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Acrylamide in Coffee: What Roasters Should Know

FDA warns against acrylamine in coffee

Acrylamide develops naturally in the coffee roasting process. Creative Commons photo by John Lodder.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration yesterday released a consumer warning on acrylamide, a naturally a chemical found in cooked foods — including coffee — that is known to cause cancer in animals.

The warning has already been picked up by numerous mainstream sources, which have casually cited coffee as one of the offending foods, although it’s worth noting right away that acrylamide cause in the roasting process is dramatically reduced after ground coffee is brewed. Despite this fact, a small consumer uproar is sure to be upon us, so now is as good a time as any to review what we know about acrylamide.

The chemical compound was first discovered by Swedish scientists in 2002, although it is widely considered to have been present for as long as humans have been baking, frying and roasting foods. Most often found in plant-based products, it develops when foods containing sugar and an amino acid called asparagine are cooked at high temperatures. In animal testing since its initial discovery, high levels of acrylamide have been found to cause tumors and a high incidence of cancer.

Along with its latest warning, the FDA is for the first time putting together a draft document for food producers (in this case, coffee roasters) on acrylamide in foods. The document is currently in the comment period.

In a 2011 story in Roast Magazine highlighting the potential effects of Califonia’s Proposition 65 on the coffee industry, National Coffee Association President Robert Nelson provided the most comprehensive overview of acrylamide in coffee to date, writing:

For coffee, the issue of acrylamide arises in the roasting process. As coffee beans are roasted, natural sugars and moisture enable the desirable browning process, which chemically creates some acrylamide. The exact mechanisms of acrylamide’s formation in coffee may involve asparagine and other possible pathways. However, the highest level of the compound occurs at a roasting level too light for consumer preferences, after which it begins to degrade significantly during further roasting. Completed roasting leaves only a fraction of the original acrylamide levels in the bean. Moreover, there’s very little acrylamide left in brewed coffee as it is consumed.

In fact, the highest levels found by FDA researchers are in store-bought ground coffees (The FDA compiled a list of acrylamide test results for some of the most popular store-bought and brewed coffees — primarily instant — in the U.S).

Nelson continues by considering what coffee roasters can do to reduce or eliminate the presence of acrylamide in coffee. Unfortunately, the answer is probably very little:

Other products, such as fries, chips, cereals and crackers, have had some success in reducing acrylamide levels by altering cooking processes and ingredient profiles. But no mitigation methods have proven workable in reducing the levels formed during coffee roasting despite strong research efforts. Roasting coffee darker, for instance, makes taste and aroma unpalatable to consumers. Other approaches, such as steam roasting, have not shown any significant reduction in acrylamide levels in finished products. However, work is under way on a finding that acrylamide appears to degrade when roasted coffee is stored over time. Because that also impacts freshness, though, it may not be a workable solution.

Read Nelson’s full story on Prop 65 and acrylamide here.

Comment

8 Comments

Bruce Stewart

Could you give some levels? How does coffee compare with a bag of potato chips or a serving of french fries? Does a paper filter affect levels?

Mark

The reason acrylamide is ‘reduced on brewing’ is because it infises direct into the drink. Your article is misleading

xor

“The chemical compound was first discovered by Swedish scientists in 2002”
It’s been around since the early 1900s and in use in the 1950s so somebody didn’t do proper research on your part

thesmallgirl

The correct sentence about the discovery: Acrylamide was discovered IN FOODS in 2002 by ERITREAN scientist Eden Tareke in Sweden. /source: wikipedia/
Now, should I take anything else in this article at face value? I guess it is not the most reliable source, but a starting point for my private “research”.

Lynn Frumkin

This is unacceptable! I have NEVER until now, seen a “warning for consumption of coffee” due to the chemical acrylamide! We wonder why so many people are sick with cancers! WHERE IS OUR FDA???? How dare they allow products to hit our markets! They are NOT doing their job!! The coffee I just found a warning on, is organic! Who do we trust??? I’m throwing it away! Are there coffees which do not produce this chemical through roasting? Which brands? Are there warnings on each box of coffee? We should begin standing up for things like this that matter and harm human health rather than the many things we spend our time dwelling on.

coffee.cpp

All roasted coffee contains acrylamide, doesn’t matter if it’s organic or not or if it’s on its label or not. It does make sense that the FDA should regulate acrylamide *in* food just as much as it regulates acrylamide that comes into contact with food.

You could always switch to tea.

George Nicolae

Acryl amide is a very active chemical; has an amide group C=ONH2, a carbonyl group that can react as tautomer and a double C=Cbond able to polymerize or co-polymerize, or some addition reactions and should had been listed as ingredient on all labels. I would like to have an unroasted coffee and to roast myself. I am surprised that such unroasted coffee is not offered in competition with roasted one. I need to have an open choice! We need to revisit the Coffee Cartel!

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