Could roasting coffee trigger irreversible lung damage?
• Drinkers may have dark personalities as heating beans releases toxic chemicals
From a strong Americano to a frothy cappuccino, four billion cups of coffee are knocked back every day across the globe.
And behind the scenes, thousands of people work at coffee plants, roasting green coffee beans until they change into the rich-flavoured brown ones that are ground down to make a tasty drink.
But coffee workers may be in danger of irreversible lung diseases, according to an investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Roasting coffee releases a chemical called diacetyl, an organic chemical used in food flavourings, most famously in the butter-flavouring added to popcorn.
It is considered safe to eat, but studies show it can be toxic if heated and inhaled over a long period.
In the 1990s, popcorn plant workers exposed to these levels of fumes suffered serious, incurable lung diseases, after just a few months, according to a report by the United States (US) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Specifically, they suffered obliterative bronchiolitis – a rare, irreversible form of lung disease now known as ‘popcorn workers’ lung’.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wanted to find out if people working in coffee roasting factories could be facing similar dangers.
Reporters there tested the air at two mid-sized roasteries in Wisconsin for diacetyl levels in the air.
They found levels were up to four times higher than the limits set by the CDC, putting workers in danger.
However the results expose problems only when coffee is roasted on an industrial scale – and are not relevant to baristas grinding the black stuff in café or to caffeine-lovers pushing down cafeterias at home.
“Diacetyl particles are small enough that they bypass hairs and mucous in the nose and throat and get into those very smallest airway passages,” Alan Barker, a pulmonary specialist at Oregon Health and Science University told Wired.
There has been a suggestive study done of coffee roasting workers, compared to people who had desk jobs in coffee plants,” he added.
“And they showed that the roasters had more things like cough and shortness of breath than those who were not closely exposed.”
Diacetyl is also released while makin bread, brewing beer, making wine, and in other food-making processes.
Meanwhile, a particular liking for bitter-tasting foods and drinks such as coffee and tonic water could mean you have psychopathic tendencies.
Psychologists have found that those with a preference for bitter tastes were more likely to exhibit signs of Machiavellianism, sadism, and narcissism.
That is, they were more prone to being duplicitous and self-serving, cold-hearted and lacking in empathy, vain and selfish, and more likely to derive pleasure from other people’s pain.
The findings of the study provide the ‘first empirical evidence that bitter taste preferences are linked to malevolent personality traits,’ said the researchers from Innsbruck University in Austria, who studied 1,000 people in two separate experiments.
“The results suggest that how much people like bitter-tasting foods and drinks is stably tied to how dark their personality is.”
Bitter foods include unsweetened cocoa, black coffee, radishes and the quinine in tonic water.
For the first experiment, 500 men and women were shown a long list of foods with equal numbers of sweet, salty, sour and bitter foods. These included chocolate cake, bacon, vinegar and radishes.
Having a wider face has been linked with higher levels of attraction and aggression, and recent research suggested it may also be a sign of psychopathy.
A study of students and prison inmates found that men with a higher facial width-to-height ratio were more likely to exhibit what’s known as ‘self-centred impulsivity’.
They also showed signs of ‘fearless dominance’ as well as a tendency to blame other people for problems.
Self-centred impulsivity is a category of traits including Machiavellian egocentricity and is the tendency to consider only personal needs, with a disregard for the interests of anyone else.
Those high in self-centred impulsivity also tend to neglect the social norms and regulations that the rest of us live by.
Fearless dominance, meanwhile, includes a tendency to embrace risk without any fear, showing limited reaction to awful events that would make the rest of us panic – combined with a tendency to appear charming and influential.
They were asked to rate how much they liked each of them on a six-point scale ranging from dislike strongly to like strongly. The participants, who had an average age of 35, then completed four separate personality questionnaires.
The first measured their levels of aggression by asking them to rate how much statements such as ‘Given enough provocation, I may hit someone’ sounded like them.