The researchers found mixing one gram of black pepper with 100 grams of ground beef before grilling was highly effective in preventing the formation of carcinogenic heterocyclic amines (HCAs) but the black pepper taste overpowered the natural flavor of the meat. However, the study also found mixing black pepper with antioxidant-rich ingredients— like garlic and herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, sage or marjoram — was more practical and equally effective.
HCAs are formed when meat is cooked at temperatures higher than 300°F. It has been linked to increased risk of colorectal cancer. The study's authors found marinating meat is no longer helpful in bringing the best anti-carcinogen effect as the antioxidants begin to decompose.
The World Health Organization (WHO) lists HCAs as a known carcinogen, but public awareness of the dangers of well-cooked meat, especially pan-fried, grilled, barbecued and charred meat, is only just beginning to emerge. Apart from media coverage of carcinogens in cooked and processed meat, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended consuming less red and processed meat for the first time in 2015, helping to raise awareness of the issue — although the final guidelines did not make an explicit recommendation.
Previous studies have also suggested adding antioxidant-rich herbs to meat can help limit the formation of HCAs, but this has not yet been translated into a public health message.
Although there is discussion in some circles about how the preparation or cooking of meat can help reduce its carcinogenicity, it is yet to enter the mainstream public. The National Cancer Institute also highlights HCAs are formed in all meats — including poultry, beef, pork and fish — when they are cooked at high temperatures, an issue that is not touched upon in the USDA’s guidelines and is rarely reported.
This could raise a surprising opportunity for the meat industry, which historically has opposed recommendations urging Americans to change their meat consumption. Seasoning companies such as McCormick could help raise awareness of this issue and develop specific products targeted at consumers who like their meat blackened or well-done, but who want to avoid the associated cancer risk.