Saturday, June 15, 2013
Do you know the difference between Decaf and Caffeine Free? I didn't until recently.
We’re living in a health obsessed society and caffeine has become a baddy in some food circles. There are a range of caffeine-free herbal teas, but every so often people ask if teas are decaffeinated, so what is the difference between decaffeinated and caffeine-free and is one better for you than the other?
Decaffeinated is a term we all associate with tea and coffee, it has become commonplace in coffee shops to hear customers ask for decaffeinated, or decaf, drinks, but what does it really mean for something to be decaffeinated? Decaffeination is a process used to remove caffeine from coffee, cocoa or tea. The first commercially successful decaffeination process was in 1903. This process involved steaming coffee beans in a salt water solution and then using benzene, this first decaffeination process subsequently ceased to be used because of concerns over benzene. Since then most decaffeination processes for coffee beans involve using chemical solvents such as methyl chloride or ethyl acetate to strip the caffeine from the beans. There are a couple of methods, the swiss water and the sparkling water, that avoid the use of chemical solvents and use water to remove the caffeine but these are not widely used commercially. Decaffeinating of tea is similar in that the leaves of the tea plant, the camellia sinensis, are soaked and treated with chemical solvents to extract caffeine.
It is widely acknowledged that decaffeinated drinks are not 100% caffeine-free, there are however legal limits in the EU and US as to what percentage of caffeine is removed to allow a product to be labeled decaffeinated (in the EU caffeine content must be under 0.1% and in the US it’s 0.3%). A typical cup of decaffeinated coffee can have anything from 3mg of caffeine up to about 30mg of caffeine and a typical cup of decaffeinated tea anything up to 15mg of caffeine (figures vary depending on brew time and strength of original beans/leaves before decaffeination and other factors).
So what does it mean to be caffeine-free? This means they are made from herbs and leaves that do not contain caffeine to start with, therefore they do not undergo a decaffeination process, many (but not all) herbal teas are caffeine-free. As the name suggests caffeine-free products have 0mg of caffeine. Caffeine-free has the natural advantage that it has not been subjected to any form of chemical process, and for some this makes caffeine-free the healthier option.
The world of healthy eating is confusing and there is conflicting information out there but caffeine-free always means no caffeine and decaffeinated always means a caffeine product that has been treated to remove as much caffeine as possible. In other words caffeine-free and decaffeinated are different but they are very often competing in the same marketplace for the same health conscious customers.