Recent research has found high levels of acrylamide in a range of fried and baked foods derived from plants, particularly from potatoes.
At high doses acrylamide is a nerve poison, and in trace amounts a probable carcinogen.
The discovery could have implications for food safety.
Working independently, Richard Stadler at the Nestlé Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, and colleagues, and Donald Mottram at the University of Reading, and colleagues investigated the mechanism of acrylamide formation.
| Asparagine, found at high levels in potatoes and cereals, can be converted to acrylamide.
| Nature |
They discovered that a chemical process called the Maillard reaction underpins the acrylamide mystery.
The Maillard reaction occurs at moderately high temperatures between amino acids and sugars.
The 2 groups found that in the Maillard reaction the amino acid asparagine can potentially be converted to acrylamide.
Asparagine is found at particularly high levels in potatoes and in some cereals.
This explains why chips, crisps, and crackers (especially those containing rye flour) have been found to have some of the highest acrylamide content.