Researchers report that adding certain spices to your burgers before tossing them on the grill will not only add to the flavor of the meat, but can also cut the risk of cancer long associated with the cooking of beef.

Study Details

Heterocyclic amines (HCAS) are cancer-causing compounds that are produced when foods such as beef are barbecued, grilled, broiled or fried.

"Cooked beef tends to develop more HCAS than other kinds of cooked meats, such as pork and chicken," noted Kansas State University (KSU) food chemistry professor J. Scott Smith, PhD. Cooked beef patties appear to have the highest cancer-causing activity and may be the most important source of HCAs in the human diet, Dr. Smith added.

Dr. Smith and his colleagues at KSU looked into the HCA-inhibiting potential of six spices: cumin, coriander seeds, galangal, fingerroot, rosemary and turmeric.

They found that three spices in particular finger root (Chinese ginger), rosemary and turmeric-seem to direct the greatest amount of antioxidant activity towards preventing the formation of HCAs.

Specifically, the three spices appeared to cut back on HCA production by upwards of 40%, the team observed, thereby likely reducing the HCA-associated risk for developing colorectal, stomach, lung, pancreatic, mammary and prostate cancers.

Grilling With Spices

The authors suggested that consumers integrate these spices into their menus when appropriate, noting that some, such as rosemary, come in an extract form that has demonstrated HCA inhibition of 61% to 79%.

They pointed out that spicing allows for the sort of high-temperature cooking (above 352 F) that is typically recommended for safe grilling, while at the same time blocking the increased HCA production that is known to occur when the flames intensify.

Dr. Smith and his team plan further research to see what other marinades and powders might do by way of HCA curtailment--they noted that earlier work has shown that marinating steaks with particular herbs and spices effectively lowers HCA production.

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