Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Toast is dead – long live the toast!

Food - Toast
I like my toast  in the mornings, I do. Usually smeared with peanut butter or honey (or both), and with a big cup of lava-hot tea, it fair gets the engine going.

And it has to be toast too – none of that aul flaccid, warm bread fiasco. Toast by its very definition means it has been toasted into dark crispiness. Golden is good but charred is too far. It has to be just brown for maximum flavour and aroma. Granted the line is thin but the vigilance is ultimately worth the effort.

You might have guessed at this stage but I’m ranting about toast on the back of new suggestions by scientists that brown toast could potentially cause cancer.


On Monday past the Food Standards Agency said things like bread, chips and potatoes should be cooked to a golden yellow colour rather than brown so as to reduce our intake of a chemical which could cause cancer.

Acrylamide is the chemical in question and it’s apparently produced when starchy foods are roasted, fried or grilled for too long at high temperatures.
In other words, it’s a by-product of the cooking process.

In the case of toast – for example – the darker the colour of the toasting, the more acrylamide is produced.

During the cooking process water, sugar and amino acids combine to create the colour, flavour, aroma and most notably according to recent research, the acrylamide. The chemical is also present in coffee, cakes and biscuits and crisps.

If you’re a regular toast eater like myself you’ll remember these headlines from Monday.

I first caught the news on the radio and I recall it engendered a good heavy frown as I negotiated the morning traffic.

However, I have issues with these toast/acrylamide revelations and not just because I eat toast most mornings. Buried in one of the news reports was a line from Cancer Research confirming the acrylamide link has not been proven in humans.


Instead, research in animals has shown that acrylamide is toxic and causes cancer. Scientists are merely assuming that the same is true for people.

What is more, an eminent Cambridge professor has gone on record to say that even those people with the highest acrylamide consumption would need to up that in-take by 160 times to  reach a level which might cause increased tumours in mice.

So the truth here is a little less cataclysmic that the headlines would have us fear. There is no solid evidence acrylamide is carcinogenous for humans and what it more, if it is, you’d need to be eating tonnes of the stuff for it to make any difference.

To me it seems as though the FSA is using acrylamide to underline their already widespread message on the dangers of processed foods (crisps, chips, cakes etc).
This latest food scare only underlines what I’ve long been saying about food in general: If you eat enough of anything it’s likely to be bad for you.

Remember the ham and cured meats scare from last year? It stands to reason that if you’re only eating ham three times a day, your health is hardly going to flourish.
Pick any ingredient or foodstuff and it’ll be the same story. Eat a pound of cheese every day? You’re in bother.

Your only liquid is vodka? You’re in bother. Subsisting on chocolate? You’re in bother.

If mankind was suddenly presented with a magic wand of knowledge which would reveal the all nefarious aspects for all known foods and drinks, likely enough there would be very little that wouldn’t present complications of some form or another if they are being over-consumed.

For me, toast isn’t the problem here. Over-consumption is the problem. At the risk of sounding like an employee of the FSA… a healthy and well-balanced diet which includes at least five portions of fruit and veg a day – that’s the way to a harmonious gut and – hopefully – a long life.

In my world if I’m eating toast most mornings and it’s a shade browner than the boffins might advise, I’m still happy enough.


Because if I’m avoiding processed food as much as possible (barring the odd treat or when I’m caught on the hop) and I’m satisfied I’m eating a lot of fruit and veg (and if there’s lots of good fats and a decent carb/protein balance), I’m happy enough that a single slice of brown toast in the morning isn’t the end of the world.
Over-consumption is the enemy here. Over-reaction is the enemy.

I’m all for increased knowledge when it comes to what we’re stuffing into our cake-holes but do you know, sometimes I think we could be doing with a bigger and more frequent portion of something else.


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