We Americans love our fried foods, especially potatoes. Shoestring, waffle, curly, crinkle, tots, no matter the form, we devour them. While we all know that crispy potatoes are certainly not a health food, were you aware that they contain a chemical called acrylamide? I bet those taters are sounding a bit less delicious now. Mmmm, chemicals.
While we were busy chomping on our crispy potatoes, researchers have been hard at work trying to eliminate our exposure to the acrylamide in French fries. Scientists caught on to this curious chemical more than a decade ago. They observed trace amounts of the chemical in foods cooked above 248°F and fairly high amounts in foods such as fried potatoes. They also figured out that acrylamide is produced though a chemical process called a Maillard reaction, which occurs between amino acids and sugars. There just so happens to be an amino acid called asparagine, which is found in raw potatoes, that is known to be a precursor of acrylamide.
In 2011, lead researcher Yi Wang and his colleagues set out to find low acrylamide producing potatoes. 140 potato varieties later, they finally identified low acrylamide producing potato varieties: Payette Russett and Easton, which are now used commercially. In the future, Wang and his team hope to identify and eliminate specific genes that are related to producing a lower amount of acrylamide.