Acrylamides are found in foods such as potato chips, cookies and crusty bread, and is created when specific amino acids -- such as asparagines -- and sugars reach high temperatures while being cooked -- a process known as the Maillard reaction.
The carcinogen first began to gain notoriety in 2002 when Swedish Food Administration scientists reported unexpectedly high levels of it in foods with high levels of carbohydrates. This latest research, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, is part of a food industry initiative to reduce acrylamides in foods by analyzing the source ingredients.
Experts say the soil mineral content problem has stemmed from the decreased use of sulphate-enriched fertilizers and increase in crop yields. According to the U.K.'s Home Grown Cereals Authority, sulfur about 23 percent of the land used for cereal crops.
[Ed. Note: This paragraph was corrected on November 14, 2006] The Reading and Rothamsted researchers discovered the soil mineral/acrylamide link when they grew three varieties of winter wheat and found that sulfur-deprived grain had up to 30 times more amino acids. When flour made from that wheat was heated to 320 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, the acrylamide content reached a level between 2,600g to 5,200g per kg compared to normal levels of 600g to 900g (on a parts per billion scale).
"This is the first research we've seen that shows how mineral depletion of our soils causes increased toxicity in our foods," said Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate and author of the Honest Food Guide. "Mineral depletion not only reduces the nutritional content of the foods we eat, it actually alters the chemical reactions of foods during processing, resulting in the runaway creation of toxic chemicals that promote cancer.
"This research provides yet another strong reason for buying organic," he added.
More than 200 research projects on acrylamides are currently underway worldwide, and the findings are being coordinated by national governments, the European Union and the United Nations. The E.U.'s Confederation of Food and Drink Industry released guidelines on acrylamide reduction for manufacturers in October. The confederation plans to update the guidelines as new processes are discovered.