Natural Source of Caffeine and Its Role

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Humans have been consuming caffeine since the Stone Age in which they found that through chewing the seeds, bark or leaves of certain plants enable them to reduce fatigue, increase alertness and elevating their mood. Only much later, they realized effects are more effective by brewing the plant in a hot water. Since then, caffeine properties have been benefitted in medications and food and beverage products. Back then, caffeine can be found naturally in more than 60 plant species but now with technology advancements caffeine can be done synthetically.

As mentioned, more than 60 plants possess a plant alkaloid called caffeine. This is where the caffeine extracted naturally from seeds of coffee beans, cacao beans, Kola nuts, leaves and bud of tea, which are common among people across the globe. There are also another natural sources of include guarana berries and the yaupun holly. Besides, every each plant carry a variety of caffeine mixture including, xanthine alkaloids, including the cardiac stimulants theophylline and theobromine and other substances such as polyphenols which can form insoluble complexes with caffeine (Balentine DA, Harbowy ME and Graham HN,1998). 

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Hence, natural source of caffeine can be done through extraction. Extraction and isolation of caffeine was first discovered by a young physician named Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge. Runge begin with a small box of rare Arabian mocha beans undergo analysis creating first isolated world’s first pure caffeine sample in a form of white crystalline in 1819 (Weinberg and Bealer, 2001). Based on the discovery, a few methodology are derived in order to extract caffeine from natural sources.

Primarily, water extraction requires the natural product it can be a coffee bean or leaves and buds of tea to be soaked in water. Once soaked, the water will not only contain caffeine but more other compounds that elevate the coffee taste which is the common way of doing it. A complex extraction process like the supercritical carbon dioxide extraction involves CO2 is forced through the green coffee beans at temperatures above 31.1 °C and pressures above 73 atm. Under these conditions, CO2 is in a 'supercritical' state: it has gaslike properties which allow it to penetrate deep into the beans but also liquid-like properties which dissolve 97-99% of the caffeine. 

The caffeine-laden CO2 is then sprayed with high pressure water to remove the caffeine. The caffeine can then be isolated by charcoal adsorption (as above) or by distillation, recrystallization, or reverse osmosis (Fred, 2005). For a non-hazardous option, organic solvents used in supercritical carbon dioxide extraction can be substituted with ethyl acetate or triglyceride oils from spent coffee grounds. Thus, natural extraction of caffeine can be done efficiently without possessing harmful effect to human health and environment.

Caffeine supply does not have to be dependent on the natural sources because of recent progress caffeine can be produced synthetically. It all started during the World War II, embargoes on goods have made the Nazis to come out with synthesised version of caffeine.. Sadly, it is not uncommon for any caffeinated products marketed are all having the synthetic caffeine content in it. This is because, laboratory made caffeine are much cheaper compared to the natural one so that they could increase their profit. 

Synthetic caffeine undergoes chemical synthesis of urea as the raw material and exposure to harsh chemicals like methylene chloride, ethyl acetate and carbon dioxide in its production in spite of it having similar characteristic to the natural one. Most of the caffeinated products are made out of synthetic version in which a small amount of consumption might not affect human health but it is still possible to avoid consuming the synthetic one. It is when buying any caffeinated product, should a person check on its ingredient list, if it mentioned ‘caffeine’, it is synthetic. If vice versa, as the actual name of the natural source such as guarana or green tea, then it is sourced naturally from plants that contained caffeine.   

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