Acrylamide occurs in pretty small concentrations in foods; it is usually measured in parts per billion. In roasted coffee, an average amount is 253 ppb. In a coffee beverage, the concentration is higher. In espresso, for example, the concentration can average around 40 parts per million. In nonpressurized brewing methods (like a full immersion or drip coffee), the average is about one-quarter of that. Acrylamide is very soluble in water (2.04kg/L [20.44 lbs/gal]) and all of it can be extracted from the coffee grounds if enough water or contact time is available.
Due to its higher asparagine content, roasted C. canephora can have almost twice as much acrylamide as C. arabica. Other differences in concentration occur due to roast level and storage time. While formation of acrylamide requires a certain amount of heat, too much will destroy it. Thus, lighter roasted coffees have the highest amount of acrylamide, potentially having almost seven times as much as dark roasted coffees. It also appears that the longer roasted coffee is stored, the less acrylamide can be extracted into the brew.
Whether it decomposes or irreversibly binds to the coffee matrix is not known.
Unfortunately, it is not clear whether acrylamide is carcinogenic to humans. Most epidemiological research suggests that it is not, but a small handful suggests otherwise.
Therefore, coming up with a clear risk assessment has proven difficult. Various food industry groups have developed strategies to help reduce the content of acrylamide in their products, but aside from sticking to arabica coffee and dark roasts, the coffee industry has been unable to develop any technology or technique to reduce the acrylamide content without impinging on the quality of the coffee.
Although coffee can supply a significant proportion of the dietary acrylamide consumption (5.5 percent to 39 percent), the fear of coffee being carcinogenic is practically nonexistent. A great deal of research has attempted to link coffee consumption and cancer, but no connections have yet been made across a wide variety of cancer types.
If coffee cannot be linked to cancer, then acrylamide consumption from coffee cannot be threatening. Unfortunately, we cannot know whether acrylamide itself simply isn’t harmful to us, or whether coffee contains other compounds that protect us from the dangers of acrylamide. In either case, it seems we don’t have much to worry about while drinking our morning brew.
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