Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Don't worry, it is safe to drink Kopi Luwak!

Elvera N. Makki, Contributor/Houston, Texas
The Jakarta Post, Features News - Friday, February 18, 2005

Do you dare drinking Kopi Luwak, a coffee which beans are coming out of Luwak's feces? Is it safe enough for your stomach?

"Yes, it is" said Adjunct Professor Massimo Marcone, a food scientist from University of Guelp, Ontario, Canada, "although the beans has passed through luwak's digestive system, my test shows that the counts of bacteria are lower on Kopi Luwak than on regular coffee. A strange finding but one that has been subjected to a repeated battery of scientific tests." he added.

Marcone has been studied about Kopi Luwak for two years. He traveled to Indonesia in 2003 and came back about a month a go for additional research.

“As a food scientist, I’m skeptical that anything being in contact with feces is safe,” said Marcone. “But tests revealed that the Kopi Luwak beans had negligible amounts of enteric (pathogenic) organisms associated with feces.”

In fact, the luwak beans on the market are quite clean. The local Indonesian collecting the beans perform an extensively wash under running water after collection, which dislodges bacteria.

He also analyzed that the “cherry,” or endocarp surrounding the bean, was not completely digested by the Luwak; hence, it must be removed during processing. "This likely leads to a more thorough washing process."

Including on his research was whether or not passing through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of the Luwak was in fact affecting the flavor of the beans, making it uniquely different from the regular ones.

So together with other members of his department, he completed a series of tests on the Kopi Luwak beans and compared them with Columbian beans, which were used as a control.
First, they examined if there was any color differences between unroasted samples of the two beans. Using a colorimeter – an instrument that detects different colors – they found that the Kopi Luwak beans had more red and yellow tones, whereas the control beans were more greenish in color.

Then, the surfaces of the two beans were examined using a scanning electron microscope. The Kopi Luwak beans were found to be smoother than the control, indicating that the gastric acids and/or enzymes of the Luwak were exfoliating the surface of the bean, explained Marcone.

Pitting was also observed on the surface, and the next step was to determine if the acids and enzymes were actually penetrating the Kopi Luwak beans, affecting them in some way.

Electrophoresis – a method that “fingerprints” proteins – was used to determine differences in the protein content of Kopi Luwak and control beans. The Kopi Luwak beans were found to be lower in total protein, meaning that proteins were partially broken down and leached out during their travel in GI tract of the Luwak.

This has the potential to affect the flavor and aroma of the beans because as we may all aware that proteins are responsible for much of the flavor, particularly bitterness. Since Kopi Luwak beans have less protein, they may produce a less bitter coffee, which for some people has made it a premium taste.

Analysis of the volatile compounds that also responsible for flavor and aroma also showed that they were significantly different than the control, further indicating the potential for Kopi Luwak coffee having a different flavor than ordinary coffee.

It’s also believed that fermentation process inside the luwak's digestive system could give the coffee a unique flavor, “More tests need to be completed, though, to determine if in fact a flavor difference is occurring.”

In the coffee industry, wet processed or fermented coffees are known to have superior flavor to dry-processed coffee, “When coffee cherries are processed through the digestive track, they actually undergo a type of wet processing due to acidification in the stomach and fermentation due to the natural intestinal microflora."

”The exceptional Kopi Luwak flavor could be due to the type of wet process the beans undergo in the luwak’s digestive tracks," he said.

On the last trip to Indonesia, Marcone was stationed in Padang (West Sumatra) but the plantation he visited was in Northern Sumatra.

He met few people including the owner of the plantation who has collected over seventy kilos of the beans for this year, and he actually also enjoyed collecting his own Kopi Luwak.

If the plantation owner he met was the same person who dealt with the US specialty coffee importer LJ Cooper Co., it must be a very good news for the company that the beans are finally about to ship in.

It is obvious that neither Cooper nor Marcone revealed the detail contact of the plantation owner with me or anybody, not even shared the exact place where the luwak's beans were found.

It is understandable since confidentiality is what matter most, considering exploitation of Luwak may occur if the name and place are disclosed.

How the luwaks eat the reddest ripest cherry and the time when they relieve themselves are very natural process. People who has a big obsession to make money out of it may jeopardize that process. They may start to breed the luwaks which has been avoided from the beginning. If this happens, no more exclusivity.

Marcone brought home some of the beans for additional research, "I will possibly publish another paper especially should there are any new findings but it will surely take time and need more research dollar." ended Marcone. (*written by vera makki - http://kopiluwakstory.blogspot.com/)

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