August 29, 2011

Can Pistachios Replace Coffee?


Could pistachio nuts be used to make a healthier, caffeine-free beverage that tastes like coffee? According to a Sunday article by Telegraph Science Correspondent Richard Gray, the answer might be yes.

"It has caused coffee manufacturers sleepless nights: could there be a caffeine-free coffee which actually tastes like the real thing?" Gray asked. "The search for a stimulant-free alternative has often proven less than fruitful, with versions of the drink which lack not just caffeine's kick, but flavor."

But now, he says, "scientists claim to have found a possible solution in a type of pistachio nut."

The solution could originate from the fruit of the Pistacia terebinthus, which is also known as the as terebinth and turpentine tree. The deciduous tree, which grows to heights of more than 30 feet, is native to the Mediterranean region, including parts of Morocco, Portugal, the Canary Islands, Greece, and western Turkey.

The fruits of the tree, which are between five and seven millimeters long, are red to black in color when they ripen. According to Gray's article, scientists believe that those fruits, if carefully roasted, "could offer all the flavor of coffee, with none of the kick--as well as being significantly cheaper."

"It might seem an unlikely boast, as the special type of pistachio nut is from a tree better known as having sap which is a source of turpentine," the Telegraph Science Correspondent writes. "But chemists at the University of York say that pistacia has the same chemical 'signature' as real, caffeinated, coffee - meaning it can be made to have the same taste and aroma."

Gray reports that the researchers discovered that roasting the Pistacia terebinthus nuts at a temperature of 200 degrees for 20 minutes causes a change in their chemical profile, similar to the one that occurs in roasting coffee beans.

"The roasting produced high amounts of chemicals that give the nuts a caramel and burnt sugar smell along with a slight citrus and pine flavor," Gray said. "Green coffee beans need to be for around 10-15 minutes and the roasting process changes the flavor of the final coffee."

To examine these claims, Gray says that the Telegraph contacted Danielle Hadley, a judge for the UK Barista Championships and a committee member of the UK chapter of the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE), to brew different types of coffee using the pistachio substitute, then compare them to the flavor of an actual "Cup of Joe".

First, they say she brewed the pistachio coffee "in the same way as a traditional Turkish coffee, producing a rich, dark brown drink with a chocolate and nutty smell." She said that it smelled "nutty" and had "quite a distinctive flavor, but I'm not sure it is a perfect substitute for traditional coffee. It does smell really nice and I could see why it might take off."

Next, they had her try to use it to "create the perfect espresso," and that the result "suggested pistachio coffee might not take off in trendy coffee bars“¦ The roast nuts turned into an oily paste, which did not lend itself to espresso--the thick paste did not let much water run through and the result was bitter and oily."

Hadley told Gray that in a competition between the pistachio coffee and regular brew, she would "pick the traditional stuff every time."


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