Bread, chips and potatoes should be cooked to a golden yellow colour, rather than darker brown, to reduce our
intake of a chemical compound called acrylamide that can cause cancer, warns the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA). Acrylamide is produced when starchy foods are roasted, fried or grilled for too long at high temperatures (above 120C).
Acrylamide is found in high levels in a range of foods including breakfast cereals (not porridge), chips, potato products (such as waffles), biscuits, crackers, crispbread and crisps. It is also found in coffee, cooked pizza bases, black olives and cereal-based baby foods. Root vegetables including potatoes, sweet potatoes, beetroot, turnip and parsnips can all carry high levels of the compound once they have been roasted or fried until darker brown or crispy.
As well as high temperatures, long cooking times can increase levels of acrylamide even further. It can also be produced during home cooking, when high-starch foods – such as potatoes, chips, bread and parsnips – are baked, roasted, grilled or fried at high temperatures.
When bread is grilled to make toast, for example, this causes more acrylamide to be produced. The darker the colour of the toast, the more acrylamide is present. During the browning process, the sugar, amino acids and water present in the bread combine to create colour and acrylamide – as well as flavour and aromas.
Studies in mice have shown that high levels of acrylamide can cause neurological damage and cancer. In a new campaign, the FSA said people could take simple steps to reduce their consumption of acrylamide. For one, they should aim for a golden yellow colour or lighter when frying, roasting, baking or toasting starchy foods. It is important that one carefully follows cooking instructions on packaging.