In the Golden State, there’s one thing that everyone knows: acrylamide isn’t good. It’s bad, in fact, and it can be harmful to your health. It’s also a naturally occurring chemical reaction that results from applying high temperatures to food—so basically any cooking process that isn’t boiling or poaching. That includes frying, baking, and coffee roasting.
In large doses, acrylamide can be toxic to health, and there are research studies into its potential carcinogenicity (cancer-causing properties). But since it's a byproduct of cooking, it’s everywhere—and humans have been eating cooked food for hundreds of thousands of years. As much as we know about acrylamide, there’s a lot more we don't know about it yet—particularly when it comes to the difference between eating cooked food and breathing in industrial levels of it.
Why is acrylamide in my coffee? Is it in all coffee?
Acrylamide is in all coffee, as an unavoidable product of the Maillard reaction, that wonderful process that causes sugars and amino acids within food to transition to the brown, delicious toasty-roastiness we find in the crust of bread, the seared sides of a steak, a crispy french fry or potato chip, and of course the roasted coffee bean. The Maillard reaction produces all those exciting flavor compounds we love in coffee, and along with it, produces acrylamide, too. Acrylamide levels peak early in the roasting/Maillard process, but then begin to decline with continued application of heat. For this reason, dark roasted coffee may paradoxically have less acrylamide than lighter roasts.
So what do we do with this information?
First of all, don't panic. The FDA in the US has determined that people can safely consume between 0.2 and 2 micrograms of acrylamide per kilogram of body weight each day. That means a 150 pound adult can comfortably consume between 10 and 100 micrograms per day. A typical cup of coffee contains 8.6 micrograms per cup.
While Edmonton craft roasters do tend to roast of the lighter side, if you consume locally roasted coffee and drink a typical 2 to 4 cups per day, you're completely okay.
If you're someone who enjoys light roasts and drinks lots of coffee, one consideration is to add cream to at least some of your coffee. Researchers have found that cream binds to arcylamide and prevents it from entering your stomach. This can help reduce the amount of arcylamide you consume each day.