Researchers report that adding certain spices to your burgers before tossing them on the grill this summer will not only add to the flavor of the meat, but they can also cut the risk of cancer long associated with the cooking of beef.
Scientists at Kansas State University found that three spices in particular — fingerroot, rosemary and tumeric — seem to direct the greatest amount of antioxidant activity toward preventing the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs). HCAs, they note, are the cancer-causing compounds that are produced when foods such as beef are barbecued, grilled, broiled or fried.
Specifically, the three spices appeared to cut back on HCA production by upwards of 40%, the team observed, thereby significantly reducing the HCA-associated risk for developing colorectal, stomach, lung, pancreatic, mammary and prostate cancers.
"Cooked beef tends to develop more HCAs than other kinds of cooked meats such as pork and chicken," KSU food chemistry professor J. Scott Smith noted in a news release. "Cooked beef patties appear to be the cooked meat with the highest mutagenic activity and may be the most important source of HCAs in the human diet."
Therefore Smith and his colleagues looked into the HCA-inhibiting potential of six spices: cumin, coriander seeds, galangal, fingerroot, rosemary and tumeric.
Of all those investigated, rosemary came out on top as the strongest protector against HCA.
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 degrees Farenheit) 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.
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.