The maturity of green coffee beans is the most influential determinant of the quality and flavor of the resultant coffee beverage. However, the chemical compounds that can be used to discriminate the maturity of the beans remain uncharacterized. We herein analyzed four distinct stages of maturity (immature, semi-mature, mature and overripe) of nine different varieties of green Coffea arabica beans hand-harvested from a single experimental field in Hawaii. After developing a high-throughput experimental system for sample preparation and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) measurement, we applied metabolic profiling, integrated with chemometric techniques, to explore the relationship between the metabolome and maturity of the sample in a non-biased way. For the multivariate statistical analyses, a partial least square (PLS) regression model was successfully created, which allowed us to accurately predict the maturity of the beans based on the metabolomic information. As a result, tryptophan was identified to be the best contributor to the regression model; the relative MS intensity of tryptophan was higher in immature beans than in those after the semi-mature stages in all arabica varieties investigated, demonstrating a universal discrimination factor for diverse arabica beans. Therefore, typtophan, either alone or together with other metabolites, may be utilized for traders as an assessment standard when purchasing qualified trading green arabica bean products. Furthermore, our results suggest that the tryptophan metabolism may be tightly linked to the development of coffee cherries and/or beans.
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