A new four-year project aiming to reduce acrylamide content in processed potatoes has received a $3.7m Specialty Crop Research Initiative Grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
Acrylamide reduction has been an industry concern since 2002, when Swedish researchers first found unexpectedly high cancer rates among rats fed a high-carbohydrate diet. Acrylamide was pinpointed as the suspected carcinogen and research has flooded into the area ever since, including examining myriad potential ways to reduce acrylamide in foods.
The project to cut acrylamide in processed potatoes will focus on finding varieties with low levels of sugars and the amino acid asparagine, which combine during heating to produce acrylamide, and looking for helpful molecular markers to use in breeding new varieties. Industry partners will grow, store and cook the potatoes and assess their key traits, said the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has been selected to lead the project.
The challenge for researchers is to reduce the amount of acrylamide without sacrificing the taste and texture of the finished product. They aim to provide industry with four new chip potato and fry potato varieties that can be used to produce chips and fries with reduced acrylamide by the end of the four-year research period.
“Acrylamide is an unwanted compound in these products that we didn’t know was there until 2002,” said project leader Paul Bethke, a UW-Madison assistant professor of horticulture and USDA-ARS plant physiologist. “The US Food and Drug Administration has not determined if acrylamide at the low levels found in foods is a serious health concern, but it is much better to be out in front of this.”
The project involves scientists from ten universities and USDA laboratories across the country, and involves representatives from the fresh and processed potato industries nationwide. Its advisory committee also includes growers, processors, major food vendors, the US Potato Board and the National Potato Council.
“This award isn’t just about Wisconsin, it’s for the entire potato industry,” said UW-Madison associate professor of horticulture A.J. Bussan, who helped develop the grant. “The coordinated, nationwide involvement is unprecedented. It shows the amount of attention industry is paying to this issue.”
The project is one of 29 recipients of grants awarded across 19 states, intended to enable the development of science-based tools to address the needs of America’s specialty crop industry, according to the NIFA. The grants total $46m, and favor multistate, multi-stakeholder projects.