Acrylamide and baking
For years acrylamide has been the focus of research as a response to fears that it may have carcinogenic properties.
In 2010, a joint Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization expert committee determined there was evidence that acrylamide could cause cancer in laboratory animals. Even though there is no direct evidence acrylamide causes cancer in humans, FSANZ and food regulators agree that exposure should be minimised.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) points to cereal-based products and fried potatoes as the main sources of acrylamide - not because the levels of acrylamide are particularly high in these products but rather to do with the high bread consumption. The amounts of acrylamide found in breads are far below the level which could represent a health risk for consumers.
Acrylamide (C3H5NO or prop-2-enamide) can occur in starchy foods cooked at high temperatures including coffee, crisps, chips, bread and crispbreads. It is formed via the reaction of the amino acid asparagine and reducing sugars, both of which are naturally occurring in cereals. Low amounts of acrylamide will be formed during normal baking as the chemical is formed at temperatures greater than 120°C. Most acrylamide is found in the crust.
The amount of acrylamide formed depends on:
- baking time
- amount of asparagine and reducing sugars in the grain
- Control the baking time and temperature to prevent excessive browning in the crust.
- Avoid adding reducing sugars in the recipe.
- Addition of calcium salts such as calcium carbonate and sulfate.
- If possible, choose flours produced from cereals with low levels of asparagine in order to minimise the formation of acrylamide during baking. This approach is not easy in practice because the character of the bread depends fundamentally on the type(s) of cereal(s) used. For example, it is self-evident that while rye typically contains more asparagine than wheat, rye is an essential component of rye bread.
- Minimising the wholemeal content of a recipe will reduce acrylamide as wholemeal flour is relatively high in asparagines compared to other flours. However, this will need to be balanced against the established health benefits of wholemeal in the finished product.
- Adjust the time and temperature during baking to avoid excessive browning of the crust. The bread will have a lighter external appearance and eating characteristics may be altered. This may affect consumer acceptability.
- Longer fermentation times can reduce acrylamide formation but product characteristics can be affected. Mitigation strategies to reduce acrylamide may lead to increased levels of other process contaminants.
Bread and cereals can continue to be consumed at current levels. People should not change their diets or cooking methods, but should follow cooking instructions mentioned on the label. In fact, avoiding eating bread may lead to nutrition problems itself as starchy carbohydrates, such as bread, should provide around a third to a half of a healthy and balanced diet.
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