13 December 1998

Yeeuk! Cherries And Hamburgers

Adding cherries to hamburger meat retards spoilage and reduces the formation of suspected cancer-causing compounds known as HAAs (heterocyclic aromatic amines), according to researchers at Michigan State University. Previous research into the effect of combining cherry tissue with ground beef has shown the resulting product to be lower in fat, yet juicier and more tender than pure beef burgers.

Cherry burgers are an increasingly popular food item, particularly on school lunch menus in 16 states, and the subject of research reported in the Nov. 7 web edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, published by the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. The article will appear in the Dec. 21 print edition of the peer-reviewed journal.

"Cherry tissue will not only slow down the oxidative deterioration of meat lipids but will also substantially reduce the formation of heterocyclic aromatic amines," says J. Ian Gray, Ph.D., professor of food science at Michigan State University in East Lansing. HAAs are formed naturally during cooking. Many of them have been determined to cause cancer in some animals and are suspected to be carcinogenic in humans. A primary cause of off-flavor, lipid oxidation also causes discoloring and texture change of meat during storage.

In the study, MSU researchers found that ground beef patties containing 15 percent fat and 11.5 percent tart cherry tissue had "significantly" fewer HAAs when pan fried, compared to patties without cherry tissue added. The overall HAA reduction ranged from nearly 69 percent to 78.5 percent. The reduction is "clearly due to cherry components functioning as inhibitors of the reaction(s) leading to HAA formation," according to the journal article. Measurements done during the study showed that the fat content of cherry patties was lower than that of regular patties, but the moisture content was greater, thereby verifying early findings.