It’s official: If you live in the state of California, your morning trip to Starbucks will include a cancer warning. The new law was passed because a chemical produced during the coffee roasting process — acrylamide — is listed as a potential carcinogen. It’s distressing news for those of us who need a cup of joe (or two) to make it through the day, but is there any way to enjoy coffee without acrylamide?
Is it possible to cut out this chemical?
The National Council for Education and Research on Toxics has argued that coffee sellers should remove acrylamide from the brewing process, and this argument was the subject of a 2010 law suit. But in reality, cutting out the chemical is easier said than done. According to the FDA, acrylamide forms from sugars and the amino acid asparagine during cooking methods that use a high heat, such as frying or roasting. The FDA warns that, as of now, scientists have not found an effective way to reduce the levels of acrylamide in roasted coffee beans. So, in short, there’s no way to have coffee without acrylamide in it.
On top of this, acrylamide is not just in coffee. Foods like french fries, bread, and biscuits all contain it. According to the journal NCBI, it’s present in more than one-third of all the calories Americans and Europeans consume.
But there is some good news. There is very little evidence that you will actually get cancer from being exposed to acrylamide. While previous studies on rats and mice have shown a link between certain cancers and the chemical, a 2014 review of these studies found that the animals involved were exposed to between 1,000 and 10,000 times more acrylamide than the average person. So for now, it’s best to take those cancer warnings with a grain of salt.
If you’re really concerned about this potential carcinogen, though, cutting down on coffee and starchy foods is the best way to avoid it.
Hearing that any food or drink can cause cancer is always scary. But for now, don’t panic. We might not be able to have coffee without acrylamide, but we’ll continue to enjoy our morning brew.