Coffee has been a popular beverage for many centuries and is among the most widely consumed drinks worldwide. The idea of roasting coffee started in 1258 A.D in Arabia which is a heating method that causes changes in the chemical properties of the beans to bring out their color, flavor, and aroma.
After the roasting process, the beans can go stale and lose their flavor if exposed to the air for a long time. To increase the shelf life of the roasted beans, modern coffee packagers and manufacturers have adopted nitrogen atmospheres. In this article, we will find out how safe nitrogen-flushed coffee is and how coffee products are packaged and preserved using nitrogen flushing.
Nitrogen gas is completely safe. As a matter of fact, you are exposed to this gas constantly because the air you’re breathing is composed of 78% nitrogen gas. It is a food-safe and odorless inert gas. The abundance of nitrogen in the atmosphere makes its production relatively inexpensive so you will also be able to save on your packaging expenses.
Since nitrogen has no color, taste, and smell, there is very little chance that it will affect the smell and taste of the coffee beans. Thus, maintaining the quality of your coffee products. Lastly, the structural bond of nitrogen is also very strong so it is very non-reactive. This means that it is stable enough and is guaranteed to not cause unwanted reactions.
The shelf life of ground coffee is short. This is why it is packaged in airtight and vacuum-sealed containers to keep their flavors. Dark containers are even better for packaging coffee beans to achieve the best flavor because light cannot pass through them.
But, when ground coffee beans are left on the shelves for too long, they may develop an off flavor. This is because they are exposed to oxygen. Oxygen is ground coffee’s major enemy and causes the coffee beans to go stale faster. Aside from using vacuum-sealed containers, some coffee manufacturers are embracing newer packaging practices like nitrogen flushing. This method prevents spoilage of the product by ensuring that no oxygen remains in the container before the sealing process.
Moreover, nitrogen gas is heavier compared to oxygen. Its molecules are larger than oxygen so it can squeeze the oxygen molecules out of the containers easily to prevent rancidity and staling. Lastly, since coffee beans are natural products, packaging them with nitrogen helps prevent insect infestation.
Basically, nitrogen flushing is when roasters use nitrogen gas to fill the containers to displace the oxygen in them. Thus, preserving the coffee beans’ freshness and minimizing or stopping oxidation. So when the consumers remove the beans from the containers, the beans would appear as if they have just been roasted.
Coffee beans are full of aromatic oils that bring out the delightful scents, rich crema, and fresh taste of the coffee. Grinding the beans exposes these oils. However, oils are prone to oxidation which can cause the coffee beans to go stale.
So, it is a common practice in the coffee industry to package ground coffee beans using nitrogen prior to the sealing of the containers. But remember that the effectiveness of using nitrogen flush packaging will depend on a lot of factors.
Note: Nitrogen flushing is different from vacuum packaging. In vacuum packaging, oxygen is removed from the containers prior to the sealing process. While nitrogen flush packaging can be paired with vacuum packaging (like in vacuum and gas nitrogen flushing can sealers) to “vacuum” the oxygen inside the containers before flushing them with nitrogen gas.
Below is an overview of how coffee manufacturers package their products using the nitrogen flushing method.
Packagers should ensure that they use a sterilized gas filter where the nitrogen gas supplied to the containers will pass through to prevent contamination.
In summary, using nitrogen flushing for packaging coffee has no downside and is totally safe. Nitrogen flush packaging prevents oxidation and allows the occurrence of degassing which most coffee manufacturers find desirable. Nitrogen flushing is also ideal for manufacturers who prefer degassing their coffee products for several days because nitrogen allows degassing without quality loss because of oxidation. You can also find ideal can packaging machines here in LPE.