A chemical produced when food is cooked at high temperatures may actually contribute to cancer when eaten.

The chemical, called acrylamide, is a known potential toxin and carcinogen in it’s industrial form, but when it is produced from cooking the carcinogenic response is less documented.

The first time acrylamide was found to be dangerous was 20 years ago.  In Hallandsås ridge on the Bjäre peninsula in southern Sweden, miners were building a tunnel when cows, nearby, started to act strange, staggering around, even collapsing and dying.  It was shortly after that they realized the polyacrylamide they were using as a crack sealant contained some unreacted acrylamide that leaked into the stream the cows had been drinking out of.

The workers were tested for the chemical along with a control group that hadn’t been exposed.  Oddly, both groups had high levels of acrylamide in their systems.

It soon became evident that the acrylamide production was associated with carbohydrate-rich foods heated above 120°C (250°F).  This could transpire when food is fried, roasted or baked.  It doesn’t appear in boiled or raw food.  It also is produced when tobacco is smoked.

Some studies suggest that burned, fried or barbecued food are directly related to certain types of cancer, but the jury is still out on any official decision regarding acrylamide.