Food & Recipes

Caramel: Guilty or Innocent?

Caramel and widespread usage

Brittles, nougats, pralines, crème brûlée, ice creams - Bursts of sweetness and flavour of caramel can be widely found in the world of food. Caramel is essentially formed from sugar. By applying high heat, water from sugar is slowly removed; the remaining sugar undergoes a chemical reaction that gives it a brown colouration and a differenttwist of sweetness.

As this resultant colour and taste are used by food technologists to package their products, caramel finds its way in wide range of food and beverages, from colas to essence of chicken.

Behind the appeal of caramel, lies a controversy that remains unresolved.      

Controversy ensues

During the process of making caramel, a chemical (known as 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI)) is generated. Researchers from John Hopkins University (Maryland) and US consumer report claimed that 4-MEI consumed in large quantity is linked to excessive risk of cancer. Separately, National Toxicology Program (US) found that 4-MEI led to increased risk of lung cancer in a 2 years animal study. Immune system abnormality was also found in other animal study.

On the other hand, some researchers leapt into caramel’s defence with evidence that caramel do not pose significant problem to the body. US Food Drug Administration and European Food Safety Authority also claim that caramel is safe as the level of 4-MEI in normal human consumption would not be significant enough to cause harm.

Nevertheless, regulatory bodies like Environmental Protection Agency (California) still places 4-MEI under its watch list of cancer causing chemical.

Caramel in Essence of Chicken

Essence of chicken is widely consumed by the society to cope with work life and academic rat race. It’s not uncommon for individuals to take essence of chicken regularly.

With a quick look at the labelling of many brands of essence of chicken, you would be able to find caramel among its ingredients. While the verdict is still out there for safety of caramel, these beg further questions

  • Would regular intake of essence of chicken with caramel cause us to breach the threshold of safety?
  • Do we really need to test the safety of caramel consumption, using our body?

Caramel is not a necessary evil when you take essence of chicken.  There are better alternatives. 

Given the choice, what would be your choice?