Cherry Hamburgers Lower In Suspected Carcinogens

December 11, 1998

Combining Fruit Tissue With Ground Beef Also Slows Meat Spoilage

Eat your fruit. It's good for you even in hamburgers!
Cherry hamburgers may be healthier for you than regular hamburgers, based on the results of a study by scientists looking into this unusual combination.

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.

Cherry burgers are on school menus in 16 states as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture National School Lunch Program, according to Ray Pleva, the northern Michigan butcher and cherry grower who created the product. The states, he says, are Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia. Earlier this year, a member of the Michigan Legislature proposed, unsuccessfully, that they be proclaimed as the official Michigan state burger.

(The online version of the research paper cited below was placed on the American Chemical Society's ASAP (As Soon As Publishable) web site on Nov. 7. Journalists desiring full access to papers at the ASAP site must submit their requests in writing to in the ACS Office of News & Information.)
A nonprofit organization with a membership of more than 155,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

American Chemical Society

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