What Biscuit and Biscuit Makers Need to Know

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the discovery of acrylamide in common foods, such as cookies, biscuits, potato chips, coffee, and several other grain and potato foods prepared at high temperatures (> 120°C) under low humidity conditions.

Acrylamide is the naturally formed component of the browning effect – also known as the Maillard reaction – between amino acids and reducing sugars under the effect of heat. It is also considered a carcinogen, and in 2018 EU legislation introduced BML in cookies and biscuits below 350 parts per billion (ppb).

Photo: GettyImages/Drypsiak

However, recent tests have shown that many samples exceed this limit.

“Current legislation states that food manufacturers are required to apply practical steps in their production in accordance with the ALARA principle, which strives to achieve ‘as low as possible'”,​ said Kees Veeke, Technical Service Manager of Baking Enzymes at DSM.

Although Veeke thinks most food manufacturers are aware of acrylamide levels in their products, many still struggle to meet benchmark levels.

“It has to do with variations in recipes and ingredients, which can cause acrylamide to vary anywhere from 50 ppb to 7,000 ppb. Biscuits and biscuits have different levels of acrylamide and that can be very difficult for manufacturers to monitor [of multiple lines].”

It depends on the type of flour used – “Asparagine levels between white flour and wholemeal flour can vary up to the wholemeal effect, and this automatically results in a higher level of acrylamide as well” – ​to different types of sugar concentrations – “Fructose is much more reactive than glucose, for example, and therefore contributes significantly to the production of acrylamide.


“In addition, we have water and activity. Water is needed to activate enzymes…to make it productive. Water is also needed to improve asparagine extraction and for rotational molded biscuits, for example, little water is used, which makes it very difficult for producers. »

Consumer awareness

Long before the pandemic – but certainly exacerbated by it – consumers were interested in the role food had on their health and well-being, and Veeke believes that today most are aware of acrylamide. and its potential effects.

In 1994, it was classified as a “probable” human carcinogen (group 2A) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Exposure to industrial levels can cause nerve damage, including muscle weakness and impaired muscle coordination, but this goes far beyond what is found in food. Studies also suggest that chronic dietary exposure is capable of damaging nerve cells in the brain and could potentially play a role in the development of neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s disease.

However, scientists admit the body of evidence in humans is still murky,even after 20 years of research. In fact, a systematic review published in Frontiers of Nutrition in April 2022 even concluded that there was no associationbetween high dietary exposure to acrylamide and an increased risk of any of the cancers studied, including those of the oral cavity, esophagus, stomach, colon-rectal, pancreas, prostate , bladder, lung, kidney, lymphoma, myeloma, thyroid, brain, larynx and melanoma.

Acrylamide levels in the EU have been subject to a benchmarking system since 2018, but exceeding a reference level does not mean that a product cannot be placed on the market. Under this system, manufacturers are instructed to aim for acrylamide levels as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA) and, if the BML is exceeded, to review their mitigation measures and work lowering levels.

However, with 64% of consumers interested in the influence of food on their health, this is an obstacle that bakery and snack producers cannot afford to ignore.


“Consumers these days are gathering more information about their daily diet – with better access to different sources like social media – and are very keen to know what they are actually eating.

“Those who know about acrylamide are very worried, especially for the health of children.”

What’s in store?

EU regulation 2017/2158 on acrylamide should be renewed in 2023, which should adjust the BMLs and introduce new maximum levels. According to Veeke, the current benchmark level of 350 ppb in biscuits and biscuits will drop to 300 ppb, with a maximum level of 500 ppm.

If the products exceed the proposed maximum levels, the consequences should be much stricter than if the BMLs are currently exceeded.

The new legislation is also expected to include new categories including root vegetable fries, fruit crisps, cocoa powder and potato dishes such as rösti and croquettes. In 2019, the EU has expanded the list of bakery products​ to watch out for, to include pita and specialty breads, pancakes, tortillas, churros, donuts and croissants. It also covers a wide range of buns, including burgers and whole-wheat buns.

Children eating cookies Image source
Photo: GettyImages/Image source

Help at hand

Luckily, growers have a range of mitigation sources and methods to help them through the quagmire, like DSM’s Guide to Smart Cookies.

“Our guide to smart cookies is a compilation of our experience and know-how accumulated over two decades in acrylamide mitigation. We like our customers to have a better understanding of formulations and processes than they could use, [especially] the optimal efficiency of our enzymatic solution”,says Veeke.

“Enzymes are recognized as one of the best solutions, in this case, for acrylamide mitigation, but if you look at the broader perspective, enzymes are natural proteins. [that] appear everywhere around us. They are biocatalysts, in fact; they are biodegradable; and they are able to transform one product into another product in a natural way.

“In this case, asparaginase converts asparagine into aspartic acid, and in doing so, you eliminate a contributor to the Maillard reaction, which helps reduce the level of acrylamide. Enzymes can also help delay staling of the bread, for example, but also allow longer freshness of bakery products.

He added, “For acrylamide reduction, asparaginases are an ideal solution because they do not require any significant recipe or process changes. So it’s almost like a plug and play solution.

DSM’s PreventASe enzyme, suitable for a variety of recipes from salty crackers to sweet crispy wafers, allows producers to reduce acrylamide by 90% in crispy wafers, 80% in cookies and 80-87% in baby cookies.


What are the health effects of acrylamide and how can it be reduced in food?

American Chemical Society, August 22, 2007

Dietary acrylamide and human cancer; even after 20 years of research an open question

Authors: Janneke GF Hogervorst and Leo J Schouten

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2022, nqac192


Dietary exposure to acrylamide and risk of localized cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of epidemiological studies

Authors: Tommaso Filippini, Thorhallur I. Halldorsson, Carolina Capitão, et al

Front. Nutr., April 25, 2022, art. Nutritional epidemiology


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