The process that imparts a golden hue to french fries and bread crusts also laces such foods with acrylamide, new studies indicate. That chemical causes cancer in laboratory animals.
Though acrylamide's human toxicity remains unknown, the Food and Drug Administration this week announced plans to study ways to limit its formation in foods.
The first report of acrylamide in food occurred last April in Sweden. Since then, researchers in Europe have found it in a broad variety of baked, roasted, and fried fare, especially potatoes (SN: 8/24/02, p. 120: Available to subscribers at Cooking Up a Carcinogen.). The big puzzle has been how this substance, a building block of some plastics, forms during cooking.
One clue, four studies now show, is the so-called Maillard reaction, a flavor-enhancing browning that occurs when amino acids and sugars meet at high temperatures.