Herbs and Spices Make Grilling Healthier

Food safety research finds that certain spices can protect you against carcinogenic compounds that are created in meat while it cooks.

Leah Zerbe May 19, 2010

Cooking at high temperatures can have unhealthy side effects, but certain herbs will protect you.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Spices and herbs can make food so much more flavorful, and can help you cut down on the amount of salt used in the kitchen. But more and more research is also finding that cooking with certain spices and herbs can drastically cut down on harmful carcinogenic substances that form on meat when we cook them at high temperatures. And now's a good time to find out more, because grilling season is right around the corner.

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THE DETAILS: Recent research from scientists in the Food Safety Consortium, a collaboration between the University of Arkansas, Iowa State University, and Kansas State University, have found that herbs and spices used on beef can help reduce heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, carcinogenic compounds created when muscle foods, such as ground beef, is barbecued, grilled, boiled, or fried. Eating HCAs created from cooking meat have been show to increase your risk of colorectal, stomach, lung, pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancers.

Researchers J. Scott Smith, PhD, professor of food chemistry at Kansas State University, has found that gingerroot, rosemary, and tumeric—all high in antioxidants—can curb the amount of HCAs in cooked meat, even when high temperatures are maintained. (When cooking under 352 Fahrenheit for less than four minutes, levels of HCAs are very low or undetectable.) Smith has found that rosemary has the most protective action. (His previous research, published earlier this year in the Journal of Food Science, found commercial rosemary extract used in cooking reduced HCAs by 60 to nearly 80 percent. )

WHAT IT MEANS: Charring meat and cooking it at high temperatures cooks up some harmful health effects. Cooked beef patties appear to show the highest HCA-forming activity, so they could be the best place to start when trying to lower your exposures to HCAs, Food Safety Consortium researchers say. Another tip to cut carcinogenic compounds on your beef? Remember to marinate. The American Institute for Cancer Research found that marinating meat can lower HCAs by as much as 99 percent. A Kansas State University study found that marinating steaks lowered HCAs by 87 percent. Charring meat also creates HCAs, so it's best to avoid cooking to a blackened crust. More HCA-Reducing Grilling Tips available here.

Here are some rosemary-beef recipes to get you started.

•  Balsamic Rosemary-Grilled Beef

•  Steak au Poivre with Roasted Potatoes and Haricots Verts

•  Pan-Fried Steak with Mushrooms

•  Braised Beef Rump Roast

•  Larry's Spaghetti and Meatballs