Kelly Hensel

Kelly Hensel

Group Discussion
Join the Discussion right arrow
To join an online discussion on this topic, IFT members can visit IFT Connect at iftconnect.org/cellular-coffee. Share your thoughts and see what others have to say!
Creating Coffee Cell Cultures

Creating coffee cell cultures at VTT laboratory

Coffee cell cultures (right) and roasted coffee produced by VTT's cellular agriculture method

Coffee cell cultures (right) and roasted coffee produced by VTT's cellular agriculture method

Dried Coffee Cell Biomass

Dried coffee cell biomass

Elviira Kärkkäinen preparing coffee at VTT laboratory

Elviira Kärkkäinen preparing coffee at VTT laboratory

Elviira Kärkkäinen preparing coffee at VTT laboratory

Elviira Kärkkäinen preparing coffee at VTT laboratory

Research Scientist Elviira Kärkkäinen and Research Team Leader Heiko Rischer at VTT's laboratory

Research Scientist Elviira Kärkkäinen (left) and Research Team Leader Heiko Rischer at VTT's laboratory

Like most other food products, the cost of coffee beans is surging—up nearly 43% this year alone. On top of pandemic-related shipping and supply chain issues, extreme weather has damaged coffee crops in Brazil and political protests have stalled exports from Colombia.

“Conventional coffee production is notoriously associated with several problematic issues, such as unsustainable farming methods, exploitation, and land rights,” explains Heiko Rischer, principal scientist at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. “Growing demand and climate change add to the problems.”

But what if you could produce coffee in a lab using fewer resources and without the need for land? Rischer and his team have done just that using cellular agriculture, an alternative to conventional farming based on biotechnology that “provides alternative routes for commodities that are less dependent on unsustainable practices,” says Rischer.

While the team is still in the process of examining the coffee biomass in detail, the early results are promising. “At this point, we know that caffeine is produced by the cultures and that the flavor profile of the roasted material and the brew is similar to conventional ground coffee,” notes Rischer. “There is huge potential to affect the character of the coffee by adjusting, for example, culture and roasting conditions.”

The process starts by initiating coffee cell cultures, establishing respective cell lines in the laboratory, and transferring them to bioreactors filled with nutrient medium to produce the biomass. The biomass is then roasted, brewed, before finally undergoing analytical and sensory testing. “In terms of smell and taste, our trained sensory panel and analytical examination found the profile of the brew to bear similarity to ordinary coffee,” says Rischer in a VTT press release.

Decades in the making

The team at VTT has been spent decades working with a wide spectrum of plant species to explore their potential with cellular agriculture. In 2018, the team published a paper discussing the study of plant cell cultures from cloudberry, lingonberry, and stoneberry. They discovered that the resulting biomasses not only had a pleasant, fresh, and mild flavor resembling the corresponding fresh fruits, they were also nutritionally valuable. In fact, Rischer explains that almost all nutritional parameters were better in the biomass produced from the plant cell cultures than those in the corresponding fruits.

“Most published reports either focus on utilizing plant cell cultures for extraction of specific ingredients or approach the topic from a rather theoretical point of view without providing reviewable scientific data,” wrote the researchers in the 2018 study published in Food Research International. Now, the team has successfully shown that cellular agriculture can be useful for more than supplements and ingredients … it can be taken from a raw material to a familiar product. “In the coffee case, we wanted to present something tangible that directly speaks to the consumer,” says Rischer.

Still, there are multiple hurdles to overcome before cellular coffee hits your local grocery store. “Mainly it is about dedicated industrial partners supporting the long-term vision,” explains Rischer. “The approval process is clearly mapped out. Product development and regulatory approval require significant investment, and we want to collaborate with dedicated players from the industry to drive the development.”

And, of course, the processes must be economically viable. “Without a competitive price, the approach will not be successful,” says Rischer. “Future piloting will provide exact number to calculate product costs.”

About the Author

Kelly Hensel, Senior Digital Editor, reports on the latest industry and research news for ift.org and the Weekly newsletter. She also interviews chefs about the intersection of culinary and science for the Culinary Point of View column.
[email protected]
Kelly Hensel

Digital Exclusives right arrow

10 Food Trend Predictions for 2022

The editors at Food Technology magazine, published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), have announced their predictions for the hottest food trends for 2022.

When Science Follows Technology

While canning is commonplace today, for that generation of food technologists it was a paradigmatic example of the power of science to change food for the better.

Ingredient Companies Seek Sodium Reduction Solutions

In October 2021, the FDA released new voluntary guidance on sodium reduction with the overarching goal of reducing consumption by 12% over the next two-and-a-half years.

North American Consumers Get Comfortable With Cannabis

What changes have occurred in the way Canadians perceive cannabis since it was legalized there in 2018? How do Canadian and U.S. consumers of cannabis and edibles compare?

Food Technology Articles right arrow

Entrées Ace the Freezer Case

Brands old and new vie for space with on-trend SKUs that are plant-based, clean label, gluten-free, high protein, and globally influenced.

Keeping an Eye on the Nation’s Nutrition

In a new role at the USDA, an award-winning researcher and public policy expert is poised to break down barriers to nutrition security and health equity.

Top 5 Trends in Flavors and Ingredients

A team of Food Technology editors combed the IFT FIRST Expo floor looking for the latest flavor and ingredient innovations and found five top trends that are both familiar and forward-looking.

Recent Brain Food right arrow

Nine Tips to Keep Food Safe This Fall

Labor Day weekend generally marks the unofficial end of summer in the United States, but it doesn’t have to mean the end of summer fun.

10 Common Culprits of Foodborne Illnesses

As a food consumer, there are many methods to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

A Historical Look at Food Safety

Here's a look at major food safety developments throughout the years. 

Food Science and Technology Research Gets a Long-Awaited Boost

The National Science Foundation’s new Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships fuels funding for the food-energy-water system and offers opportunities for IFT to weigh in.