Acrylamide contamination in plant-based protein ingredients: a growing concern

A recent study conducted by researchers from the Department of Soil, Plant and Food Science (DISSPA) at the University of Bari Aldo Moro (Italy) has raised concerns over the presence of acrylamide in commercially available plant-based protein ingredients (PBPIs). The study found a significant variability in the acrylamide content of PBPIs produced through different processing technologies.      

Acrylamide, a probable human carcinogen, can form during the processing of PBPIs, which have gained significant popularity in recent years.        

For this work, the PBPIs were classified into four categories i.e., flours, dry-fractionated proteins, wet-extracted proteins, and texturized vegetable proteins. The study examined 17 PBPIs of different origin and type, highlighting considerable variability in acrylamide contamination across all investigated classes. Flours had the lowest mean acrylamide content (280 µg kg−1), while wet-extracted proteins exhibited the highest (451 µg kg−1).        

The differences in contamination levels are likely linked to the different types of raw materials used (which conceivably contain different levels of precursors) and to the various processing technologies employed in producing these protein ingredients. The researchers suggest that post-harvest treatments such as drying and milling operations could cause an increase in temperature, leading to the development of AA.        

Despite regulations on acrylamide content in the European Union for some common food products, PBPIs are not currently monitored or regulated. Given the increasing demand for PBPIs and their growing presence in the global market, it is crucial that policymakers and regulatory authorities take steps to monitor and regulate these ingredients.        

The authors emphasized the need for further investigation to better understand the factors influencing acrylamide formation in PBPIs, including agronomic practices, raw material composition, and processing variables. Identifying critical stages during processing and implementing appropriate mitigation strategies would help reduce the presence of this dangerous contaminant in plant-based protein products.