Snack makers on the alert for acrylamide formation in their baked products have a new tool at their disposal to rapidly analyse asparagine levels.
Designed by laboratory equipment giant Thermo Fisher Scientific, an automated photometric method uses the firm's Arena analyser to determine asparagine levels in both raw and processed foods.
In a process known as the Maillard reaction, asparagine, an amino acid commonly found in food, reacts with reducing sugars at temperatures above 160°C, to produce acrylamide, a suspected carcinogen.
Since 2002 when Swedish food regulators first revealed the chemical was present in a number of baked goods, including crisps, French fries and baked cereals, efforts by the food industry have been underway to mitigate acrylamide levels, with a distinct focus on asparagine's role.
But minimising, or preventing, the formation of acrylamide is a key processing challenge for fried, baked or roasted foods.
Ready-to-use 'asparagine' kit
Thermo Fisher Scientific claims its automated photometric method is a "simple and effective" way to establish asparagine levels.
In addition, the firm states that its Arena system applications are available for measuring reducing sugars that are an integral part of acrylamide formation.
All Arena products – the Arena 20, 20XT, 30 and 60 – use "disposable multicell cuvette technology" to provide a "true discrete analysis, virtually eliminating carryover".
With regards to the time factor, the company claims that "several analytes can be measured simultaneously from a single sample", and many blanking possibilities are available "to eliminate interfering substances like the sample matrix effects."
Ultimately, the company suggests its ready-to-use kits can minimise "reagent consumption", consequently lowering operating costs and reducing waste.
The acrylamide trail
Since the Swedish discovery in 2002, more than 200 research projects have kicked-off across the world, co-ordinated by trade groups, national governments, and the United Nations.
Europe's Confederation of Food and drink industries, for example, has built up an acrylamide 'toolbox' to help businesses, particularly SME's with limited R&D resources, confront the issue of acrylamide.
As it stands, the 'toolbox' is the summation of several years of industry co-operation to understand acrylamide formation, and potential intervention steps in the manufacturing process that could be undertaken to mitigate acrylamide.
"It is important that they assess the suitability of proposed mitigation steps in the light of the actual composition of their products, their manufacturing equipment, and their need to continue to provide consumers with quality products consistent with their brand image and consumer expectations," said the CIAA.
Market solutions to acrylamide
Ingredients firm DSM and major Danish enzyme player Novozymes have both rolled out acrylamide-fighting enzymes onto the market. DSM's Preventase and Novozyme's Acrylaway both convert asparagine into another amino acid called aspartic acid.
The convertion prevents asparagine from being converted into acrylamide, resulting in a potential 90 per cent reduction in acrylamide in the final product. Preventase is derived from Aspergillus niger, and Acrylaway from a different strain, Aspergillus oryzae.