The method, which uses specially developed food grade lactic acid bacteria, was developed by Norwegian research company Zeracryl AS, and may reduce the formation of acrylamide during industrial production of potatoes and coffee.
The Zeracryl method claims to offer “the most cost-effective efficient way for the food industry to reduce the amount of the toxic substance acrylamide in fried food”, and has already attracted the interest of industry giants Nestlé, and Norwegian potato producers Hoff AS and Maarud.
“Acrylamide is formed as a reaction between the amino acid asparagine and simple sugars... Put simply, the lactic acid bacteria remove these compounds and inhibit the formation of acrylamide,” explained Dr Hans Blom, CSO of Zeracryl AS.
Acrylamide is a suspected carcinogen that is formed by a heat induced reaction between sugar and the amino acid asparagine. The process – known as the Maillard reaction - is responsible for the brown colour and tasty flavour of baked, fried and toasted food.
In 2002 Swedish researchers found the carcinogenic compound was present at high levels in many foods. The discovery grabbed international headlines, alarming consumers and food safety authorities globally.
Since then acrylamide has been the focus of much research, and had been found in many foods, including, bread, crackers, sweet biscuits, deep-fried products and coffee.
However, the main focus of research has been into the compound’s effects on humans, and into improved production methods to reduce or remove acrylamide from foods.
Dr Blom and his team found a method to limit the formation of acrylamide during the production of potato products and coffee using a “specially formulated culture of food-grade lactic acid bacteria.”
The patented method is based on lowering the levels of reducing sugars (like glucose) present on the surface of food products to reduce acrylamide formation when the products are fried or heated.
In ongoing experiments, the team claim to have shown that 10 to 15 minutes’ immersion in their lactic acid bacteria culture before cooking can reduce acrlamide formation.
The company says its methods have been proven effective in industrial settings, and can reduce acrylamide formation in the final product by almost 90 per cent.
Although the Zeracryl method has gained interest from industry, Dr Blom says it will take regulatory action on acrylamide before manufacturers begin take reduction methods seriously.
“The industry is not going to implement large-scale measures to reduce or remove acrylamide until the authorities make it mandatory,” said Blom.
But with a major US study currently investigating the highest acrylamide tolerance threshold for humans, it may not be long until US and European food safety authorities to impose far stricter limits on acrylamide levels.
Zeracryl AS says it will continue to research lactic acid fermentation as a tool to reduce formation of acrylamide, in cooperation with Nestlé, Hoff AS, Maarud, and the Norwegian research institute Nofima.