March 8, 2012
Is That Caffeine In Your Drink Really Natural?
That caffeine in your tea, energy drink or other beverage may not be natural. Manufactured by the chemical industry, synthetic caffeine is big business in many drinks that contain the drug. Scientists are reporting successful use for the first time of a simpler and faster method for detecting synthetic versus natural sources of caffeine.
Their report appears in the American Chemical Society (ACS) journal Analytical Chemistry. The scientists set out to develop a faster, simpler method for categorizing caffeine's origins.
Maik A. Jochmann, Ph.D., and colleagues point to the growing consumer preference for foods and beverages that contain only natural ingredients. Coffee, tea, colas, energy drinks and other caffeine-containing drinks are the most popular beverages in the world. Food regulatory agencies require that caffeine be listed on package labels, but do not require an indication of whether the caffeine is from natural or synthetic sources. The FDA views synthetic chemicals to be the same as ¬†natural compounds. Labels never have to disclose when ingredients are chemically produced, even many organic labels.
In the study, they describe use of a technique called stable-isotope analysis to differentiate between natural and synthetic caffeine. The test makes use of differences in the kinds of carbon isotopes -- slight variations of the same element -- found in caffeine made by plants and caffeine made in labs with petroleum-derived molecular building blocks. Their analysis, which takes as little as 15 minutes, found four products that contained synthetic caffeine, despite a "natural" label.
How to Read Caffeine Labels:
Chloroacetic acid (1) is neutralized in water. This neutralized product is treated with an equimolar amount of sodium cyanide (2). An equivalent amount of acid is added: sulfuric or hydrochloric (3) and the mass concentrated to a thick syrup. Benzene (4) is added and the salts removed by filtration. The benzene is removed by distillation to yield cyanoacetic acid.
NATURAL CAFFEINE: Natural, real caffeine comes from various plant species. Caffeine content within these plants will vary throughout the year depending on weather, soil conditions, time of year harvested, etc. So caffeine content is impossible and impractical to determine for labeling on products like coffee or tea. They have constantly changing amounts. Naturally caffeinated products will not have caffeine as an ingredient or measurement on the label.
SYNTHETIC CAFFEINE: The first sign the caffeine in your drink is synthetic is it is listed on the label & has an exact measurement. This is the cheapest & most common added caffeine source. The processes & compounds may vary between chemical companies, but they are all disturbing.
FORTIFIED CAFFEINE: Still usually synthetic, caffeine can be obtained from the coffee decaffeination industry, although it is substantially pricier & rarely used. This will also note caffeine on the label with a measurement. Caffeine supplies from this industry use methylene chloride, formaldehyde or ethyl acetone for it’s removal. There is no such thing as removing the caffeine with just water.
Synthetic Caffeine Treated With Sodium Cyanide and Benzene
(1) Chloroacetic acid is a chemical reaction of splitting trichloroethylene using sulfuric acid as a catalyst. Trichloroethylene, aka TCE is a chlorinated hydrocarbon commonly used as an industrial solvent. Banned in Europe & most countries as a known carcinogen, poisonous & infectious material, it remains legal in the USA.
(2) Sodium cyanide is an inorganic compound with the formula NaCN. This highly toxic colourless salt is used in gold mining.
(3) Sulfuric acid is a strong mineral acid used in car batteries, ore processing, fertilizer manufacturing & oil refining.
(4) Benzene iss an organic chemical compound with the molecular formula C6H6. It is a colorless and highly flammable liquid. Because it is a known carcinogen, its use as an additive in gasoline is now limited, but it is an important industrial solvent and precursor in the production of drugs, plastics, synthetic rubber and dyes.
Owing to possible adulteration and health concerns, it is always important to discriminate between natural and synthetic food ingredients and caffeine is now an critical ingredient to look out for. Those who purchase caffeinated beverages would be wise to read the labels on all products containing caffeine.