Beyond salt and pepper, spices are often overlooked at the summer grill but a new study finds that they may do more than just enhance the flavor of your burger. They may also cut down on the risk of cancer causing compounds.
J. Scott Smith, a Kansas State University food chemistry professor, found that certain spices containing natural antioxidants reduce carcinogenic compound levels by 40 percent when applied to beef patties during cooking.
Smith’s research involves ways to reduce heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which are the carcinogenic compounds produced when foods consisting of animal muscle, such as beef, chicken, pork or fish, are barbecued, grilled, boiled or fried. Consuming HCAs through meat increases risk factors for colorectal, stomach, lung, pancreatic, mammary and prostate cancers.
According to Smith, beef develops more HCAs than other kinds of cooked meats such as pork and chicken, and he says, “cooked beef patties appear to be the cooked meat with the highest mutagenic activity and may be the most important source of HCAs in the human diet.”
Previous studies have shown that meat products cooked below 352 degrees Fahrenheit for less than four minutes had low or undetectable levels of HCAs, with HCAs increasing with higher temperatures and added cooking time. Antioxidant spices with phenolic compounds can block HCAs before they form during heating and grilling at high temperatures.
The researchers studied six spices and found that fingerroot (a South East Asian medicinal spice also used in Thai cooking), rosemary and turmeric had the highest levels of antioxidant activity inhibiting the formation of HCAs, with rosemary as the most effective.
Earlier research by Smith had found that marinating meat before cooking with store bought marinades significantly reduced total HCAs. In that study, a steak cooked in a Caribbean marinade containing thyme, red and black pepper, allspice, rosemary, and chives had an 88% reduction in the bad compounds; a steak cooked in an herb marinade containing oregano, basil, onion, jalapeno, parsley, and red pepper had a more than 72% drop; and one in a Southwest marinade containing paprika, red pepper, oregano, black pepper, garlic, and onion had a 57% reduction in compounds.
So get creative with your cooking spices. In the Philadelphia area, look for great selections of herbs and spices at The Italian Market Spice Co. Inc. on south 9th Street, or The Spice Terminal in the Reading Terminal Market.
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