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Can You Eat Coffee Beans?

Over the years there has been much hoopla in the media about the health benefits of coffee. From lowering the risk of threats like heart disease and Parkinson’s to being a HUGE source of antioxidants, these little caffeine-filled nuggets are some of the most incredible natural wonders of the world!

But, knowing that a cup of coffee can come with so many benefits, it makes sense to wonder if you can achieve the same, or even better, effects by simply eating the beans themselves.

The question, “can you really eat coffee beans?” has been swirling in my head for a while now, along with the equally important question “Would you even want to eat them in the first place?

Here’s what I found out...

The Skinny on Eating Coffee Beans

First things first, let’s go over the coffee bean basics and if it’s O.K. to eat them.

Can you eat them? Yes or no?

Let’s not beat around the bush here. As you probably thought from the getgo, the short answer is yes, of course, you can eat coffee beans.

I’m sure you’ve come across chocolate-covered roasted coffee beans on the shelves of your local supermarket. Coffee beans are perfectly edible.

Whether or not you’d want to consume them, however, is the far more interesting question.

Green or roasted?

Let’s consider the coffee beans themselves. What are they exactly?

For starters, coffee beans come from the coffee plant. They grow in coffee cherries and are harvested (by humans or machines), processed in one of a variety of ways, and then stored as green beans until they’re roasted, packaged, and sent to coffee shops, stores, and your home.

So, to be thorough, when we’re talking about eating coffee beans we want to consider both green and roasted beans.

can you eat unroasted beans

Eating unroasted coffee beans is also an option, though not everyone will enjoy the taste. Green beans are described as tasting grassy or woody and highly acidic without any of the caramelized flavors that emerge during the roasting process.They are also very hard and can be difficult to chew.

Roasted beans, on the other hand, have a much more pleasant and present flavor, and can be a bit less tooth-cracking — even if they’re still quite hard.

How do they compare to a cuppa?

As it turns out, eating coffee beans, whether green or roasted, provides similar effects to drinking coffee, with the notable exception that they’re magnified.

Drip coffee being poured

A drip coffee

This means that not only are the benefits greater, but the downsides are also worse.

Alright, now that we’ve covered what coffee beans are and the fact that YES we can eat them, let’s break down some of the major pros and cons that come along with directly digesting the offspring of the coffee plant on a regular basis.

The Advantages of Eating Coffee Beans

First, let’s take a look at a handful of the biggest benefits that come with directly consuming coffee beans rather than grinding them up to brew.

Antioxidants

Many of coffee’s acclaimed health benefits stem from the beans’ high concentration of antioxidants in the form of chlorogenic acids. These phenolic acid compounds have been proven to ward off cardiovascular diseases and reduce inflammation.

Your daily cup of joe may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and more. It also packs a powerful punch of antioxidants. In fact, Americans get more antioxidants from coffee than from any other food or beverage. - Andrea Gabrick, Web MD (1)

Green arabica beans have as much as 150 mg of these antioxidants per gram, nearly double of what is found in green tea. Unfortunately, nearly 50 to 70 percent is lost in roasting  (2), while another portion is left behind when coffee is brewed.

Green beans, or those with a very light roast, are therefore the best bean to eat if its the antioxidant effect that you’re looking for.

Fiber

Coffee beans are high in fiber, with a serving of thirty beans providing approximately 3 grams or 10 percent of your daily recommended intake. For comparison, a brewed cup of coffee has exactly 0 g of fiber.

Fiber benefits your body in multiple ways. For one, it bulks your stool as it passes through the digestive tract, helping to prevent constipation. It also promotes a feeling of fullness, even in small quantities, making it valuable for weight management.

Caffeine

As compared to drinking brewed coffee, eating the beans provides you with even more caffeine. Furthermore, it is absorbed better through the mucous membranes in the mouth (3).

Studies have shown that caffeine can improve memory and mental functioning, decrease fatigue, and may help prevent Type 2 diabetes.

On the other hand, for those looking to limit caffeine, such as pregnant or breastfeeding women or those with high blood pressure, drinking brewed coffee is probably a safer option.

Anyone with difficulties sleeping should also avoid consumption of the beans which are known to cause sleep disruptions, particularly late in the day. There is about 5 to 10 mg of caffeine per coffee bean and the recommended maximum daily intake for an adult is 400 mg.

And The Disadvantages

O.K., now that we’ve got an idea of some of the pros to eating coffee beans directly, let’s take a look at the dark side of the coin. How can eating them be a drag on your health?

Heartburn

For those with acid sensitivity, drinking coffee can lead to painful heartburn. Eating coffee, unsurprisingly, can make it even worse.

Along with their naturally occurring acids, coffee beans contain a number of substances, such as caffeine and catechols, that are known to boost the production of stomach acid. 

They are present in higher quantities in whole beans as compared to liquid coffee.

Cholesterol

There is some evidence to suggest that eating, rather than drinking coffee may lead to increased production of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol. This is due to the presence of two compounds, cafestol and kahweol (4), which are present in coffee beans in 10 to 40 times greater quantities than in brewed coffee.

spilled coffee beans from a cup

While the link between cholesterol and coffee is not well-established, it may be prudent to avoid eating the beans if high cholesterol is a concern.

Laxative effect

Without going into too much detail, the laxative properties of coffee are well-established and often considered beneficial. However, when amplified, they may present a problem. Be cautious when binging on coffee beans to avoid any uncomfortable situations.

Taste

No matter how much you love a dark cup of bitter black coffee, it is still a far cry from the bitter graininess of crunching down on a roasted bean.

Not many people would advocate for either the taste or texture of coffee beans. Fortunately, there are several delicious ways to eat these beans.

The most recognizable is probably chocolate-covered coffee beans. While this certainly amps up the deliciousness factor, it also increases both the sugar and fat content. Another popular option is to eat unbrewed coffee grounds by incorporating them into baked goods (5) or nutrient rich protein shakes.

If you’d like a little bit of inspiration on how to doctor up your beans for a tastier experience, check out this video:


To Eat or not to eat...

So now you know, not only are coffee beans perfectly edible, they may even be medicinal! As long as extenuating circumstances like pregnancy, acid reflux or high cholesterol aren’t a factor, coffee beans are a healthy addition to your diet.

Have you tried eating coffee beans? Do you like them straight up or dipped in chocolate? Have you tried snacking on unroasted green beans?

Do you have a favorite recipe using coffee grounds? Let us know in the comments below. Have any friends who are curious about the pros and cons of eating rather than drinking their coffee? Please pass this article along.

If you are interested in learning more about coffee beans and where they come from, then check this informative article.

FAQs

Can you eat raw coffee beans?

Yes, you can eat raw coffee beans. However, you may not like them as much as roasted beans because they do not taste pleasant. They are also highly acidic and are dense and hard, which makes them quite difficult to chew. On the other hand, raw beans are richer in nutrients and antioxidants than their roasted counterparts.

Does eating coffee beans help you lose weight?

Coffee beans contain fiber and chlorogenic acids that can help you lose and manage your weight. In fact, several studies suggest that chlorogenic acid helps reduce the absorption of carbohydrates (6). However, coffee beans lose most of their chlorogenic acids when they are roasted. If you wish to lose weight by eating coffee beans, we recommend choosing green beans instead of roasted beans.

How many coffee beans are safe to eat?

Consuming up to 400 mg of caffeine is safe for normal, healthy individuals, depending on sensitivity and tolerance. A single Arabica coffee bean contains about 5 to 10 mg of caffeine, which means you can eat as much as 40 to 80 coffee beans per day.

Chocolate-covered coffee beans, however, have higher amounts of caffeine. Milk chocolate contains 9 mg (7) and dark chocolates contain about 12mg (8) per ounce. On the other hand, a serving of 28 dark chocolate-covered beans is estimated to contain 336 mg of caffeine (9).


References

  1. Gabrick, A. (2009, January 15). Coffee's Surprising Health Benefits. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/does-coffee-have-nutritional-value-you-bet
  2. Duarte, S. et al. (2005, April/June). Effect of processing and roasting on the antioxidant activity of coffee brews. Retrieved June 2, 2019 from http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0101-20612005000200035
  3. Treadwell, L. The Effects of Eating Coffee Beans. Retrieved from https://www.livestrong.com/article/476658-the-effects-of-eating-coffee-beans/
  4. Schaefer, A. and McDermott A. (2016, March 29). Coffee and Cholesterol: Is there a link? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/high-cholesterol/coffee-link
  5. Damewood, C. (2019, January10) . How Can Coffee Beans Be Used in Baked Goods?Retrieved from https://oureverydaylife.com/can-coffee-beans-used-baked-goods-23173.html
  6. Johnston, K. L., Clifford, M. N., & Morgan, L. M. (2003, October). Coffee acutely modifies gastrointestinal hormone secretion and glucose tolerance in humans: Glycemic effects of chlorogenic acid and caffeine. Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14522730
  7. United States Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release. Retrieved June 15, 2019, from https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/6153?fgcd=&manu=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=50&offset=&sort=default&order=asc&qlookup=19120&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing=
  8. United States Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release. Retrieved June 15, 2019, from https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/6451?fgcd=&manu=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=50&offset=&sort=defaThult&order=asc&qlookup=19902&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing=
  9. Lee, M. (2018, December 12). How Much Energy Can You Get From Eating Coffee Beans? Retrieved June 16, 2019, from https://www.livestrong.com/article/536440-much-energy-can-eating-coffee-beans/
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Scott
 

Hi, I'm Scott, and I've traveled extensively through North America and Europe, exploring food and drink pairings around the world. My Love of coffee began during my teen years when a friend's family introduced me to the glories of the classic Italian Moka pot. That technology got me through too many early-morning final exams in college and eventually led to a manual espresso machine after graduation.

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