Is Coffee Flour a New Fair Trade Nutritional Powerhouse?

Coffee flour is a new ingredient making the rounds. Nutrition Diva has the scoop on what it is, how to use it, and whether the nutrition benefits live up to the hype.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #562
The Quick And Dirty
  • Coffee flour is made from edible parts of the coffee plant that were previously discarded.
  • It tastes more like cocoa powder than coffee. 
  • Culinarily, it's used more as a spice or flavoring than as a flour.
  • Although coffee flour is a decent source of fiber, iron, and antioxidants, its nutritional benefits tend to be overstated.

Coffee flour isn't really a flour. And although it is from the coffee plant, it doesn't taste or smell anything like the roasted coffee beans we know and love. 

Coffee beans are actually seeds and, like many seeds, they grow inside a fruit. The fruit that surrounds a coffee bean is called a coffee cherry. After harvesting the coffee beans, the coffee cherry has traditionally been discarded. Billions of pounds of coffee fruit was simply discarded every year. But now this tasty part of the plant is being reclaimed as an edible crop. The cherries are dehydrated and ground into a fine powder and sold as coffee flour or coffee cherry flour. But it functions more like a spice or flavoring agent than a flour.

Coffee beans are actually seeds and, like many seeds, they grow inside a fruit. Now this fruit is being reclaimed as an edible crop.

You'll see coffee flour in stores that specialize in healthy foods, including some Trader Joes. Chefs, food bloggers, and even mixologists have taken interest and have been experimenting with it as an ingredient in drinks, baked goods, dips, and desserts. In an era when we are increasingly focused on reducing food waste, the idea of diverting perfectly good food out of the waste stream is very appealing. Coffee flour production is also providing a new source of income for people in developing countries.

What does it taste like?

Even though it's made from a fruit, coffee flour is not sweet. It is virtually sugar-free and fat-free. It has a slightly tart, slightly bitter taste, like fruity cocoa powder. You can add a tablespoon or two to a smoothie or your favorite chia seed pudding recipe. You can also add it to baked goods, replacing two tablespoons of every cup of flour with coffee powder. You'd certainly notice it if you added it to your pancake or pound cake recipe. You might not notice the difference in a brownie recipe. 

Coffee flour is virtually sugar-free and fat free.

But as one food blogger wrote, "Though the #wasteless angle reeled me in, it's the nutritional aspects that really sold me. ... The real reason I'd cook with coffee flour again is not for its flavor, but for the nutritional boost it offers."

And it is sometimes touted as a nutritional powerhouse. One website claims that coffee flour has more iron than fresh spinach, more protein than fresh kale, more potassium than a banana, and more fiber than whole grain wheat flour.

But this is a perfect example of how nutrition claims can be true but not meaningful. 

How nutritious is coffee flour?

You see, the comparisons cited on this website are based on weight. But comparing the nutrients in a dried product like coffee flour to fresh food like spinach or kale by weight is a false comparison because the water in the fresh foods adds so much weight. Yes, one hundred grams of coffee flour has more iron than 100 grams of spinach. But dehydrate that spinach into a powder, and the two have the same amount of iron per gram. 

Now, when it comes to protein, it's odd that they chose to compare coffee flour to kale because kale is pretty low in protein. Then again, perhaps that's exactly why they chose to make the comparison. Even so, dehydrated kale actually contains three times more protein per gram than coffee flour. 

Yes, one hundred grams of coffee flour has more iron than 100 grams of spinach. But dehydrate that spinach into a powder, and the two have the same amount of iron per gram.

Coffee flour does contain more potassium than even powdered banana. But despite their reputation, bananas are not the best sources of potassium out there anyway. Spinach, avocado, sweet potato, winter squash, and leafy greens all provide more potassium per serving than a banana. And, unlike bananas or coffee flour, these potassium-rich foods are also high in a lot of other nutrients.

It is also true that coffee flour contains more fiber than whole wheat flour. That's because it's mostly fiber,  a mix of soluble and insoluble. Substituting two tablespoons of coffee flour in every cup of whole wheat flour would roughly double the fiber content of your finished dish.  

In terms of other vitamins and minerals, coffee flour contains minimal amounts of calcium and vitamin A. It's biggest star is iron, providing anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the daily value per tablespoon (depending on the varietal), which is comparable on a per-serving basis to other iron-rich plant foods.

What about caffeine?

The coffee fruit is much lower in caffeine than the coffee bean but still higher than most plant foods. A tablespoon of coffee flour has about 60 mg of caffeine. That's a bit more than a can of Coke or cup of black tea, but significantly less than a cup of brewed coffee.

8 ounces brewed coffee: 200 mg caffeine

16 ounce latte: 150 mg 

1 tablespoon coffee flour: 60 mg

8 ounces black tea: 40 mg

12 ounce can of Coke: 35 mg

8 ounces decaf coffee 15 mg

1 tablespoon cocoa powder: 12 mg

The bottom line on coffee flour

If you like to experiment with unusual ingredients, coffee flour is a fun and interesting novelty. And the sustainability and fair trade angles definitely give it some additional cachet. But unlike the food blogger I quoted earlier, I certainly wouldn't seek this ingredient out for its nutritional benefits alone. 

The sustainability and fair trade angles definitely give coffee flour some additional cachet.

It's a decent source of fiber and iron. But there are cheaper sources of each. I paid about $9 for 8 ounces of coffee flour, which would yield about 24 tablespoons or a cup and a half. A tablespoon of chia seed in my smoothie would add just as much fiber and a bonus helping of omega-3 fatty acids. 

Have you experimented with coffee flour? What are your favorite ways to use it? (I still have 3/4 of a bag here—I could use some ideas!)

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.