Science

Do coffee-flavored foods have caffeine in them?

Coffee is one of the leading sources of caffeine in this sleep-deprived, open-24/7 world that we live in. When you don’t have time to brew a fresh pot of liquid energy, can you grab a coffee-flavored treat to get you through the day instead? Do coffee-flavored foods even contain caffeine?

It depends

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Unfortunately, there isn't a definitive answer. To determine if a coffee-flavored food actually contains caffeine, you’ll have to take a closer look at its ingredients. If it’s made from naturally caffeinated ingredients (like coffee beans) then yes, it will contain some caffeine. If its flavoring is artificial or is made from some other natural ingredient besides coffee, then the food item could possibly be caffeine-free, although the exact answer is still uncertain.

Artificial flavors

Many coffee-flavored foods are produced using artificial flavors. This means that the coffee taste you experience actually comes from chemical combinations that produce a flavor similar to coffee. Without the real thing, there’s no caffeine, but be careful. Artificial flavors alone don’t necessarily mean that the food is caffeine-free. Some coffee-flavored foods include caffeine extract instead.

Natural ingredients

Fancy cup of coffee with scattered coffee beans in background
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If you see the words “natural ingredients” on the label, that means the food contains caffeine, right? Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that. It is possible to create the flavor of coffee using natural ingredients that don’t contain caffeine.

The tea producer Teeccino makes a coffee-flavored beverage entirely made from natural ingredients that's completely caffeine-free. They combine flavor extracts from natural ingredients, such as garlic, to produce a coffee-like flavor that won't give you the jitters.

How to tell if something contains caffeine

To truly determine if a food contains caffeine, you have to study its nutrition label. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), if caffeine is added to a food, it must be included in the ingredients list on the label. If caffeine is naturally present in one of the ingredients, it doesn't have to be included separately on the label. Basically, if you see caffeine or any naturally caffeinated ingredient included on a food label, there’s a good chance that the food contains some amounts of caffeine.

Ingredients that contain caffeine

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Since caffeine doesn’t have to be listed separately if it occurs naturally in an ingredient, the only way to tell if a food contains caffeine is to know what ingredients are naturally caffeinated.

  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Guarana
  • Certain teas including green, black, white, oolong, and kombucha

If you’re trying to reduce your caffeine intake, avoid any foods with these ingredients listed on the back panel. Luckily, since caffeine is so popular, it’s typically used as a marketing tool on packaging. Most food producers don’t shy away from using exciting words like “energizing” or “invigorating” in large letters. These keywords are good indicators of the caffeine inside.

Coffee-flavored foods

Although it’s never certain, most coffee-flavored foods do contain some amount of caffeine. If they don’t, it’ll most likely be stated on the packaging. However, just because a food is coffee-flavored doesn’t mean that it’s going to have the same amount of caffeine as your morning cup of coffee.

A typical eight-ounce cup of coffee contains between 80-100 milligrams of caffeine. Coffee-flavored ice creams can vary in their caffeine levels, but they typically range between 20 and 45 milligrams per half cup. If coffee yogurt is more your speed, you’ll be ingesting around 32 milligrams of caffeine per serving. It’s hard for a flavored food to beat the caffeine levels of a regular cup of joe, but it’s likely that they do contain at least some amount of caffeine.