What is acrylamide, the potentially carcinogenic chemical in coffee?

Bad news for California coffee drinkers — your latest stop at Starbucks might be topped with a little bit of anxiety. Coffee will now come with a cancer warning,since it contains a carcinogen called acrylamide. But what is acrylamide, and is it as dangerous as we’re being led to believe?

Acrylamide is typically used in the production of plastics. It’s a white, odorless chemical that can occur naturally within the production and preparation of certain food, primarily vegetables that have an amino acid called asparagine. According to the National Cancer Institute, which used the example of potatoes, different cooking methods produce different amounts of acrylamide. Healthline states that heating foods that contain these amino acids to 248° F will cause the reaction that makes the chemical more prevalent.

Unfortunately, it’s produced during the coffee roasting process, which is why California is in a (mild) panic. But here’s some good news — acrylamide in coffee is nothing new. As long as there’s been coffee on this planet, acrylamide has been present. And according to Healthline, there haven’t been enough studies to know how much impact it really has on humans (basically, California is just being super cautious).

So don’t panic just yet. And if you are now incredibly concerned, there’s always tea…

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