SEATTLE — In Seattle’s latest and perhaps most original contribution to the worship of java, a local startup is trying to make a new culinary staple out of coffee flour.
Mind you, that’s not flour made out of coffee beans, one of the world’s most valuable and widely traded commodities. It’s made by grinding the dried pulp of coffee cherries, the fleshy coverings of the beans, which are usually thrown out.
The resulting product can be baked into bread, cakes and doughnuts, said Dan Belliveau, a former director of technical services at Starbucks and now the founder of CF Global Holdings, the company behind the effort.
His idea has won the backing of Intellectual Ventures, a big Bellevue investment firm run by former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold, a billionaire and a prolific inventor who is also a foodie.
Myhrvold co-wrote “Modernist Cuisine,” a book that seeks to popularize science-inspired cooking techniques from centrifuges to enzymes, and plenty of food experimentation goes on at Intellectual Ventures’ lab in Bellevue.
The coffee-flour advocates say it has five times more fiber than the conventional wheat variety, and 84 percent less fat than coconut flour. It would also give fresh kale a run for its money with three times as much protein per gram, and it’s gluten-free to boot.
Coffee flour doesn’t taste like coffee but has more “floral, citrus and roasted fruit-type notes,” the company says.
As for the caffeine jolt, it may not be much, Belliveau says. A typical serving — say, in a sandwich using bread made with 25 percent coffee flour — has approximately the caffeine content of an eighth of a cup of brewed coffee.
Nevertheless, said Belliveau, “We are working on a decaffeinated version.”
The unveiling of CF Global’s plans comes in the midst of rising concerns about food prices, driven up by increasing demand in emerging economies.
It’s also a time of crisis in the coffee market: Wild swings in price, combined with the spread of a disease called “coffee rust,” have driven many farmers to ruin, especially in Central America, home to some of the world’s best beans.
Help to coffee growers
CF Global’s executives and backers say their venture could give coffee farmers an extra source of revenue and make coffee production more environmentally palatable by making a food ingredient out of undesired waste that is normally left to rot.
Belliveau says up to 8 billion pounds of coffee flour could be produced worldwide per year if the coffee crop is appropriately utilized by flour millers.
That’s potentially a lot of flour — equal to about a fifth of the wheat flour consumed in the U.S. in 2011, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
Jason Wilson, a Seattle culinary star, has been toying with coffee flour in his restaurant, Crush.
His early experiments were not always successful, according to a post on CF Global’s website.
First, he tried to create financiers, a spongy cake that usually contains almond flour, out of 100 percent coffee flour. “The taste was excellent, but the mouth feel and consistency was far too intense,” he wrote. Pasta made out of 100 percent coffee flour was “terribly brittle and dry,” he reported.
But dialing the coffee flour component down to a quarter and adding almonds, eggs and other flours worked well for the financiers; similar proportions in pasta or other concoctions heightened the flavor of existing ingredients, Wilson wrote.
Wilson also said a lot of milk and moisture was needed because the high-fiber content soaked up all moisture. Bread “was the hardest to figure out,” he wrote.
But the “robust flavor” of coffee flour has made it a “key ingredient in a variety of dishes on our menus.”
Coffee flour can’t be found on the shelves yet. Belliveau said the company expects to produce between 350,000 and 400,000 pounds of flour this year, and 2 million to 3 million pounds in 2015. That’s when it expects to launch its products.
The company will first try to sell flour to bread manufacturers, as the quickest way to grow volume.
Belliveau sees coffee flour as a supplement to other flours, not a full replacement. Unlike many gluten-free flours, it has good binding qualities, he said.
CF Global has struck partnerships with Swiss-based Ecom, one of the world’s largest coffee merchants and coffee millers, and Mercon, a coffee trading firm with Nicaraguan roots.
Currently CF Global is turning coffee pulp into flour in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Vietnam.