Acrylamide: What is the substance and how can absorption be reduced?

Author: Ann-Cathrin Witte | Category: Food and drink | November 18, 2023

Photo: New Africa/Shutterstock; Elena Kabenkina/Shutterstock; New Africa/Shutterstock; Aguacate_studio/Shutterstock

Acrylamide forms naturally when many starchy foods are baked, toasted, and fried. The problem: the substance poses a potential health risk, but with a few simple measures you can at least reduce your intake.

  • Acrylamide is a chemical that is produced when starchy foods, such as French fries or French fries, are prepared at high temperatures.
  • The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has classified the substance as potentially carcinogenic since 2015.
  • The absorption of acrylamide can be reduced by various measures. This also includes a balanced diet.

A bag of chips is usually part of an evening watching television on the couch. And a visit to the pool is made even better with a serving of French fries with mayonnaise or ketchup. We know that these things are not necessarily healthy for us. If you think too much fat and salt, you’re almost right. Unfortunately, we also consume a lot of acrylamide.

What is acrylamide?

Acrylamide, what is that? The term refers to a chemical that can form in carbohydrate-rich foods when they are heated to high temperatures, for example when baking, frying or roasting. It is formed from sugars such as glucose and fructose, as well as the amino acid asparagine, which react with each other at temperatures above 120 degrees Celsius. From temperatures of 170 to 180 degrees Celsius, the formation of acrylamide increases even drastically.

Acrylamide is also found in coffee.

Acrylamide is also found in coffee (Photo: Company V/Shutterstock)

What foods is acrylamide found in?

Therefore, acrylamide is often found in potato chips or fried products, such as crisps or croquettes, but also in cereal products such as toast, crispbread or cookies. But acrylamide can also be found in coffee and nuts. For most adults, according to the consumer advice center, daily coffee is one of the main sources of intake of this substance. ÖKO-TEST also repeatedly finds acrylamide in its food analyses.

Here’s an overview:

  • Crisps: In a total of eight of 20 packets of crisps, the lab we commissioned found what we consider to be elevated or significantly elevated levels of acrylamide. This especially affected organic products. No product was free of acrylamide.

  • We also criticized acrylamide in six products in the rice cake test.
  • Cornflakes: 15 of 48 breakfast cereals contain acrylamide. In our opinion, the values ​​of three of these products have even increased “significantly.”

  • Bread Baking Mixes: Almost all of the bread baking mixes in the test resulted in bread containing acrylamide when baked. Often only in minimal quantities, but in eight cases the content was “increased” to “strongly increased” according to the ÖKO-TEST criteria.

  • In our ground coffee test, acrylamide levels in 13 of 20 types of coffee were rated “elevated.”
  • Crispy bread: In our opinion, around three quarters of the crunchy breads tested were too contaminated with acrylamide.

That is why acrylamide is criticized

But why do we criticize the material? Acrylamide is considered a possible carcinogen. This was the verdict European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in a scientific report from 2015. The metabolic product is of particular concern Glycidamidewhich is created when acrylamide is broken down in our gastrointestinal tract. In animal studies, glycidamide has been shown to be the most likely cause of tumors and genetic mutations.

From these results, the EFSA concludes that there is a risk of acrylamide in food cannot provide a tolerable daily intake. This, in turn, is concerning because acrylamide is found naturally in a variety of everyday foods. This poses a risk, especially for children, as they may absorb larger amounts of acrylamide more quickly, depending on their body weight.

legal framework

In 2018 the EFSA evaluation was followed EU regulation to acrylamide in foods. It is aimed at companies such as food manufacturers, bakeries, restaurants and cafes. The regulation requires these companies to take measures to reduce the acrylamide content in their products.

The three most important measures are:

  1. If possible, types of raw materials with few reducing sugars should be used in production. This means, for example, that manufacturers of potato chip products ensure that when choosing potato types, they contain the lowest possible values ​​of sugar and asparagine.

  2. Products should be prepared at the lowest possible temperatures. For example, in the case of French fries or “other sliced ​​or baked potato/fried potato products”, the EU regulation recommends a frying temperature of 160-175 degrees Celsius and an oven temperature of 180-175 degrees Celsius. 220 degrees Celsius.

  3. Produced foods should only be browned to the extent necessary. The ideal tan is defined in the legal text as “golden yellow.”

In addition, the EU regulation also establishes reference values ​​for the acrylamide content of certain foods, which companies themselves should regularly check by independent authorities.

Acrylamide is formed when sugar and amino acids react with each other at high temperatures.

Acrylamide is formed when sugar and amino acids react with each other at high temperatures (Photo: rfranca/Shutterstock)

This is what ÖKO-TEST means

In view of the health risks, ÖKO-TEST is also committed to reducing the acrylamide content in food. Dr. Jürgen Steinert, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of ÖKO-TEST, explains:

“Since Swedish scientists detected acrylamide in various foods in 2002, ÖKO-TEST has repeatedly tested products for this contaminant. Even if the formation of this mutagenic and possibly carcinogenic substance cannot be completely avoided when baking, roasting or frying , the following applies: “The objective is to minimize the contamination of food with this toxic substance. The minimization measures and reference values ​​that came into force in 2018 according to the EU regulation are going in the right direction and are having an effect: acrylamide levels are falling. However, legally binding limit values ​​remain desirable.”

How can you avoid acrylamide?

However, acrylamide is not only found in prepared foods, it can also be produced at home by baking and frying in your own kitchen. To keep acrylamide absorption as low as possible, the following measures are recommended:

  1. Heavily contaminated products such as French fries or French fries are rarely consumed.
  2. Rely on cooking methods like boiling, steaming, or sautéing. To date, acrylamide has not been detected in foods prepared in this way.
  3. Foods such as toast, rolls, etc. They are “brown” rather than “burnt”: that is, they should be heated only as long as necessary and as low as possible.
  4. Baking paper or baking mats prevent foods from browning too much on baking sheets and cake pans.
  5. The same applies to homemade cookies: Lightly baked cookies contain less acrylamide than heavily browned cookies.
  6. An egg or egg yolk in the dough reduces the formation of acrylamide. However, ingredients such as staghorn salt or toasted almonds can increase the acrylamide content of cookies.
  7. Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator. Storing them in the refrigerator results in more sugar in the potatoes, which in turn can cause more acrylamide formation during preparation.

You can find more advice, among others, on the website of the consumer advice center.


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