Low Acrylamide Potatoes



   Producing low acrylamide risk potatoes

Welcome to Low Acrylamide Potatoes

Acrylamide is a chemical that is considered to be probably carcinogenic (cancer causing) and which affects the nervous and reproductive systems. The discovery in 2002 that it is present in many cooked foods was, therefore, quite a shock for the science community, the food industry and regulatory authorities. The disquiet was compounded when it became clear that acrylamide is formed not as a result of the presence of an additive or a change in agricultural or food processing methods that could be readily reversed, but from naturally-occurring substances reacting at the high temperatures achieved during the basic cooking processes of frying, baking and roasting. While no limit has yet been set for food, regulatory authorities around the world have stated that they wish to see dietary intake of acrylamide reduced.

Foods derived from potatoes and other plant-derived raw materials were found to have a particularly high acrylamide risk. The potato processing industry responded rapidly and reduced the levels in many products by changing production processes (details of methods for reducing acrylamide formation in this way can be found in the 'Acrylamide Toolbox' produced by FoodDrinkEurope (FDE). However, further reduction is desirable and would be facilitated by reducing the levels of acrylamide precursors in potatoes.

The major route for acrylamide formation is the breakdown of an amino acid called asparagine in the presence of sugars. This is part of the Maillard reaction, which occurs during the cooking of food and is also responsible for the production of flavour and colour in the cooked food. The approach we are taking is to reduce the levels of free asparagine and sugars in potatoes so that less acrylamide forms.

The project involves three major research groups, from Rothamsted Research, Reading University and the Scottish Crop Research Institute, and is being carried out under the guidance of key companies in potato production, processing and marketing. It aims to identify varieties and breeding lines of potato that have low levels of asparagine (particularly in relation to other amino acids) and sugars but which retain colour and flavour development. The project also aims to provide the knowledge and tools for plant breeders to reduce the levels of these acrylamide precursors further and achieve the strategic aim of 'low acrylamide risk' potato varieties. The project will also address the issue of sulphur and nitrogen feeding of potatoes, something that is required for growth and health of the crop but has been shown to exacerbate acrylamide risk.

The project is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environmental Research and Analysis Directorate (RERAD) through DEFRA’s Sustainable Arable-LINK programme.

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