RALEIGH, N.C. – A molecular scientist who moonlights as a cafe owner developed a way to add caffeine to baked goods, one that eliminates the natural, bitter taste of caffeine.
"This gives people the opportunity if they want to have a glass of milk and want to have caffeine. It will get them going," Dr. Robert Bohannon said.
The amount of caffeine in his creations can vary, but Bohannon can easily put 100 milligrams of caffeine — the equivalent of a 5-ounce (150-milliliter) cup of drip-brewed coffee — into the treats he plans to market under the "Buzz Donuts" and "Buzzed Bagels" names.
Bohannon, who owns Sips Coffee & Tea cafe in Durham, is not selling the amped-up baked goods yet. He recently began seeking patents and shopping the products to companies including Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc., Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks Corp. There's no word yet on whether the companies like the idea.
But with waistlines and anxiety already expanding across the nation, some observers already question whether it's wise to combine two key sources of these problems — caffeine and calories.
"I see nothing positive from this," said Barry Popkin, a nutrition scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "In many ways we're creating a super caffeine generation. They're undersleeping, they consume a lot of caffeine to stay awake but they don't understand there are health effects.
"It's like getting a candy bar and putting Vitamin C in it, saying you're getting your Vitamin C from this candy bar."
Popkin has studied the health effects of caffeine and says consuming more than 300 to 400 milligrams a day can lead to heart problems, among other negatives. A 12-ounce soda typically has 30 to 55 milligrams of caffeine.
Bohannon, 53 and a coffee drinker since he was 8 years old, says he is well aware of the risks but urges moderation.
"You don't want to overdo it on anything," he said, noting the positives that Popkin and others agree can result from caffeine, such as improved alertness.
He also sees a demand for more caffeine and says he has customers at his cafe who order eight shots of high-caffeine espresso at a time.
"There's some mornings that I'd like juice instead of coffee but I still want that caffeine kick," said Stephanie Harris, a customer at Sips Coffee & Tea. "So I would love to have a caffeinated bagel or caffeinated doughnut. That would be awesome."
Bohannon said his idea for caffeine-enhanced baked goods began about six years ago.
"I was sitting with a glass of milk and a doughnut," he said. "I needed a little jolt in the morning."
So, he began trying to create baked goods that would provide his much-loved coffee buzz by way of food. His first attempts at adding raw caffeine to doughnuts fell way short.
"They were terrible, absolutely horrid," Bohannon said. "The caffeine was so bitter it would just make you puke."
He has since learned how to turn caffeine into small, flour-like particles, eliminating the bitterness and gritty texture. He also adds a vegetable oil-based coating.
Bohannon, who holds a degree in molecular biology from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a doctorate from Baylor College of Medicine, also runs Environostics Inc. in Durham. The small company makes ultra-sensitive tests that detect pregnancy, infectious diseases and other conditions.
But with his revved-up baked goods, Bohannon believes he is on the verge of a different kind of breakthrough.
"Some people get their caffeine buzz from soda, chocolate and other sources besides coffee," he said. "The Buzz Donut and the Buzzed Bagel lets them get the caffeine buzz by simply eating a delicious pastry item."