Java Beat: Is There Histamine in Coffee?
This article originally published in Greater Sturbridge Town & Country Living, February 2021 By Elvis Dyer, Owner/Roaster, Sturbridge Coffee Roasters
Recently, a customer asked me if coffee was high in histamine. The question caught me a little off guard as I think she was the first person to ever ask me that. The answer is “it’s complicated.” Coffee is definitely not an antihistamine, however histamine intolerance in coffee tends to have misinformation on both sides, mainly due to the fact that histamine intolerance is still a relatively unknown ailment. (As always, please consult a doctor before making any dietary changes.) Histamine is normally present at safe levels in the body. Some people may have histamine intolerance or sensitivity which occurs when there is a build-up of histamine and the body is unable to fully break it down, which can cause allergy symptoms.
Is Coffee High Histamine?
Very few foods naturally contain really high levels of histamine and most of these are fermented foods (such as beer or kimchi). However, most coffee is not fermented for long. Coffee is usually fermented only to more easily remove the skin of the fruit surrounding the bean. The seeds of the coffee fruit (known as coffee cherries) are usually called coffee beans but they start as little red fruits on trees. When the seeds are fermented, it can build up histamine levels within the beans, which do still persist once they are processed, roasted, ground and brewed into the cup of coffee you enjoy.
In addition to fermentation, caffeine is also something to consider in the histamine equation. In theory, caffeine blocks the effects of diamine oxidase (DAO), which is an important histamine degrading agent, which blocks the cleaning up of histamines from your system.
To avoid the caffeine content, switch to a quality decaf. There are a few different methods for removing caffeine from the green coffee beans. Solvent-based methods use chemicals like Ethyl acetate or Methylene chloride to remove caffeine while the Swiss Water process requires just water, time and temperature. If you are dealing with a histamine intolerance and want to have decaf coffee, I highly recommend you make sure it is decaffeinated through the Swiss Water process which relies on caffeine solubility (dissolvability) and osmosis to remove caffeine from green coffee beans.
What coffee should I drink?
If you have a histamine intolerance, there are some options to try. Organic coffee beans tend to be held to a higher standard, especially if they carry additional organic certifications. These beans are often more rigorously tested for mold or toxin exposure.
Also, go for the regular brew instead of decaf, and even make it a dark roast. Darker roast coffee beans have lower levels of caffeine, which is slowly degraded during the roasting process. Or, if you do want to skip the caffeine, go for a decaf that is decaffeinated through the swiss-water process (99.9% caffeine free) vs the chemical decaffeinated method. And don’t overlook the items you add in your coffee. If you’re trying to avoid histamines, omit the sugar and milk/dairy products from your coffee.
And it really is a case of trial and error as to whether people with histamine intolerance can have coffee. My best suggestion would be to start by trying an organic, or a low acid coffee in a small quantity and see if you have a reaction.