Acrylamide - How to recognise and avoid acrylamide

22.06.2020

Food manufacturers in the EU have had to comply with stricter production guidelines since April 2018. This applies both to recipes and the various production processes. One of the substances that are classified as being of concern is acrylamide. It is said to cause cancer in humans and is contained in chips, pastries, cornflakes, French fries and coffee, for example. But acrylamide is also a danger when cooking and baking at home. But what exactly is acrylamide, how is it produced, how can it be detected and avoided? The answers to these questions are given below.

Acrylamide
What exactly is acrylamide and how can it be avoided? - Photo: @ greenpapillon adobestock

What is acrylamide and where is the substance contained?

Acrylamide, a chemical substance, is considered a suspected carcinogenic and mutagenic substance. Therefore, according to the EU regulation, food manufacturers have had to meet clear requirements since April 2018 to reduce the acrylamide content in the production of food. The substance is present in many different products, especially starchy foods, for example in potato products such as potato chips, French fries, bread, pastry products such as cookies, breakfast cereals and even in baby food. As acrylamide is produced during the roasting process, among other things, coffee, coffee substitute products and roasted nuts can also be affected. The substance can also be produced on the stove or in the oven in the home kitchen. It is a process contaminant. We are talking about substances that can be formed during the extraction and production or preparation of food as a by-product of the browning reaction. This is also known as the Maillard reaction.

How is acrylamide formed?

Acrylamide is formed during dry, strong heating and browning of cereal or potato products, especially during deep-frying, roasting, grilling and baking. It forms from the sugar and protein components at high temperatures. Especially foods with a high content of special amino acids such as asparagine and certain types of sugar such as fructose and glucose can cause the acrylamide to form. With the optimal preparation, the formation of acrylamide can be prevented or at least significantly reduced. It apparently depends on the temperature and duration. According to studies, it should start at around 120 degrees and increase with rising temperature. The hotter and longer thus French fries are deep-fried, the higher the acrylamide content could be. The same is true for other foods. The proportion of water in the food also plays a decisive role. The higher it is, the lower the risk for acrylamide. Therefore, according to current research, only a little acrylamide is formed during cooking, steaming and steaming of food.

How can acrylamide be detected?

It is not so easy to identify which foods or the amount of acrylamide in them. However, since it is a by-product, it can be primarily recognized or guessed by a stronger browning. Crispy cookies, strongly roasted potato wedges or browned fried potatoes are therefore harmful. Gilding instead of charring is the ideal tip here.

How can acrylamide be avoided? Tips and tricks

Potato and cereal products should not be fried hot. The medium temperature range is ideal. It is also important to use heat-stable oils or fats. Fried potatoes should be prepared from boiled potatoes as they contain less acrylamide. The reason is that they are prepared faster than raw potatoes. When baking, the temperatures should not exceed 180 degrees Celsius with circulating air and 200 degrees Celsius without circulating air to keep the acrylamide content as low as possible. It is recommended to use baking powder or baking soda instead of ammonium bicarbonate (ammonium bicarbonate), as this promotes the formation of acrylamide. The baking paper laid out on the baking tray prevents the food from browning too much on the bottom side. Toast should only be lightly toasted. When deep-frying, a temperature of 175 degrees should not be exceeded and the frying time should be limited to 3.5 minutes. In order to significantly reduce the intake of acrylamide, it is advisable not to eat particularly contaminated foods such as potato-based snacks or chips more than once a week. Potatoes should not be stored below 8 degrees Celsius, as too cold storage can lead to the formation of acrylamide during subsequent preparation. The same applies to green spots on potatoes. Dark storage is therefore recommended.

avoid acrylamide
photo: @ fotohansel adobestock

Conclusion

The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) confirms that acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of cancer. New rules on acrylamide levels will, therefore, apply in the European Union from 2018. In order to avoid acrylamide, a wide variety of foods should not be overly browned. Golden yellow instead of brown is the motto. In general, the darker they are, the higher the acrylamide content. It is advisable to choose the lowest possible temperatures and short cooking times for the different preparation methods such as roasting, baking or deep-frying. French fries, potato chips, biscuits and roasted coffee should have the highest values. It is therefore recommended to enjoy these foods in moderation. Otherwise, the following applies: If you follow the tips mentioned above, you can reduce the development of the substance suspected of being cancerous.