What is acrylamide?

The substance acrylamide is formed when starchy  foods are heated to a high temperature  and is found particularly in baked goods,  coffee  and potato products such as French fries and crisps. For some time, acrylamide has been suspected of being carcinogenic and of altering the genetic make-up. Therefore, the European Union has set binding requirements that will apply from 2018. Because if some rules are observed when preparing food, the formation of acrylamide can be reduced.

Acrylamide: properties and formation

Acrylamide belongs to the chemical group of amides and has been used industrially for the production of plastics and for the treatment of  drinking water for over 50 years  . It occurs when food is prepared when  carbohydrates  such as starch or sugar are heated to over 120 degrees Celsius and combine with the protein building block asparagine. If the temperatures are more than 180 degrees Celsius, the formation of acrylamide increases sharply.

How dangerous is acrylamide?

The substance hit the headlines in 2002 when animal experiments revealed that acrylamide changes the genetic material and can thus  cause cancer  . It is also suspected that in high doses it damages the nervous system. So far, these connections have not been clearly demonstrated in humans.

Nevertheless, the European Union also classifies acrylamide as carcinogenic for humans. From April 2018, legal requirements for food manufacturers will therefore apply. For example, when processing starchy goods such as  potatoes  or flour, they must ensure that the food is not heated too much or for too long when baking, roasting, roasting or deep-frying. The raw products should also have the lowest possible starch content, for example by blanching potatoes before frying.

Acrylamide: reduce exposure

Due to the potential health hazard, it is recommended that acrylamide intake be kept to a minimum. The following tips can help reduce exposure to acrylamide:

  • Gentle preparation:  Raw, boiled and steamed foods contain almost no acrylamide. When using a fryer, a temperature of 175 degrees Celsius should not be exceeded, in the oven it should be below 180 degrees Celsius with convection and under 200 degrees Celsius without convection. When baking, use baking soda or baking powder instead of deer horn salt (ammonium bicarbonate), as this promotes the formation of acrylamide.
  • Avoid excessive browning:  In general, the darker browned baked goods, French fries and other potato products are, the higher the acrylamide content. Therefore, when preparing these foods, be careful not to brown them too much. 
  • Proper storage:  Potatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator (below 8 degrees Celsius) for a long time, because then more sugar is produced, from which acrylamide is formed. Storage in the dark prevents green areas that contain a lot of acrylamide from developing.
  • Avoid foods containing acrylamide:  The highest levels of acrylamide were found in potato chips, french fries, cookies and roasted coffee. Enjoy these foods in moderation and give preference to home-made products. This allows you to influence the degree of heat and browning. 

 

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