achievement represents a technological advancement that can significantly improve the quality control level of coffee, a popular beverage as well as heavily imported product,” said Dr. Kyoung Seok Lee, the director of Division of Chemical and Biological Metrology.

Lee and their colleagues say their CRM could help support future coffee-related research. The team’s ambitions don’t stop there. “KRISS will continue to develop CRMs for foods such as Korean cabbage, blueberry, and pork, so as to make healthy and safe dining table for the nation,” they added.

In South Korea, the per capita coffee consumption of the adult population is 2.7 times higher than the global average. Coffee imports (raw and roasted beans) reached a record high of 200,000 tons in 2022.

Reference: Lee JW, Lim MC, Lim Y, Tegegn GB and Lee KS. Development of a coffee bean certified reference material (KRISS CRM 108-10-023) for elemental analysis. Anal and Bio Chem. 2023. doi: 10.1007/s00216-023-05051-5

This article is a rework of a press release issued by South Korea’s National Research Council of Science and Technology. Material has been edited for length and content.