Cascara – Do you really want the cherry on top?
As a food scientist, I am always interested in seeing what the latest and greatest products are, especially in my current focus area of coffee and tea. The one that caught my attention recently is Cascara tea. Having only tasted this beverage a couple of times, it is very mildly flavored with some sweet and tangy notes. If you enjoy pleasant, very mild flavor profiles, this may just be your cup of tea! Personally, I think it makes a great ‘base’ to add spices, flavorings or other ingredients to build unique beverages, which is definitely already happening.
As I look at the increased presence whether in major coffee shops or smaller establishments, I am reminded of the cold brew coffee phenomenon, not as a category, but from a food safety standpoint. It is absolutely wonderful that we can derive even more value and enjoyment out of the coffee fruit. However, there are definite concerns when there are no regulations on how to ensure those other components are safe for consumption.
With respect to coffee, cascara refers to the dried husks or outer skins that have been removed from the fruit so the green coffee beans within can be accessed. Depending on where they are sourced from, these skins have varying moisture content and that introduces different levels of microbial growth risks. This is not an issue if the tea is being steeped in (very) hot water. However, if there is no heat treatment of these skins before they are consumed, there can be some very serious health implications. As with my messaging on cold brew coffee, this is not a deterrent to exploring new beverages. It is just an encouragement to do the due diligence in ensuring you are fully aware of the supply chain risks and the multiple points where these dried skins can pick up taints or other contamination.
I would love to hear of other ways that can be used to keep the cold preparations safe for consumption e.g. mixing with high acid juices to make a refreshing beverage for the summer?! Let’s start the discussion and continue learning from each other.