Spending a Saturday around the braai is a South African tradition that goes back to the very beginnings of man.
Braaing has even turned into an art among South African foodies, with celebrities like Jan Braai calling the smoky flavour imparted by the coal and wood as a ‘spice’, and not just a cooking technique.
Unfortunately for this time-honoured tradition, a growing body of research is linking meat cooked over a flame to cancer. In technical terms, to quote Slate, ‘Combusting wood, gas, or charcoal emits chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Exposure to these so-called PAHs is known to cause skin, liver, stomach, and several other types of cancer in lab animals. When PAHs from a flame mingle with nitrogen, say from a slab of meat, they can form nitrated PAHs, or NPAHs. NPAHs are even more carcinogenic than PAHs in laboratory experiments. The reasonable conclusion is that grilling meat may be hazardous to your health.’
These dangerous chemicals aren’t linked to only braai-cooked food, but rather to any meat cooked at an extremely high temperature – including fried bacon.
Since the research into this field is quite new, there’s no definitive answer whether the braai should forever be closed, but scientists do recommend ‘moderation’.