Health experts have long advocated drinking tea instead of coffee, and the Middle East is awash in both, but modern food technology is heating up health concerns over this ancient brew. A recent article in The Atlantic raised questions about the safety of synthetic tea bags. Tea bags? Now we have to worry about tea bags?
Newfangled tea bags have come online, partly as brand differentiators, partly for “better” functionality as brewing devices. Silky-tongued marketers devised novel geometric shapes and “fabrics” to set their products apart, and the majority of these tea bags are made with plastics. Some are nylon, some are viscose rayon, and others are thermoplastic, PVC or polypropylene.
Plastics have high melting points, but polymer molecules begin to break down at lower temperatures, allowing the bags to leach compounds with unknown health hazards when steeped in boiling water.
Paper tea bags may be as bad as plastic since many are treated with epichlorohydrin, a compound used to produce epoxy resins. It’s also used as a pesticide, and is found in coffee filters, water filters, and in variable levels in refined vegetable oils and sausage casings.
According the Mercola website, when epichlorohydrin mixes with water, it hydrolyzes to 3-MCPD, a carcinogen associated with food processing that has also been implicated in suppressed immune function and infertility.
And no health agencies are supervising this potential toxic exposure.
I stumbled on this news over a Jordan holiday: this week Labor Day combined with Orthodox Easter. Many people travel over the five-day weekend, and I’d placed an order for Turkish apple tea with a friend who headed to Istanbul. Now I’m thinking that sweet brew could do me in.
A good way to protect yourself is to buy tea from manufacturers who can certify that their bags don’t contain this compound. Or opt for loose tea. To avoid pesticides, select organic tea. Or do what I’m considering: drink beer.
Image of dunked tea bag from Shutterstock