A fresh move by the Coffee Board of India might irk many lovers of the beverage: The board is contemplating a ban on mixing chicory in coffee powder.
A letter seeking a ban was submitted to the board by coffee growers from the Chikkamagaluru, Hassan, and Kodagu districts of Karnataka.
Yesaloor Udayakumar, the founder of Chihako Coffee, an association of coffee growers, told South First: “We have started a movement now! We will not stop until justice is done.”
He added: “A letter complaining about losses that coffee growers are suffering due to the mixing of chicory in coffee powder and seeking a ban on this has been submitted to the board.”
What is chicory? Why are coffee growers seeking a ban?
Chicory is a flowering plant of the dandelion family. The light purple flower-bearing plant’s roots are roasted and ground to a powder. This is added to the coffee powder.
According to a few reports from Healthline, it is believed that chicory “originated in the 1800s in France during a coffee shortage”.
The reports also said: “For people who were looking for a substitute to stretch out coffee beans, chicory roots were mixed in their coffee.”
It became popular in New Orleans in the US during the Civil War, when there was a shortage of coffee after Union naval blockades cut off one of their ports.
Explaining how and when this process of mixing chicory into coffee powder began in Karnataka, Udayakumar said, the chicory for coffee growers of Chikkmagaluru, Kodagu, and Hassan is procured from Rajasthan.
The procurers of coffee began to mix the chicory so that the quantity of coffee beans they had to use was much lower.
“The Coffee Board members then agreed to the mixing of chicory at a proportion of 10 to 20 percent in the coffee powder, and that is the root of the problem. If they had taken a firm stand then, the growers would not have faced the current situation,” said Udayakumar.
“Now, there is absolutely no limit to how much chicory people mix. From 20 percent to sometimes even 30-40 percent gets mixed into coffee powder. Because of this, coffee growers are at loss,” he explained. “We will not stop fighting until this ban is announced.”
Is chicory-mixed coffee bad for health?
While the Coffee Board members were not available for comment, Udayakumar said that when the letter was handed over to the board, it expressed similar views and they said that it would soon approach the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), as it is of the opinion that it does not have the authority to ban the mix.
“We have also said that chicory can cause health issues and it should not be mixed with coffee powder. The decoction, when made using the original coffee bean powder, is different and doesn’t turn sour as the one which is made using the mix. So, the board members have asked us to approach the FSSAI,” he said.
“We will soon be doing this. We are even ready to go to court with this issue and ensure the ban comes through,” Udayakumar stated.
Filter coffee lovers decry ban call
South First spoke to lovers of “strong filter coffee” from Karnataka, asking whether they preferred coffee without chicory or with it, and a majority of them said they did liked their coffee with chicory.
One of the owners of a very famous and old filter coffee brand in Karnataka, who did not want to be named, said, “There is only about 2 percent of the population in Karnataka that buys coffee powder without chicory. In fact, many of them tell us that they need 40 percent chicory added. We tell them outright we have only 10-20 percent chicory mix in the coffee. No one will drink pure coffee these days.”
The elderly person, who has been in the industry for more than seven decades, told South First that customers demand that one packet of coffee powder must last for at least four-five days.
“If we sell pure coffee powder, with the increase in coffee powder rates to almost ₹200 for 500 g, it will last only for two days. Customers will not accept this. Also, now that the chicory taste has been introduced to them, they cannot go back,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rashmi Kishore, a filter coffee lover from Karnataka’s coffee land Chikkamagaluru, said, “Coffee without chicory? Not acceptable to any coffee lover! Not just me, I am sure the entire clan of coffee lovers will reject this decision.”
She added: “Is there any research conducted on the health effects of chicory? It doesn’t have caffeine and several countries use it as an alternative to coffee. So, before banning this mix, the Coffee Board should conduct a study.”
She also said every individual’s tastebuds differ. For those who drink black coffee or light coffee, they can probably drink it in the pure form, “but for lovers of strong coffee like me, chicory is a MUST.”
The commercial aspect
While the coffee growers’ argued that consuming chicory could create gastric issues and was not good for health, consultant urologist Dr Ranjith Rao — himself a lover of strong coffee — said, “Used in small doses in coffee, chicory is very safe and gives filter coffee a very distinctive and beautiful flavour.”
Rajendra, one of the owners of SLV Hotels in Bengaluru, said, “Chicory-mixed coffee is the preferred one for our customers. I agree that banning it may be a good move, considering the coffee growers’ situation. But pure coffee is sold at around ₹580-600 per kg, and it is continuing to go up.”
He added: “Chicory-mixed coffee works out in terms of price issues for hoteliers as well, so we also need to see how feasible this ban is.”
“If there’s a ban on chicory, then definitely filter coffee lovers would be irked. Can’t deny the fact that a perfect blend of coffee powder and chicory gives a different taste to coffee altogether,” said another coffee lover, Dharini Reddy.
However, Udayakumar argued that people would really love the coffee taste in its pure form.
Also, to get a strong taste and also meet customers’ demands on the pricing issues, “we can mix the slightly expensive Robusta coffee beans with Arabica beans so that the rates can be managed”, he said.
“We don’t need chicory at all. This is a movement and we will definitely not give up on this. Once it’s banned, people will know the real taste of pure coffee.” he claimed.