Saturday, August 23, 2008

Browning Bummer

The chip folks (Frito Lay, Heinz, Kettle, Lance) got into a bit of trouble with California regulators for lack of compliance with respect to product "warning" labels regarding levels of a potentially harmful chemical released in high-temperature cooking. I'd never heard of "acrylamide" before so I did a bit of googling and was surprised at what surfaced.

Acrylamide isn't an additive but a byproduct of frying, baking, toasting or roasting foods--primarily plant-derived foods (potatoes, grains, coffee beans)--to the point of excessive browning. Studies on animals have suggested that extremely high levels of acrylamide prove carcinogenic. There are ongoing studies looking at what constitutes safe levels of human consumption. In the meantime, the snack producers are being fined and have said they will modify cooking methods over the next three years to reduce acrylamide levels.

We should perhaps be aware of how the byproduct sneaks into our home-cooked foods, as well. The FDA has a helpful paper on this here.

I used olive oil exclusively now, which is for the most part a good thing. But it's worth noting that the "smoke point" for olive oil is a bit lower than that of other oils. So when cooking with olive oil, attend to it carefully to prevent over-heating. And if your oil does smoke--any type--you're well advised to get rid of it and start over!

(Photos from FDA website. Pics contrast good (left) versus excessive browning which hikes acrylamide production. I know, I know... that's how I like my toast, too!)

On top of my reading stack: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean -Dominique Bauby

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