J. Scott Smith, PhD
Kansas State University
August 21, 2008
A mericans love their grilled meat, and so the discovery a few years ago that grilling creates carcinogens dismayed untold numbers of people. But worry no more, there are some easy solutions — scientifically validated and tasty, too. Common spices — rosemary, but also other members of the mint family including basil, oregano, sage, savory, marjoram and thyme — can be used to reduce or block the formation of cancer-causing substances.
The carcinogens formed in grilled meat are called heterocyclic amines, or HCAs. Scientists at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, have been studying HCAs, hoping to find ways to reduce or eliminate them so people can continue to enjoy this summertime favorite. J. Scott Smith, PhD, professor of food chemistry and toxicology and head of the project, told me that the process of grilling creates HCAs in all meats, including beef, pork, chicken and fish. His team found that rosemary can reduce the formation of HCAs by at least 30% and sometimes completely. Sprinkling fresh rosemary directly on uncooked chicken or fish or marinating it in, say, olive oil with rosemary, does protect against HCA formation.
For those who don’t like the texture of fresh rosemary, Dr. Smith offers a few other solutions. One is to brush the meat with rosemary powder extract or capsules, sold in health stores or available on-line (for example, vitacost.com or e-vitamin.com). If using capsules, open one up and then just brush a small amount of the powder onto meat.
The other way to achieve this protective effect is to use any of the other mint-family herbs listed above in a marinade. It is best to let the meat sit in the marinade for 30 minutes to an hour, he says, but even a few minutes will help… just a little bit of herbal antioxidants applied to the surface has a happily strong protective effect.