At this time of year, everyone is out in the backyard cooking on their grill. As a result, it's a good time to think about the potential exposure to carcinogenic compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs). There’s a way to reduce the risk significantly by just adding some spices – rosemary extracts or Thai spices.
Inhibiting HCAs in cooked meat products is considered very important by most doctors. HCA levels increase as charring increases on meat skin and the moisture content decreases. The numbers vary on different meats after cooking. Bacon and rotisserie chicken had the highest HCA levels, with deli meats and hot dogs showing the lowest. Chicken skin and breast meat had all five types of HCA's that have been identified.
J. Scott Smith, a Kansas State University food chemistry professor who researched the issue for the Food Safety Consortium says that all you need to do is to add some spice to your backyard grilling. “Rosemary would work or one of the Thai spices would also be fine," says Smith.
Some commercial rosemary extracts can inhibit the formation of HCAs in cooked beef patties by 61 to 79 percent. Thai spices can inhibit the formation by about 40 to 43 percent. The key is the level of antioxidants present in each, and Thai spices have lower levels than rosemary.
Few consumers are aware that rosemary and Thai spices provide reliable ways to reduce risk from HCAs in cooked meat. Smith believes the industry should market the products to increase awareness.