Acrylamide is a suspected carcinogen formed by a heat-induced reaction between sugars and the amino acid asparagine. This process, known as the Maillard reaction, is responsible for the brown colour and tasty flavour of baked, roasted and fried foods.
Zeracryl claims that its method – based on specially developed food grade lactic acid bacteria – can reduce acrylamide in French fries by 50 to 90%. It works by converting the sugars on the surface of French fries to lactic acid before cooking, thereby inhibiting acrylamide formation. Some strains also consume asparagine, further working to reduce its formation.
CEO Trond Thomassen told FoodNavigator that the company has completed full scale testing and is ready to begin offering the process to the general food industry.
“This is hot stuff,” he said. “…There shouldn’t be any excuse to start using this technology.”
Lack of industry action
There has been a large amount of research into acrylamide reduction since Swedish researchers discovered that it was present at high levels in starchy foods in 2002. However, in many cases this has yet to translate into action from industry. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assesses acrylamide levels in foods in the EU each year, and found them to be largely unchanged in its latest annual report.
Thomassen said: “The big French fries companies, they see that there will be some cost in it. If you are talking about a 1% increase in the cost, you are talking about a hell of a lot of money. I think that maybe scares them.”
Forced to act?
Nevertheless, the company said that its technology is relatively low cost, and it has attracted interest from some major food manufacturers, as well as local potato companies. But the wider food industry is unlikely to take reduction methods seriously until there is regulatory action, Thomassen said.
“I think that the FDA and EFSA may sooner or later force them…As long as this is an added cost for the industry they don’t like to do something.”
He added that Zeracryl’s acrylamide reduction process works well with potatoes, but the company is also conducting initial studies for methods that could be used with other products, including coffee and snacks.