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Food Addit Contam. 2005 Sep;22(9):791-7.

Determination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in alcoholic drinks and the identification of their potential sources.

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Nutrition and Bromatology Group, Analytical and Food Chemistry Department, Faculty of Food Science and Technology, Ourense Campus, University of Vigo, E-32004 Ourense, Spain.


Some polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), particularly those with a high molecular mass, have been classified as probably being carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The significance of the determination of PAHs is reflected by the special attention the European Union is paying to regulating their maximum allowed levels in various types of foodstuffs. Like tobacco and smoked meats, alcoholic drinks can also contain these carcinogenic chemicals, as the latter have been detected in the charred insides of barrels, some ingredients such as caramel or the smoke released during the drying of germinated barley in beer or whisky. This paper determined the contents of seven PAHs in alcoholic beverages of variable alcoholic strength that had been aged in charred barrels for different times (months, years). The aim was to elucidate the dependence of the formation of seven PAHs on the type of charring (traditional or convective) used and the charring intensity (light, medium or heavy). Based on the results, the way the tree raw material is toasted strongly influences PAH levels in alcoholic drinks; thus, traditional charring produces increased amounts of PAHs from the wood relative to convective toasting. The sum of the analysed PAH concentrations in the aged alcoholic beverages studied ranged from zero for a white wine to 172 ng l(-1) for a 'brandy de jerez solera'. The carcinogenic indicator benzo[a]pyrene was found at concentrations below 10 ng l(-1). These PAH concentrations in alcoholic beverages are very low relative to those in smoked and char-broiled foodstuffs. Any health hazards, however, can be minimized by using convective toasting to manufacture the barrels where the drinks are to be aged.

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