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Food Safety Focus (111th Issue, October 2015) – Food Incident Highlight

Acrylamide in Dark Brown Sugar

It has been reported in Taiwan that some dark brown sugars were found to contain acrylamide, a potentially carcinogenic substance. Some were at levels (>1,000μg/kg) comparable to baked and fried foods. Acrylamide is formed in foods at high temperatures (usually >120ºC) when the free amino acid asparagine reacts with reducing sugars, especially glucose and fructose. During the production of dark brown sugars, repeatedly boiling the raw ingredient sugar cane juice which contains natural asparagine and reducing sugars will cause acrylamide formation.

Many high-temperature processed foods such as French fries, crisps, biscuits, breakfast cereals and certain stir-fried vegetables contain relatively high levels (from several hundreds to thousands of μg/kg) of acrylamide. It is estimated that locally available dark brown sugars (detected acrylamide level ranged from 28 to 860μg/ kg) contribute to less than 1% of total acrylamide intake in Hong Kong adults. Comparing to fried vegetables (including fried potatoes) which contribute to 52% of acrylamide intake, dark brown sugars are unlikely a major source of acrylamide.

In preparing beverages or sweet soups, some people may use dark brown sugars in the belief that they are healthier than granulated white sugar. The Centre for Food Safety advises consumers to limit the intake of free sugars including dark brown sugars as excessive sugar intake may lead to obesity and tooth decay.