Acrylamide Levels in Coffee: Instant Light-Roast Coffee is the Worst

Although roasted coffee beans have an extremely high acrylamide content, brewed coffee accounts for only about 6% of an average American dietary exposure to acrylamide(1). In countries where the consumption of coffee is higher and the consumption of other high acrylamide foods (such as French fries) is comparatively low, the share of coffee as a source of acrylamide in the consumer's diet can be significant. For example, a study on over 40,000 Swedish women found that the women's biggest sources of acrylamide were coffee (54% of intake), followed by fried potatoes (12%) and crisp bread (9%)(2).

Acrylamide in coffee

If you happen to have Swedish blood running through your veins and you need several cups of java every day, you may have wondered if there's any way to reduce those acrylamide levels in coffee. After all, acrylamide has been classified as a possible human carcinogen (for more on this, see Acrylamide Health Risks.

The good news: There are several ways you can reduce your acrylamide intake from coffee. But before you rush to the tips in the rest of this article, keep in mind that some charts that compare acrylamide levels in different foodstuffs only show values for ground or powdered coffee, not brewed coffee. Acrylamide is much more concentrated in ground coffee beans than actual brewed coffee (see Acrylamide Levels in Coffee Comparison Chart at the bottom of this page). So, the take away? Don't be taken aback if you see sky-high acrylamide levels reported for (ground) coffee – most of that won't get to enter your body.

Ready to learn a few interesting facts about the acrylamide levels in coffee and a bunch of great tips on how you can reduce your intake of this carcinogenic substance? Then, keep reading.

Drink less coffee – but be careful when choosing an alternative

One obvious way to reduce your intake of the harmful substances in coffee is, well, to drink fewer cups a day. However, you should avoid coffee alternatives that have gone through roasting. Acrylamide is formed when carbohydrate-containing substances are roasted or otherwise heated to high temperatures. For example Postum – a caffeine-free beverage often marketed as a healthful alternative to coffee – has been made by roasting grains, and not surprisingly, it is high in acrylamide (even higher than coffee)(3).

If you're addicted to the comforting sensation of a cup of hot stuff, become a tea fan. Acrylamide is formed when carbohydrate-containing substances are roasted or otherwise heated to high temperatures. Tea, even black tea, is made by low-temperature drying process, and therefore tea does not contain acrylamide in significant amounts. As an added bonus, the well-documented health benefits of green tea can give your body a real health boost.

Take your time to brew your java – avoid instant coffee

If you want to reduce the amount of carcinogenic substances in your daily cup of coffee, brewing your own java may really pay off. Although instant coffee may seem attractive as it can save you time and effort, it has been reported to contain more acrylamide than the brewed version (see the comparison chart at the bottom of this page).

Be aware of differences between brands

There also seems to be significant differences between brands when it comes to acrylamide levels in coffee. Based on data provided by the FDA(3), Folgers and Taster's Choice had the highest levels on average – both in their instant and non-instant products. Yuban Coffee (a brand of Kraft Foods) stood out by having an exceptionally low acrylamide content in this analysis. It is worth noting, however, that the FDA only analyzed a limited number of samples and that there could be significant lot-to-lot variation.

Dark roast lower in acrylamide than regular roast

So what about dark versus regular roast? According to an analysis based on the FDA data, dark-roasted beans seem to contain lower levels of acrylamide. This (perhaps surprising) observation is confirmed by a joint-study conducted by the European Commission and Nestlé Product Technology. The researchers responsible for the study found that light-roasted coffee beans tend to contain relatively higher amounts of acrylamide than dark-roasted beans(4). Why? According to research, acrylamide is formed at the beginning of the coffee bean roasting cycle and it declines steeply toward to end of the process due to higher rates of elimination.

Chart: Average acrylamide levels in selected coffees (in parts per billion, or ppb)

Brand Not instantInstantDark RoastRegular Roast Brewed
Folgers 314 458 237 346 10
Maxwell House 215 218 201 223 6
Chock full o'Nuts 201 NA 191 212 NA
Starbucks 149 NA 132 158 9
Hills Bros 135 NA NA 135 NA
Yuban 51 NA NA 51 NA
Café Bustelo 142 NA 138 NA 6
Medaglia D'Oro 168 NA 164 NA 6
Taster's Choice 272 353 NA NA 7
Nescafé NA 471 NA NA 6
7-Eleven NA NA NA NA 6

The average amounts of acrylamide in the chart above have been calculated by based on data released by the FDA. The FDA has cautioned that the acrylamide values it has reported for various foods and drinks are exploratory and only cover cover a limited number of food categories, products, and brands. In addition, they do not generally address unit-to-unit variation or lot-to-lot variation.

1. Contribution to Dietary Acrylamide Exposure by Food Categories, FDA 2002 and 2003 Tested Foods, USDA 1994-98 CSFII
2. Mucci, LA, et al (2005). Acrylamide intake and breast cancer risk in Swedish women. Journal of the American Medical Association 293 (11): 1326-7.
3. Survey Data on Acrylamide in Food: Individual Food Products. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). December 2002; Updated March 2003, March 2004, June 2005 and July 2006.
4. Summa, Carmerlina, et al (2006). Impact of the roasting degree of coffee on the in vitro radical scavenging capacity and content of acrylamide. European Commission and Nestlé Product Technology Centre.

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