Is it unhealthy to eat (slightly) burnt food?

When we have something like spaghetti, I don’t mind eating the parts that were at the bottom of the pot and have that slightly burnt sheen to them, but my wife always warns me that’s unhealthy. And if something like that turns up in the kid’s plate, my wife promptly scoops it out. And gives it to me. Likewise with pancakes that came out a little too brown.

So where does this idea come from, and there anything to it?

The browned bits can contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are carcinogenic.

That said, if you like them, I wouldn’t worry too much. Studies have shown that research causes cancer in laboratory rats.

Here is one opinion regarding the issue:

For 99% of the history of our species, the *only *way that people could cook there food was by burning it. We’ve only had the capacity to boil foods for 10, 000 years or so.

As such, I find it terribly hard to believe that small amounts of burned food are going to pose a major health risk to humans.

Not quite true. Birch bark and wooden vessels can be readily used for boiling food, utilizing heated stones. The oldest known birch bark and wooden containers date to the Early Mesolithic, or very close to the 10 000 year mark, but based on the extremely rare survival of such items and the high level of craftsmanship evident on some of the few found, it is highly probable people have been able to boil food for tens of thousands of years, or long before the advent of ceramic vessels (I’d say close to 100% of the history of modern Homo Sapiens).

Tossing a couple of red-hot stones into a burl bowl filled with water and assorted foodstuffs is the way I prefer to make primitive dinner in the bush, as the valuable fat in dead animals is preserved for consumption this way as opposed to roasting over an open fire. It only takes a couple of minutes to cook meat-ball-sized chunks of, say, deer rump thoroughly by this method.

Gotta love the (inevitable) burned lump of popcorn left in the microwave bag after cooking!

Nitrosamines in charred grilled meats are a pretty strong carcinogen. That’s probably why it tastes so good.

So you’re the guy in the office who’s burning popcorn all the time! Stop that already, it’s stinking up the whole joint!! :mad::mad:

In all seriousness, I tend to stop it before any part gets burnt. I may end up with a few extra unpopped kernels if I cut it off too early, but I find that far preferable to having any amount of burnt popcorn. That stuff is just plain nasty and I avoid it at all costs. :stuck_out_tongue:

For 99% of our history the human life expectancy was only about 25-30 years, so this line of reasoning doesn’t comfort me all that much… :slight_smile:

As Chronos said, burnt meats contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. If there were no nitrosamines in the meat before you charred it, there won’t be any after you char it. And I don’t think you would describe them as “a pretty strong carcinogen.” Research Newsletter | Linus Pauling Institute | Oregon State University

Besides burnt meat containing carcinogens (which was known for some decades) new research found acrylamides in burnt or deep brown fried non-meats like french fries, chips and similar.

Many companies changed their production processes to produce less acryl, and health recommendations were indeed to try and reduce eating overly browned starchy food.

Burnt popcorn and cilantro are the two biggest culinary arguments out there. I used to hate both, and over time and exposure (mainly from my wife, who loves them both) now like them both.

Wasn’t there a fad a few years back for Cajun style “blackened” fish & maybe other dishes? I wonder if that was super unhealthy.

Have you looked at Cajun food? Blackened fish is as healthy as it gets. On his show Justin Wilson made mayonaise-style potato salad out of leftover French fries!

Nope, never seen it at all. I just had the impression “blackened” meant burnt to all get-out.


It is, but the sodium will get you before the PAH’s will. That said, it’s pretty yummy.

I have a question that is a little off topic, but…
How do you know, like, everything?

It’s impressive.

Blackened fish is not burnt. It is a cajun cooking method and uses blackened seasoning, which consists of hot spices. An iron skillet is best, so you get that good iron. It does use a lot of butter, though.

Well, it’s a bit of both in my experience. You’re using a hot pan to sear the spice coating over the fish. The meat shouldn’t be overcooked, but it’s definitely charred a little on the surface.

And now I want some.