Six years ago, scientists in Sweden accidentally discovered large amounts of a chemical called acrylamide in starchy foods such as potato chips, French fries and bread. That discovery and the subsequent attention it received from the press, led to growing international concern, since acrylamide is a suspected carcinogen.
Acrylamide is naturally produced when starchy foods are baked or fried at temperatures high enough to produce browning, and it is also said to be produced by microwaving. The widespread nature of its production in cooking processes has focused attention among food producers on the need to reduce acrylamide formation at source, and a number of potential strategies are being developed.
One of them is from Danish biotech giant Novozymes, which has developed Acrylaway, an enzyme for food applications that reduces acrylamide formation, reportedly without changing the appearance or taste of the final product.
In an article in financial daily newspaper Børsen, Novozymes director Thomas Erik Nilsson comments: "We see Acrylaway as a natural solution to a natural problem, and we believe that there is massive potential in the global industry for exactly this enzyme."
Nilsson told Børsen that studies have shown that Acrylaway reduces the acrylamide content of French fries by up to 60%, and up to 90% in other products like cakes, biscuits and potato chips.
Headquartered in Bagsværd, a northern suburb of Copenhagen, Novozymes is the world’s largest and most diversified provider of industrial biotechnology, pioneering the replacement of chemicals with enzymes in a broad range of industries such as laundry detergents, animal feed and the biofuel industry. In 2007, the company generated sales of DKK 7.4bn (USD 1.5bn) and a net profit of DKK 1bn (USD 210m). Novozymes employs some 4,500 people, half of whom are based in Denmark.