The Reporter
Issue no 485 | 28 October 2002
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Don’t burn the chips

Researchers at Leeds and Reading have discovered how ordinary foods, such as chips and crisps, come to contain a potential carcinogen and nerve poison.

Acrylamide - at high doses a nerve poison, and in trace amounts a probable carcinogen – is produced when plant-based foods are fried, baked, roasted, toasted or even microwaved. Its presence in cooked foods – especially chips, crisps and crackers – was discovered by researchers earlier this year, but until now, the chemical mechanism which produced it was unknown.

Professor Bronek Wedzicha of the University of Leeds believed a chemical process called the Maillard reaction underpinned the acrylamide mystery. Tests carried out at the University of Reading, together with his colleague Professor Mottram, have proved this theory correct. The Maillard reaction occurs at moderately high temperatures between amino acids and sugars, and is responsible for the colour and flavour of cooked food.

“While we can’t avoid acrylamide unless we stop cooking food altogether, it may be possible to lessen the amount produced," said Professor Wedzicha. “One obvious piece of advice is, when you’re cooking – don’t frazzle it.”


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