- Marinading meat in antioxidant-rich spices can reduce the formation of potentially carcinogenic Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) by up to 80 percent.
- HCAs are formed when muscle foods are cooked at high temperatures, with barbecuing producing the most HCAs while baking, poaching, stir-frying, and stewing producing the least.
- Of the three commercial marinades tested, the Caribbean mixture led the reductions with an 88 percent decrease in HCA levels; the herb blend followed with a reduction of 72 percent, and the Southwest mix at 57 percent.
- Spices from the mint family, high in antioxidants like rosmarinic acid, carnosic acid, and carnosol, as well as other ingredients that retain water such as maltodextrin, modified starches, or salt, contributed to HCA reduction.
- Additional ways to reduce HCA risk include microwaving meat before grilling, flipping the meat frequently during cooking, avoiding a “well-done” state, and opting to grill vegetables as they don’t form HCAs.
Enjoying a juicy steak without triggering detrimental carcinogenic compounds has never been easier, courtesy of recent breakthroughs in food science.
The application of marinades imbued with antioxidant-rich spices can effectively curtail the risk of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), potentially cancer-inducing elements, by an impressive 80 percent or more.
“Marinating any sort of muscle food is an efficient strategy to remarkably cut down the formation of HCAs,” explains food science expert, J. Scott Smith, who is recognized for this insight published in the Journal of Food Science. “It’s essential that the marinades are full of spices,” Smith emphasizes.
Suspected Carcinogens in Meat
HCAs, assumed to be human carcinogens, are formed in muscle foods cooked at elevated temperatures. The process unfolds as the heat reacts with amino acids and creatinine present in animal muscle. Barbecuing yields the maximum HCAs, followed by pan-frying and broiling. Conversely, the least HCAs are created by baking, poaching, stir-frying, and stewing.
Experiment with Marinades
The investigators examined three separate commercial marinade blends (Caribbean, herb, and Southwest) applied to fresh round beef steaks.
The beef cuts, averaging at 3.3 ounces and 1/5 inch thick, were left to marinate in the mixture for an hour, regularly flipped, and then cooked on a skillet at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes on each side.
The Caribbean mixture led the reductions with an 88 percent decrease in HCA levels. The herb blend followed with HCAs cut by 72 percent, and the Southwest mix demonstrated a 57 percent reduction.
The Role of Antioxidants and Other Ingredients
All the marinade mixes had two or more spices from the mint family, which are high in antioxidants like rosmarinic acid, carnosic acid, and carnosol. They also featured ingredients such as maltodextrin, modified starches, or salt that may have contributed to HCA reduction due to water retention.
“We found the steaks to be quite palatable and I now regularly use these marinades at home,” Smith reveals.
The experiment was conducted on an electric skillet, but Smith believes the findings could extend to outdoor grilling. Given the higher temperatures of an outdoor grilling setup, he posits that the impact on HCAs might be even more significant.
Other Ways to Lower HCA Risk
Besides leveraging marinades, you can also invoke other methods to minimize HCA risk. Here are some suggestions from James Felton, who is the associate director of the University of California, Davis, Cancer Center:
- Precook your meat in the microwave for a brief period before grilling. It helps move the HCAs into the juice, which you can discard. Following this practice can bring down HCAs by as much as 95 percent.
- Frequently flip the meat while cooking to lower the overall cooking temperature.
- Refrain from cooking the meat to a “well-done” state. Instead, use a meat thermometer to ensure optimal internal temperatures for different types of meat.
- Grilling vegetables is the safest route as vegetable grilling doesn’t culminate in HCA formation.
For more pointers on safe grilling practices, visit Consumer Reports.