Norwegian scientists have figured out how to make crisps that they claim are “the healthiest on the planet” — by cheaply and quickly screening potatoes before frying.
When potatoes are deep-fried, the researchers explained, harmful chemicals known as acrylamides are formed from the amino acids and sugars in the vegetables.
According to the UK Food Standards Agency, acrylamide in food has the potential to cause cancer — and consumption should be kept to a minimum.
The acrylamide content of the cooked crisps is dependent on various factors, including the variety of potatoes used, how they are stored, the heat treatment process — and achieving the correct level of maturity before harvesting.
The team found that simple glucose measurements of the potatoes before and after harvesting — and during storage — can ensure sugar levels are kept low and crisps are kept healthy.
The project has also revealed fresh information on how to best store potatoes in order to reduce food waste, the researchers added.
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The study was undertaken by social nutrition researcher Dr Solveig Uglem and his colleagues at SINTEF (“The Foundation for Industrial and Technical Research”), which is based in Trondheim, in collaboration with the food packaging firm Produsentpakkeriet, of Fronda.
The issue of acrylamides in crisps is heightened, the team noted, in those made from locally-grown potatoes in Norway.
Dr Uglem explained: “Here we face an additional challenge because colder growth conditions often mean that less mature potatoes are used to make potato chips.
“Less mature potatoes contain more sugar, and this can lead to a higher acrylamide content in the potato chips.”
From their analysis, the team determined that the best way to assess the likely acrylamide levels of crisps following deep-frying was to measure the sucrose and aspartic acid contents of the original potatoes.
(Sucrose is a naturally occuring sugar, while aspartic acid that, in vegetables, is essential for cell proliferation and is important in responses to stressors like high temperature or drought.)
The problem with this approach, explains SINTEF project member Erlend Indergård, is that it “is slow and requires the use of expensive instruments”.
Instead, he added: “We’ve found that measuring glucose concentrations using a blood sugar metre that anyone can purchase at a local pharmacy offers a quicker and more accessible means of getting an indication of whether a potato’s sugar content is too high.”
According to the researchers, this simple approach has been well-received by potato growers who have tried it to date.
By taking glucose measurements before harvesting their crop, farmers can get an indication as to whether their potatoes are ready.
As the researchers note, it is unsustainable — not to mention extremely costly — if potatoes end up having to be rejected because their sugar levels are too high.
Accordingly, they concluded: “Potato growers should thus be encouraged to keep track of the glucose content in their crop both immediately after harvesting and during storage.
“This will enable them to take action if they observe any changes in quality.”