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Your ground coffee may contain soybeans, corn--even twigs

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What's really in that cup of joe? (iStock)

With world coffee prices on the rise, producers may be adding fillers to your pre-ground coffee to maximize profits. 

Along with water and coffee, you might also be drinking wheat, corn, soybeans, rye, ground acai seeds and even brown sugar in your morning brew, according to the American Chemical Society. While not harmful, these unwanted fillers may affect the taste and quality of coffee.

Drought and a detrimental fungus have been ravaging coffee farms, leading to an unexpected rise in impurities, such as wood, twigs, leaves or other matter from the coffee plant, found in coffee grounds.

“With a lower supply of coffee in the market, prices rise, and that favors fraud because of the economic gain,” says Suzana Lucy Nixdorf, Ph.D.,  a Brazilian scientist who is working to combat the filler problem.

Nixdorf and her team of researchers have developed a new test that detects unwanted additives through the use of liquid chromatography and statistical tools.

Traditional methods for testing coffee impurities involve examining grounds under a microscope and even tasting the compounds—a subjective process with a lot of room for error, according to Nixdorf.

“With our test, it is now possible to know with 95 percent accuracy if coffee is pure or has been tampered with, either with corn, barley, wheat, soybeans, rice, beans, acai seed, brown sugar or starch syrup,” she said in a statement to the American Chemical Society.

World coffee supplies are estimated to drop by about 70 percent by 2080 due to conditions related to climate change, according to a 2012 study from the U.K.’s Royal Botanic Gardens and the Environment. 

In Brazil, 55 million bags of coffee are typically produced each year but estimates project the country will likely produce only 45 million by the end of 2014.

While detecting grains and other fillers in your grounds might help keep your morning joe pure, once the coffee is brewed with water, detection of these elements is difficult. 

The team plans to use the test on product before it hits the shelves.