Acrylamide is considered to be a probable carcinogen and is produced from foods such as potatoes, coffee, wheat and other cereals when they are cooked at high temperatures. Reduced cooking times and temperatures can help to decrease this potentially harmful chemical but scientists at Rothamsted Research and the University of Reading are trying to tackle this problem from its source by investigating how to reduce the precursors of acrylamide in cereal plants. They will report their findings at the Society for Experimental Biologys Annual Main Meeting in Glasgow on Sunday 1st April.
Acrylamide is formed from asparagine and sugars at high temperatures when they are fried, baked or roasted. Prof. Halford has found that this problem is exacerbated by the fact that growing wheat in low sulphur soil conditions drastically increases the amount of asparagine in the grain of the plants and thus the amount of acrylamide produced. With over 20% of soils in Europe, Australia and other developed countries demonstrating low sulphur levels in their soils Prof. Halford suggests that the risk of acrylamide formation could be reduced by ensuring that cereals grown in low sulphur conditions do not enter the food chain. "If the European Commission or the Food Standards Agency were to set maximum allowable levels of asparagine in cereals used in the food chain it would impact on farmers and plant breeders", says Prof. Halford.