Whether it’s tea or coffee, sooner or later we all end up reaching for a non dairy creamer because there’s no milk handy and we want a creamy hot drink. Because milk products don’t tend to store too easily in the long-term, these creamers tend to be based on similar proteins to those found in milk but without any dairy. But are these non-dairy creamers a fire hazard and should we be careful when using them?
Non-dairy creamer is flammable. The finely ground powder can easily disperse in the air and when it does, it has very high oxygen to surface area ratio, and it can catch fire in the presence of a naked flame or even with a spark. If there is enough powder present, it could even explode.
It may seem strange that a commonly used food product like creamer can be flammable. So, let’s take a closer look at non-dairy creamer and how it can catch for and maybe even explode.
Also read: What Makes Something Flammable?
Table of Contents
What Is Non-Dairy Creamer?
Non-dairy creamer, which is sometimes called coffee (or tea) whitener, is found in either powdered or liquid form and it’s meant as a milk substitute.
Some people use non-dairy creamers because of dietary reasons, but most people use them because they’re convenient and they last longer than milk, and don’t need refrigerating to stay usable.
The powdered products can be stored pretty much anywhere even after opening, but the liquid non-dairy creamers must be sealed and refrigerated once they have been opened.
It is possible to buy flavored coffee and tea whiteners and anything from hazelnut to vanilla is possible and, as you might expect with today’s food trends, you can also get low-fat and low-calorie non dairy creamers too.
The first non-dairy creamers were made of soy but they weren’t very popular because they didn’t dissolve very well in coffee. It was in 1958, that the Carnation Company finally developed Coffee-Mate, the best-known brand of non-dairy creamer even today, which would dissolve in hot coffee.
The main ingredients in most non-dairy creamers are now corn syrup and sodium caseinate – which is a protein derived from milk proteins, but which contains no lactose. It may also contain flavorings.
It’s worth noting that both Jewish and vegan associations feel this product should be classified as “dairy” as the protein is derived from milk.
Why Is It Flammable?
Coffee creamer is flammable mostly because it is a powder. This may sound strange, but it makes a difference.
Powders are flammable because the particles in them have a very small volume and a comparatively large surface area. This surface area is completely exposed to oxygen in the air and thus, it’s very easy for them to catch fire when disbursed in the air.
More surface area means a higher oxygen to fuel ratio and this means it is more likely to ignite and flames to spread fast.
Does It Actually Catch Fire?
Yes, coffee creamer can catch fire. In fact, the folks at Down The Rabbit Hole on YouTube have a demonstration that you can see (below):
However, it’s worth noting that this is the second time that they tried to get coffee creamer to burn, and they managed to extinguish the flame the first time around.
It’s important to note that coffee creamer is flammable when it’s dispersed in the air as a fine powder, otherwise, it’s not nearily as flammable and not so easy to burn.
Is It Explosive?
Theoretically, if you have enough powdered coffee creamer and you manage to light some of it on fire, you’re going to get a chain reaction that can turn explosive.
Whether it actually explodes and can depend on a few different factors, but you should be cautious nonetheless.
You can see an extreme example here:
There are a ton more creamer explosion examples on youtube, if you wanna see more.
We’re not sure that many people are going to have huge clouds of this creamer powder circulating around their house but if they do, they shouldn’t put them near a naked flame or an electrical spark.
Is Coffee Mate Powder Flammable?
Yes, Coffee Mate Powder is flammable. As we’ve already seen, Coffee-Mate is the original non-dairy creamer and the one that the majority of non-dairy creamers are still based on today.
So, it is flammable in the same way as those products – when dispersed in air.
What About Liquid Creamer?
Liquid coffee creamer is, basically, a non-dairy coffee creamer which has been pre-dissolved in water with, maybe, a little added sugar and vegetable oil.
That means that liquid coffee creamer won’t be flammable because of the water content.
If you were to heat it for long enough that the water content dried out, what remained would be essentially the same as powdered creamer and could catch fire. However, in liquid form it is not flammable.
Can You Put Coffee Creamer In A Microwave?
Assuming you mean “can I put coffee creamer in my coffee and then microwave it warm again?” The answer is “yes”.
The water content of the coffee ensures that there is no fire hazard.
What About Instant Coffee?
Yes, in fact, there was something of a trend on social media in Indonesia, in which Indonesians demonstrated how many different brands of coffee they could set fire to.
However, it’s worth noting that these are all forms of coffee with a non dairy coffee creamer included.
We’re not so sure that plain black coffee would be flammable, though it may be.
What About Powdered Milk?
Powdered milk is flammable in the same way that non-dairy creamer is flammable because it’s a powder.
Milk powder isn’t particularly flammable unless it is dispersed in air.
This video gives a good demo of just how flammable it can be in the right circumstances: