There is an intense spotlight on acrylamide and a growing number of studies coming up with ways of preventing its formation. Acrylamide is a suspected carcinogen that is formed during by heat-induced reaction between sugar and an amino acid called asparagine. Known as the Maillard reaction, this process is responsible for the brown colour and tasty flavour of baked, fried and toasted foods. The problem was discovered in 2002 by scientists at the Swedish Food Administration and, since then, scientists have been investing ways to reduce the possible carcinogen. A five year project has been carried out by the collaboration between the National Food Institute and the Department of Systems Biology at the Technical University of Denmark, the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Copenhagen and five Danish food companies. "Acrylamide is formed during the preparation of many ordinary foods," said Kit Granby, senior scientist at the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, and part of the research project looking at acrylamide reduction."It is therefore important both for consumers and the food industry to find methods to reduce the acrylamide content." Recent tests have found that controlling processing conditions and adding different antioxidants have a positive impact on cutting out acrylamide. Tests with antioxidants The addition of antioxidants has been found to prevent acrylamide formation. Rikke Vingborg Hedegaard, from the National Food Institute, said: "Antioxidants are substances which inhibit the formation of free radicals in the food and eliminate free radicals in the body. Our tests indicate that free radicals are formed when cooking and potentially increasing the acrylamide content in certain foods." Researchers found that the addition of rosemary to dough prior to baking a portion of wheat buns at 225°C reduced the acrylamide content by up to 60 per cent. In the collaborative study, it was found that even rosemary in as small quantities as 1 per cent of the dough was enough to reduce the acrylamide content "significantly". Flavonoids are another type of antioxidant. They can be found in foods including vegetables, chocolate and tea. Tests also showed that the addition of the flavonoids epicatechin and epigallocatechin from green tea reduce the acrylamide content. Vingborg Hedegaard added: "However, the findings do not show a general association between antioxidants and reducing acrylamide in foods. The tests indicate that different antioxidants do not have the same effect on the formation of acrylamide, and that it is important how antioxidants are added to a product to have an effect on the acrylamide content." Tests with processing conditions Because acrylamide is formed when frying, baking or grilling carbohydrate-rich foods, it is often found in products such as bread, crisps, fries and biscuits. Tests carried out during the five year project found that factors such as time of processing, pH levels, water content, water activity and the content of the amino acid asparagine and sugar in the raw ingredients all influence the formation of acrylamide. For example, the longer the cooking time and the lower the water content, the higher the acrylamide content in the heat-processed food. "By changing and optimising these factors when producing foods, the acrylamide content of many different types of products can be reduced considerably," said Granby. Furthermore, according to a joint Chilean-Danish study published earlier this year, using the asparaginase enzyme to soak products such as fries was found to reduce the formation of acrylamide by a possible 60 per cent. And at the tail-end of 2007 the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA) included asparaginase in the new version of its Acrylamide Toolbox, a move seen to validation the efforts of companies that have developed commercial solutions using the acrylamide-reducing enzyme. The reports on reducing acrylamide have been published most recently in European Food Research and Technology, Food Chemistry, the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and the Journal of Food Engineering.