Is Cold Brew Healthier Than Regular Coffee?
One registered dietitian investigates the benefits of choosing cold brew over hot coffee.
My interest cold brew coffee began when I noticed that my morning cup of joe was causing an annoying burn in my throat. Coffee can be pretty acidic, so I assumed that was the culprit. After hearing that cold-brew coffee was less acidic than regular coffee, I picked up some high-quality cans of cold brew at the store and started ordering cold brew at my favorite coffee shops. The burn disappeared. It led me to wonder: Could cold brew have additional health benefits that might merit the extra cash it costs?
First Off, What Is Cold Brew?
Perhaps most importantly, cold brew is not iced coffee, which is hot-brewed and then chilled. Cold brew coffee is created by steeping coarse-ground coffee beans in room-temperature water for 10 to 20 hours. The resulting coffee concentrate is then strained of the grounds and chilled. A little cold water and/or ice is usually added to the concentrate. There's a chance you've also seen nitro cold brew, a coffee infused with nitrogen gas, which is usually served from a tap and is slightly fizzy, often with a thick head of creamy foam.
Does It Taste Different?
Yes. Cold brew is often described as creamy, smooth and less acidic, often with cocoa flavor notes. In the making of regular coffee, hot water releases the coffee's natural acids which gives your cup the bright, acidic flavors that are generally prized by coffee connoisseurs. But now many prefer the rich, less-bitter, naturally sweet, even caramel notes produced in cold brew, says Beth Ruge, Director of Nutrition Science and Professional Affairs at the Heartland Group, which provides cold-brew for private-label.
Is Cold Brew Healthier?
Regular coffee has all but been confirmed as a health beverage for almost everyone except pregnant women. Coffee is produced from the seed of a coffee cherry, a fruit that’s rich in antioxidants. The resulting coffee is also rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents and it likely has benefits in terms of brain health, bone and digestive health, as well as against cancer, heart disease, diabetes and all-cause mortality. Research is ongoing on the benefits for the microbiome and gut health.
In emerging research, scientists have found links between cold brew and immune health. More research is being conducted on the differences in the antioxidants that are extracted during cold brew and hot brew and their overall associated health properties, says Mark Corey, Ph.D., Director of Scientific and Government Affairs at the National Coffee Association.
EA Stewart, dietitian and GI Expert at EAStewart.com explains that some people with tummy troubles like IBS may be better able to enjoy lower acid cold brew especially if it is decaffeinated, since caffeine stimulates the movement of food through the digestive tract. (Although, decaf cold brew can be tricky to find unless you make it yourself.) Stewart notes cold brew is also likely low FODMAP, although it hasn’t officially been tested.
One solid benefit of cold brew over regular coffee is that since cold brew tastes smoother, sweeter and more full-bodied, cold brew is more often enjoyed black, says Sara Burnett, Vice President of Wellness at Panera Bread. Without the addition of cream or sugar, cold brew clocks in at less than 25 calories per serving. And when cream and sugar are added, less is usually needed so the calorie savings can be significant.
Serena Ball, MS, RD is a registered dietitian nutritionist, food writer, and recipe developer. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com and is the author of the best-selling The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. Follow her @TspCurry on Twitter and Instagram.