coffee
Instant coffee sold online for two years was found to contain an ingredient chemically similar to Viagra.

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On the back of virtually any bottle of supplements are two words that strike fear into the heart of Harvard Medical School assistant professor Pieter Cohen: “Proprietary blend.”

The words are printed beneath the bold lettering that claims to list the supplement’s ingredients. But under the protective umbrella of these two words, Cohen said, a supplement maker does not have to list the details of what’s in a given product.

That is what likely happened with a type of instant coffee — sold by Texas-based vendor Bestherbs Coffee LLC — which the FDA recently found to contain an ingredient that’s chemically similar to Viagra.

The “proprietary blend” is essentially a loophole that “allows companies to put in ingredients without telling us the amounts,” Cohen said during a panel discussion organized by the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. “And those tend to be the higher-risk product.”

The coffee, sold under the oddly-spelled name “New of Kopi Jantan Tradisional Herbs Coffee,” was available online for nearly two years between 2014 and 2016. But last week, the FDA announced that the company was voluntarily recalling its product after testing revealed it contained undeclared ingredients. Desmethyl carbodenafil raised particular alarms, since the ingredient is chemically similar to sildenafil, the active ingredient in the popular erectile dysfunction drug Viagra.

On Bestherbs’ package, the instant coffee is merely labeled as containing “natural herbs.”

The FDA has recently overseen the recall of two other similar coffee products: Stiff Bull Herbal Coffee and Caverlo Natural Herbal Coffee. The vendors of each claimed their coffees included an ingredient derived from the root…