Food for Thought: How Healthy is Instant Coffee by Lindsey Huster

How healthy is instant coffee?

Brew. Java. Cup of Joe. Whatever you prefer to call your café noir, it may be the healthiest way to start your day. Coffee has been linked to preventing cavities, healthier moods and relieving headaches. A cup of coffee also significantly reduces the risk of Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes. 

But how healthy is instant coffee, the most beloved beverage of Korea? Instant coffee is drink revered by Koreans, and tolerated, and at times, loathed by (most) ex-pats. Even if instant coffee is not your cup of tea, it continues to be the closest to a drinkable ambassador of Korea (in company with the spirited Soju, of course).  

Instant coffee, and more specifically coffee mix packets - a blended triumvirate of coffee powder, cream and sugar- are one of the most consumed drinks in Korea. According to Nielson findings, an average Korean guzzle 300 cups of instant coffee a year.

Instant coffee is relatively new in the scheme of beverage consumption, and more so with Korea. Isatori Kato, a Japanese scientist, invented the new brew in 1901. It was picked up by Nescafe Company in 1938, and found its way to into the ration packets of World War II soldiers. Soon after, instant coffee became a ubiquitous ingredient for morning routines in America. 

It did not take long for the trend to make global headway. With the advent of Korean independence in 1945, also came a burgeoning coffee culture. Years later, Donsuh Foods introduced the infamous “coffee packets” in 1976, a sugary and almost indigenous spin to the caffeinated drink. Two years later,  instant coffee became indefinitely on tap with the help of vending machines. Since then, instant coffee has became a permanent feature for the cupped-shaped hands of many Koreans.  Dongsuh coffee mix packets now account for almost 80 percent of Korea's total coffee market. 

Coffee and second cousin, instant coffee, are far from tantamount. Although each picked from the same bean, each then evolves into its own blend of caffeinated potation. 

Even though instant coffee is derived from coffee beans, it is less caffeinated and has a bitter taste than coffee. After the coffee beans are roasted and ground, it is freeze-dried. This process creates a long shelf life, unlike that of coffee.

Instant coffee also contains a higher caloric count than a typical cup of joe.  A Maxim Mocha Gold coffee has 55 calories versus a measly 5-calorie-cup of black coffee.  Additionally, coffee packs, depending on the variety, contain a hefty dose of sugar; a noticeable and agitating difference for some consumers.

Even with these nutritional stats, however, there may be a few reasons continue to imbibe instant coffee. Although there have been minimal research studies conducted on the long-term effects of instant coffee, several findings have found a handful of health benefits (although not nearly as much as its counterpart).  Instant coffee contains the antioxidant methylpyridinium. This anticancer compound, which can be found in caffeinated, decaffeinated and instant coffee products,  has been linked to preventing colon cancer. 

Instant coffee also does not increase the risks that are associated with heart disease.  European research studies have shown that regular coffee consumption may lead to increased serum cholesterol levels. These serums cholesterol increases come from cafestol and kahweol, which are found in the coffee's oils.  Through the process of creating instant coffee, most of these substances are removed. 

All things considered, even though instant coffee may not carry all of the anodyne-qualities of brewed cup of coffee, it might be worth the sip.

Lindsey Huster a writer who usually hails from Chicago. She enjoys listening to music,wearing cardigans and generally anything vegetarian. 

Read more about the history here: The History of Coffee in Korea | Seoul Eats

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