Coffee cherries: Super food or Pulp fiction?

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If cherries were celebrities then coffee plants would be trailed by the paparazzi. Why? Simple. Its little red and green berries are endlessly photogenic.

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Pic by Big Island

Cafes across the planet adorn their walls with images of those juicy beauties, sometimes attached to a laden branch, other times held in the weathered hand of a harvester, but always plump and shiny and strangely exotic.

Despite that, very few people in the Coffee Universe will ever see, touch, smell or taste a coffee cherry. Again I ask why and again, the answer´s a simple one. The vast majority of these precious fruits are harvested when they ripen and turn red, then stripped of their flesh to extract the two pale seeds locked inside. That´s their party trick – giving birth to coffee beans.

After that the ‘green’ beans are washed and dried and roasted and ground and brewed and at long last, drunk as coffee. But what happens to the rest of the cherry? There are a few options.

The vast majority of coffee farms discard the flesh or use it as fertilizer – but a few innovators are doing something different; giving fresh purpose to the pulp. They’re using the fruit as food.

Last month The Coffee Universe featured an article about coffee flour, a gluten-free product made from cherry pulp. It’s rich in fibre, protein, iron, potassium – and in flavour.

But it’s not the only possible use.

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Pic by The Luxury Spot

A company based in Hawaii has launched a coffee cherry juice. It insists the fruit is packed with nutrients and, as a result, offers consumers a staggering array of health benefits. Their bottled drink has numerous supposed superpowers including boosting brain function and serving as an anti-inflammatory. Other entrepreneurs support the claims and have transformed cherry waste into potent powders which consumers can add to drinks and foods for an extra boost.

Coffee cherries are also used by some skincare companies who say the coffee plant contains powerful antioxidants which help maintain a youthful appearance.

And what about simply eating the fruit? It’s certainly an option if you have access to a coffee farm – but it’s definitely an acquired taste. I ate a few cherries when I volunteered on a Nicaraguan coffee farm and while the flavour wasn’t unpleasant, I mostly remember the texture – firm on the outside but slippery and slimy on the inside.

That’s my experience – but who knows what’s in store for coffee cherries. Are they destined to become the new super food? Or is all it just compelling pulp fiction? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ll stick to espresso.