Acrylamide is a suspected carcinogen that occurs naturally in a range of commonly consumed baked, roasted and fried foods, such as breads, cookies, breakfast cereals, French fries, potato chips and coffee. It is formed during the cooking of starchy foods at high temperatures, by a process known as the Maillard reaction, in which sugars react with an amino acid called asparagine to give these foods their brown color and tasty flavor.
Functional Technologies says that its yeast technology works by significantly reducing the amount of asparagine that forms during fermentation, which usually creates high levels of asparagine – thereby reducing levels of acrylamide in the finished product.
The company said it has previously demonstrated the efficacy of its technology in reducing asparagine, but its latest tests achieved a faster reduction, which would allow minimal adjustment to food processing protocols. It said that the tests were carried out in confidential collaboration with major industry players.
The company did not respond prior to publication to a request for further information on the specific products in which its acrylamide-preventing yeast strains could be applied, but said it mixed the strains with “a commercial dry mixture employed in the production of various kinds of food products.”
Functional Technologies’ chairman and CEO Howard Louie said in a statement: “Collaborative access to materials and protocols commonly used in commercial applications helps facilitate more rapid and efficient optimization of our technology, as well as effectively demonstrating its strengths to existing and interested global partners. This in turn provides pathways by which our platform-based technologies can be advanced and expanded on commercially.”
The company said that under normal production conditions, the dry mix it used to test its yeast strains would go through a two-hour fermentation process, resulting in high levels of asparagine. It said that all of its yeast strains reduced asparagine in a time-dependent manner under simulated commercial conditions, but one specific variant was particularly effective, reducing asparagine to undetectable levels within the conventional two hour processing period.
Through “minor optimization of processing parameters”, the company said it then cut the time necessary to bring asparagine down to undetectable levels to one hour.
“It suggests that at minimum, the relevant food processing protocols are not likely to require significant adjustment,” the company said.
The alarm about acrylamide’s potential danger to health was first raised in 2002, when Swedish scientists found unexpectedly high levels of acrylamide in carbohydrate-rich foods, and published evidence linking it to cancer in lab rats. Since then, research has continued in the area, and industry has rallied to find ways to reduce it in foods.