Acrylamide, when golden brown please stop cooking...
Updated: Aug 20, 2019
Acrylamide - browning food is the new hot topic for 2018. Acrylamide is a chemical produced when starchy food is cooked to temperatures above 120ºC with a dry, or oily method such as baking, frying, grilling, toasting and roasting.
It does not occur in “wet” methods such as steaming and boiling. The effect is characterised by “browning”. This is chemically known as the “Maillard Reaction”. The Maillard Reaction is an interaction between the two nutrients, sugars and amino acids, discovered by the French chemist Louis Camille Maillard in the early 20th century. Foods where this reaction occurs commonly is in roasted potatoes, chips and crisps, toast, coffee and cakes.
Lab tests show that acrylamide increases the risk of cancer in animals and some scientists believe this is a reaction that may be replicated in humans.
What is the food industry is doing to reduce acrylamide?
New legislation will require food businesses to put in place straightforward measures to manage acrylamide in their food safety management plans.
The colour of the food is indicative of how much acrylamide is present in food The key is to aim for a golden colour, rather than dark/charred foods in frying, baking, toasting, or BBQing. The recent trend towards charring foods is something that health professionals are concerned about. Getting a golden colour on foods is not regarded as a problem, but dark or blackened foods due to heat may be an issue.
Food manufacturers should have instructions indicating correct cooking times and a colour to aim for when cooking their products. So domestic cooks need to follow these instructions to avoid excessive acrylamide.
Storage of potatoes is important. The temperature that potatoes are stored should be above 6ºC (for example avoid storing in the fridge) as this releases more free sugars and is therefore likely to increase the acrylamide levels. This is called “cold sweetening”. It’s a good idea to store potatoes out of the fridge even if you think you will be steaming them in case of a menu change!