Significant reductions in acrylamide - a known carcinogen - in baked, roasted and fried foods will be achieved only through advanced crop- breeding techniques, not changes to the manufacturing process or to sulphur levels in soil, scientists have claimed.
Rothamsted Research's Professor Nigel Halford is studying different wheat genotypes with respect to asparagine (a precursor to acrylamide found in many cereal crops) and free sugar accumulation.
While recent research conducted by Rothamsted and the University of Reading demonstrated that asparagine levels could be reduced by growing crops in soil rich in sulphur, this was not the complete solution to the problem, he claimed. "We need to develop varieties of wheat and other crops with lower levels of asparagine.
"In the short term, this will involve genetic modification as a proof of concept. Once we've worked out how to do it, we can use traditional plant-breeding techniques."
The same process would apply to potatoes, in which the major factor relating to acrylamide formation was sugar levels, said professor Donald Mottram at the University of Reading.
"We also need more research into what lower levels of asparagine will do to flavours. The reaction of asparagine with sugars is why fried, baked and roasted foods taste so nice.
"We've already seen significant differences in aroma volatiles in wheat samples with different asparagine levels, so we need to find out what impact these will have on the taste of the final food products."