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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter January 31, 2019

Amino acids and biogenic amines as food quality factors

  • Livia Simon Sarkadi EMAIL logo


The importance of amino acids and biogenic amines is widely recognised in various fields, particularly in the fields of food science and nutrition. This mini-review contains a summary of my main research field that centres on aspects of Food Quality and Food Safety, with a particular emphasis on amino acids and biogenic amines. It also gives an overview of the recent developments on the related areas.


The importance of amino acids and biogenic amines is widely recognised in various fields, particularly in the fields of food science and nutrition. The other areas of usefulness are for their physiological or pharmacological functions.

These research areas show increasing interest still during the last 10 years. Significant numbers of papers on amino acids and biogenic amines in food have been published between 2008 and 2017. According to Scopus database the number of articles related to amino acids in food increased from 8182 to 17 150 and in the case of biogenic amines from 262 to 567 during the past decade. The main food types analysed were fish, meat, cheese, vegetables, wine and beer. Figure 1 show data for amino acids and Figure 2 for biogenic amines.

Fig. 1: Number of papers on amino acids in different foods.
Fig. 1:

Number of papers on amino acids in different foods.

Fig. 2: Number of papers on biogenic amines in different foods.
Fig. 2:

Number of papers on biogenic amines in different foods.

Amino acids and proteins

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, peptides and many other compounds, as well as they also occur as free amino acids. Organisms vary widely in their ability to synthesise amino acids. Human body is able to manufacture about half of the amino acids in quantities needed for healthy functioning. Those amino acids that the body cannot synthesise are called essential amino acids. They include valine (Val), leucine (Leu) and isoleucine (Ile) (they are the three branched chain amino acids), phenylalanine (Phe), lysine (Lys), threonine (Thr), tryptophan (Trp), and methionine (Met). Arginine (Arg) and histidine (His) are essential for infants. Essential amino acids must be consumed through the same diet.

Amino acids play a central role in metabolism. Branched-chain amino acids are building blocks of proteins and muscles. They play a role in regulating blood sugar levels, and also help lower risk of oxygen-based damage to cells and to reduce fatigue during exercise. Branched-chain amino acids are found mainly in fish, eggs, dairy, and some grain proteins.

Sulphur-containing amino acids (methionine, cysteine) are important from health point of view. Cysteine is one of the major determinants of intracellular redox conditions. Along with glutamic acid and glycine, cysteine is a precursor of glutathione, which is the body’s most important low-molecular-mass intracellular antioxidant. Sulphur-rich foods include many fish (especially salmon) as well as some plant foods like garlic, onions, and broccoli. Methionine is the limiting amino acid in legumes.

Aromatic amino acids phenylalanine (Phe), and tyrosine (Tyr), and heterocyclic amino acid tryptophan (Trp), are best-known for their role in the nervous system. Good source of Phe and Tyr are meat and fish. Trp occurs in proteins only in average amount of 1%.

Lysine (Lys) is involved in genetic metabolism and cell signalling. High amounts of Lys (7%) are found in animal proteins such as fish, meat, eggs and milk. While in most plant proteins (e.g. cereals) Lys is the limiting amino acid. Threonine (Thr) is also a cell signalling-related amino acid that is especially important in phosphorylation reactions. Meat and brewer’s yeast contain higher amounts of Thr (5%).

Arginine (Arg) is involved in the regulation of multiple areas of human physiology. In neural tissues, Arg regulates neurological functions and behaviour; in the digestive system, Arg regulates gastrointestinal empting and the motility of the small intestine; in the cardiovascular system it is involve the regulation of blood pressure and vascular reactivity. Arg content in proteins is usually between 3 and 6%. Rich sources of Arg are peanuts and oilseeds (11%).

Blood plasma proteins contain large amount of histidine (6%). Some kinds of fish contain naturally high level of histidine. These include tuna, mackerel, mahi mahi, anchovy, herring, bluefish, and marlin which are the most common sources of histamine toxicity.

Dietary protein quality depends on how well the essential amino acid composition merits the requirements of the human body. Complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids in adequate amounts. These proteins are found mainly in animal sources (meat, fish, eggs, milk). Incomplete proteins tend to be deficient in one or more of the essential amino acids. These proteins are found in foods of plant origin, including grains, legumes, and leafy green vegetables. There are many methods to identify protein quality. These include Biological Value (BV), Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER), Net Protein Utilisation (NPU), Amino Acids Score (AAS), and Essential Amino Acid Index (EAAI), etc.

Since the amino acid composition of individual proteins is fixed hereditarily, the amino acid composition of a food is not greatly variable in principle because of the limited variation of protein composition of the food. However, the free amino acid composition changes considerably according to the condition of production, preservation and processing of the food. Nowadays, investigation of some non-protein building amino acids (e.g. GABA: γ-amino butyric acid) have become increasing interest from nutritional point of view.

Free amino acids can contribute to the flavour and taste of many foods. Among the free amino acids Arg, Phe, His, Trp, Ile, Leu, Tyr, Pro (proline) are responsible for bitter tastes, Ala (alanine), Gly (glycine), Pro, Ser (serine), Thr, Lys for sweet tastes. Many pleasant odours of food are due to the interaction products of amino acids and reducing sugars (Maillard reaction or nonenzymatic browning). The Maillard reaction is important for the desired aroma formation accompanying cooking, baking, roasting or frying.

l-glutamate (glutamic acid) in food

l-glutamate (glutamic acid) is a non-essential amino acid naturally presents in higher quantities in foods. l-glutamate is a multifunctional amino acid involved in taste perception, intermediary metabolism, and excitatory neurotransmission [1]. The l-glutamic acid was discovered in 1866 by Ritthausen, who isolated it from the acid hydrolysate of wheat gluten [2]. Salts of glutamic acid were discovered in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, who identified the unique taste of umami as fifth basic taste after sweet, sour, salty and bitter in the tongue [3]. There are many studies on umami taste and glutamate and their relation to food palatability and flavour acceptance [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8]. Salts of glutamic acid, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, can be added to certain foods or sauces as flavour enhancers [9].

Foods sources of monosodium glutamate and glutamic acid are: fish sauces, oyster sauce, tomato sauce, gravies, miso, Parmesan cheese, savoury snacks, chips, ready-to-eat meals, mushrooms and spinach [10].

GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) in food

GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is a non-protein amino acid that is widely distributed in plants, animals and microorganisms. GABA is synthesised by the decarboxylation of l-glutamic acid, referred as the GABA shunt that is catalysed by glutamate decarboxylase (GAD, EC

GABA is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter of the vertebrate central nervous system and is found ubiquitously among plants [11].

Increased GABA intakes are related to different health benefits including reduction of hypertension [12], inhibition of chronic diseases associated with alcohol [13], prevention of cancer cell proliferation [14], and modulation of blood cholesterol levels [15].

There is a growing interest in food science and industry to produce GABA-enriched functional foods [16]. GABA is naturally present in small quantities in many plants. It was first discovered in potato [17], but GABA also found in spinach, potatoes, cabbage, asparagus, broccoli and tomatoes as well as in some fruits, such as apples and grapes; and in cereals (e.g. barley, corn) [18]. Germinated millets and legumes are also good sources of GABA [19]. A wide range of traditional foods produced by microbial fermentation contain GABA, especially fermented dairy products [20], soy sauces [21], and cheeses [22]. The major GABA producing microorganisms are lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and fungi (e.g. Aspergillus nidulans). Recently many GABA-enriched foods have been reported, including brown rice [23], tea [24], wheat bran [25], soybean [26], and lactic acid bacteria (LAB) fermented food [27].

Further research needs to be carried on the GABA-enhanced functional foods to determine the mechanisms of their health benefits.

d-amino acids in food

With the exception of glycine, all amino acids are optically active. The d and l notation is used for monosaccharide as well as for amino acids. Unlike monosaccharide, where the d isomer is the one fund in the nature, most amino acids have l configuration. d-amino acids have been found in the nature as constituents of bacterial cell walls and several peptide antibiotics. Racemisation of l-amino acids residues to their d-isomers is pH-, time-, and temperature-dependent. Although racemisation rates of the different l-amino acid residues in a protein vary, the relative rates in different proteins are similar. The racemisation can affect the nutritive value and safety of foods since d-amino acids cannot be utilised by humans and some are toxic.

Therefore analysis of d-amino acids in food is a matter of growing interest. There are some reviews concerning d-amino acids including chemistry, nutrition and microbiological aspects [28], [29], [30], [31].

d-amino acids occur in the diet are naturally originated or processing-induced under conditions such as high temperatures, acid and alkali treatments and fermentation processes. The presence of d-amino acids is very frequent in particular in fermented foods [32], [33], [34], [35], [36], as well as in fresh fruits and vegetables [37].

Our studies on hard cheeses showed, that the free amino acid profile, d/l glutamic acid ratio and d/l aspartic acid ratio seem to be good parameters for the qualification of Parmesan cheeses. The concentration and the kinds of d-amino acids occurring in foods seem to depend on both the manufacturing process and starter cultures. Detection of an unnatural enantiomer, or the ratio of enantiomers can be used to determine the authenticity of a product, as a marker for the extent of processing, and may be useful for assessing the food quality [30], [38].

Biogenic amines

Formation of biogenic amines in food requires the availability of free amino acids, the presence of decarboxylase-positive microorganisms and favourable conditions for bacterial growth, and decarboxylase activity. Free amino acids either occur as such in foods or may be liberated by proteolysis during processing or storage. Decarboxylase-producing microorganisms may be part of the associated flora of a particular food or may be introduced by contamination before, during or after processing of the food. In the case of fermented foods and beverages, the applied starter cultures may also affect the production of biogenic amines [39].

The main representatives of aliphatic biogenic amines are putrescine (Put; 1,4-diaminobutane), cadaverine (Cad; 1,5-diaminopentane) and agmatine (Agm; 1-(4-aminobutyl)guanidine), aromatic amines are tyramine (Tym; 4-(2-aminoethyl)phenol) and phenylethylamine (Phem; 2-phenylethylamine), and heterocyclic amines are histamine (Him; 2-(1H-imidazol-4-yl)ethanamine), and tryptamine (Trm; 2-(1H-indol-3-yl)ethanamine). Polyamines include spermidine (Spd; [N-(3-aminopropyl)-1,4-diaminobutane]) and spermine (Spm; [N,N′-bis(3-aminopropyl)-1,4-diaminobutane]).

Arginine (Arg) decarboxylase is easily converted Arg to agmatine, or by arginase can be degraded to ornithine from which putrescine is formed by decarboxylation. Lysine can be converted into cadaverine by decarboxylation. Histidine, tyramine, tryptamine, and β-phenylethylamine are also form by decarboxylation of histidine, tyrosine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine, respectively. Spermine derives from spermidine, which comes from putrescine, by spermine synthase and spermidine synthase, respectively.

The biogenic amine content of foods has been widely studied because of their potential toxicity. Intake of exogenous biogenic amines at elevated amounts may result in toxicological effects with various degrees of severity. In healthy persons, dietary biogenic amines can be rapidly detoxified by amine oxidases, whereas persons with low amine oxidase activity are at risk of their toxicity. The most common allergy-like symptoms are tingling and burning sensations around the mouth, facial flushing, sweating, nausea, vomiting, headache, palpitations, dizziness, and rash [40].

Histamine (Him) and tyramine (Tym) are physiologically the most important biogenic amines. Both amines are vasoactive that are responsible for the immediate and short-lived responses in inflammation including vasodilation, increased vascular permeability and smooth muscle contraction. Histamine lowers blood pressure in most cases, whereas tyramine promotes blood pressure elevation. Histamine toxicity is also known as scombroid poisoning, caused by eating spoiled fish, and tyramine is associated to the ‘cheese reaction’ while the effects were originally attributed to consumption of ripened cheese [40].

There are significant differences in the biogenic amine composition of the two major types of food of plant and animal origin. Vegetable-type foods contain high amount of Put, Spm and Spd but significantly lower amount of Him than animal-derived foods. Generally, the vegetable-type foods may be considered low risk products with regard to the presence of biogenic amines, while the products of microbial fermentation (wine, beer, meat, cheese) may contain high amounts of biogenic amines [39].

Despite of the fact that biogenic amines may cause several problems for susceptible consumers, there is a general absence of specific regulation on biogenic amine content of food. The European Union established legislative limit values [41] only for Him in fish, since Him is been implicated in causing the most frequent food-borne intoxications. Some countries have regulated the maximum amounts of Him in different foods at a national level. Generally, upper limits of 100 mg Him/kg in food and 2 mg/L in beverages have been suggested. There are recommendations for tyramine (100–800 mg Tym/kg) and for 2-phenylethylamine (30 mg/kg) in food [42].

The occurrence of biogenic amines is not only a risk factor for intoxications but is also an indicator of food quality. Di- and polyamines (Cad and Put) are considered as indicators of the freshness and quality of foods. Mietz and Karmas [43] were the first who proposed a quality index (BAI: Biogenic Amine Index) based on the increases in putrescine, cadaverine and histamine, and decreases in spermine and spermidine during fish storage.

BAI=(histamine+putrescine+cadaverine)/(1+spermidine+spermine), where the amine concentrations are expressed in mg/kg. Fish or meat with a BAI value below 1 is considered to be of first quality, whereas BAI values above 10 indicate a very poor microbial quality. There is a positive correlation between the BAI value and organoleptic acceptability or microbiological quality.

Several studies have monitored the biogenic amine formation and occurrence in food. Information on developments of this topic is given in some valuable papers [44], [45], [46], [47], [48], [49], [50].

Occurrence of biogenic amines in food

Dairy products

Dairy products especially cheeses are one of the foods with highest biogenic amine content. Biogenic amine content varied greatly even within the same cheese variety [51], [52]. Several factors may contribute to biogenic amine formation in cheese such as the type of raw milk, the use of starter cultures and the conditions and time of the ripening process [53], [54], [55], [56].

Numerous bacteria may possess amino acid decarboxylase activity. The genera Enterococcus, Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc and Streptococcus include some strains that are endowed with high decarboxylase potential. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are the main histamine and tyramine producers and Enterococci have been described as the most efficient tyramine producers in fermented foods [57], [58].

The concentration of biogenic amines in the most common cheese types (soft, semi-soft and semi-hard) produced in Hungary was studied in our laboratory. The total biogenic amine content varied from 10 mg/kg to 300 mg/kg in cheese samples. Tyramine and histamine contents were below the critical threshold level in all samples [59], [60].

The most recent data on biogenic amines in dairy food products can be found in the following research papers written by Benkerroum [61], as well as by Perin and Nero [62].

Fish and meat products

Fish and meat products are common sources of biogenic amines. Fermented fish products contain high amounts of amino acids that are easily broken down to hazardous biogenic amines, including histamine [46], [63], [64], [65], [66].

Many bacteria associated with sea foods, such as Morganella morganii, Raoultella planticola and Enterobacter aerogenes, and several other species are known to possess histidine decarboxylase activity and produce histamine [67].

Histamine has been traditionally used as an indicator of the quality of histidine-rich fish (dark-muscle fish) while putrescine and cadaverine are the most objective indicators of quality of histidine-poor fish (white-muscle fish), shellfish and fermented seafood products [68].

Several studies showed that tyramine is the most abundant biogenic amines found in dry sausage followed by putrescine and cadaverine [69], [70], [71].

Different Hungarian meat products (salami, sausage and cold cuts) were investigated in our laboratory. The total amino acid content ranged between 165 and 220 mg/g in salami samples, 130–181 mg/g in sausages, and 93–135 mg/g in other samples. The free amino acid content in these meat products raged between 1.8 and 4.9 mg/g in salami, 1.8–5.7 mg/g in sausages, and 1.8–3.3 mg/g in cold cuts samples. The most abundant free amino acids were His, Pro, Lys, Ala, Gly and Glu. The biogenic amine content ranged between 0.27 and 0.77 mg/g in salami, 0.12–0.94 mg/g in sausages, 0.07–0.47 mg/g in other samples. Sausages had high levels of all biogenic amines except spermidine and spermine. Tyramine (36%), putrescine (26%) and histamine (21%) were the major amines detected in salami and sausage samples, while tyramine and histamine predominated in other samples [72].


Among the fermented vegetables biogenic amine research has been focused on sauerkraut due to its relatively higher commercial importance. Sauerkraut is very popular in many European countries.

Fermentation process can be carried out using either spontaneous fermentation (which relies on the lactic acid bacteria occurring naturally on vegetables) or controlled fermentation (using a starter culture of Lactobacillus species). The importance of the proper starter cultures selection was highlighted by Kalac et al. [73], who identified significant differences in the accumulation of biogenic amines between spontaneously fermented sauerkraut and ones initially inoculated with selected strains of Lactobacillus plantarum, Lb. casei, Pediococcus pentosaceus, and Enterococcus faecium.

The main amines found in sauerkrauts were Put, Him, Tym and Cad. Spermidine and Spm occurred only in small amounts in the products. Histamine and Tym contents were commonly high [73], [74].

Significant variation was observed in the accumulation of biogenic amines during storage in different cabbage cultivars [75]. More recently Cvetkovic et al. [76] studied the effect of traditional fermentation process on biogenic amine formation in white cabbage. They have found that the fermentation time has been affected mainly putrescine, cadaverine, histamine, tyramine and spermidine accumulation in cabbage; while fermentation temperature influenced putrescine and histamine production and salt content was very important for spermidine production.


Amino acids represent the main source of nitrogen for both yeast and malolactic bacteria during wine fermentation and also serve as substrate for volatile aroma compounds for biogenic amine production in wine. In general, white wines have rarely been implicated, while red wines have often provoked physiological distress because red wines contain higher amount of histamine than white wines. These differences may be due to the different fermentation processes. Red wine is produced from whole grapes whereas white wine is produced from grape juice without skins. It means that red wine is liable to be contaminated by amine-producing microorganisms [39].

Predominant biogenic amines in wine are Him, Tym, Put and Agm [77], [78].

Surveys made on wines from the 22 Hungarian historical wine growing regions showed that winemaking technology had greater effect on biogenic amine formation in wines than geographical origin, grape variety and year of vintage [79], [80], [81], [82]. The dominant free amino acids were proline (white 35%, red 65%) and arginine (white 18%; red 5%) in wines. In red wines proline was the most abundant amino acid. Pro accounted for approximately 70% of the total free amino acid content. Besides these two amino acids γ-amino-butyric acid, glutamic acid, alanine, histidine, and ornithine were present at higher concentration. Ratios of putrescine to tyramine were successfully used to differentiate between white and red wines [81].

Some recently published results on biogenic amines in wines can be read in some valuable papers [83], [84], [85], [86], [87], [88].


Beer is defined as an alcoholic beverage from starch-containing raw materials which are fermented by brewer’s yeast. Although barley malt is the most important cereal, wheat, wheat malt, corn, rice and millet are also used as starch-containing adjuncts and sources for fermentable sugars.

The total biogenic amine content of beer is influenced by the barley variety used in the brewing process, malting technology, wort processing, and the conditions during fermentation. Higher amounts of Him and Tym in some European beers indicate microbial contamination during brewing [89], [90], [91].

More than 100 samples of alcoholic and non-alcoholic bottled beer produced in the Czech Republic were investigated for their biogenic amine content by Bunka et al. [92]. The contents of histamine, phenylethylamine, tryptamine, spermine and spermidine were very low. In 25% of alcoholic beer the concentration of biogenic amines exceeded a level of 100 mg/L, which can be considered toxicologically significant.

Mozzon et al. [93] reported biogenic amine levels in beers produced from malted organic Emmer wheat between 15.4 and 25.2 mg/L in the samples of light beer and between 8.9 and 15.3 mg/L in double malt beers ready for consumption. Cadaverine and tyramine were the main amines in light and double malt beers, respectively. Significantly lower concentrations were found in finished beers obtained from 50% malted Emmer wheat and 50% malted barley (up to 3.2 mg/L) or from 30% malted Emmer wheat (up to 8.3 mg/L). Thus, Emmer wheat malt can be a useful alternative to wheat and spelt for the production of beer with a limited content of biogenic amine.

Leafy vegetables

Low concentrations of biogenic amines are naturally present in vegetables as endogenous compounds, metabolites, and intermediates. During processing and storage of vegetables, biogenic amines can be generated from the enzymatic activity of raw tissues and from microbial activity [94], [95], [96]. The common microorganisms associated with biogenic amine formation in vegetables are Gram-negative spoilage genera such as Pseudomonas, Enterobacter, Hafnia, Salmonella, Escherichia, Klebsiella, and Morganella [44], [97].

Fresh vegetables may be considered low risk products with regard the presence of biogenic amines. With the new generation of refrigerated ready-to-use vegetables a new set of potential spoilage and safety parameters have been introduced.

Study on different leafy vegetables: Chinese cabbage (Brassica pekinensis Rupr.), endive (Cichorium endivia L.), iceberg lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. capitata), and radicchio (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum) showed that these products contained relatively low levels of biogenic amines ranging from 14 to 30 μg/g fresh weight [98]. Putrescine, histamine, spermidine, spermine and tyramine were detected in concentration ranging from 0.1 to 17 mg/kg fresh weight. Only putrescine showed a progressive increase during storage, depending on the type of leafy vegetable; its level of increase ranged from 3- to 8-fold (for radicchio 2.9-fold, for iceberg lettuce 3.1-fold, for endive 3.6-fold), with the most pronounced increase observed for Chinese cabbage (7.6-fold). It is suggested that a relationship exists between the Enterobacteriaceae population (representing up to 90% of total microbial numbers determined by plate count methods) and putrescine concentration.


Controlled germination of different seeds for human consumption has become a convenient method, both in the kitchen and in large scale commercial operations. Sprouting improves the nutritional quality of seeds by increasing the contents and availability of essential nutrients and decreasing the levels of antinutrients. Seeds germinate in a warm and moist environment which, however, is also conducive to the rapid proliferation of microorganisms.

The presence of biogenic amines has been described in different legume and radish seeds and sprouts [99], [100]. All sprouts contained high amount of polyamine. The total amine content was in soy bean 145 mg/kg, in lentil 130 mg/kg and in radish 1100 mg/kg. The relative amounts of individual polyamines showed significant differences depending on the sprout type. In soybean spermidine, in lentils cadaverine and in radish agmatine concentration was the highest. Putrescine content showed a continuous increase during germination in legume and radish sprouts.

Biogenic amines have been reported to occur in many fermented soybean products such as miso [101], [102], natto [103], soy sauce [104], and sufu [105].

EFSA report on biogenic amine content of European food

A qualitative risk assessment of biogenic amines in fermented foods was conducted by EFSA, using data from the scientific literature, as well as from European Union-related surveys, reports and consumption data [106].

The food categories showing the highest mean values of histamine were: dried anchovies (348 mg/kg), fish sauce (196–197 mg/kg), fermented vegetables (39.4–42.6 mg/kg), cheese (20.9–62 mg/kg), other fish and fish products (26.8–31.2 mg/kg) and fermented sausages (23.0–23.6 mg/kg); for tyramine were: fermented sausages (136 mg/kg), fish sauce (105–107 mg/kg), cheese (68.5–104 mg/kg), fermented fish (47.2–47.9 mg/kg) and fermented vegetables (45–47.4 mg/kg); for putrescine were: fermented vegetables (264 mg/kg), fish sauce (98.1–99.3 mg/kg), fermented sausages (84.2–84.6 mg/kg), cheese (25.4–65 mg/kg) and fermented fish (13.4–17 mg/kg); and for cadaverine were: fish sauce’ (180–182 mg/kg), cheese (72–109 mg/kg), fermented sausages (37.4–38 mg/kg), fermented vegetables (26–35.4 mg/kg) and fermented fish meat (14–17.3 mg/kg) [106].

The main conclusions were that further research is needed on: (i) the toxicity and associated concentrations of biogenic amines in different foods; (ii) the production process-based control measures for biogenic amines in fermented food; (iii) further process hygiene and/or food safety criteria development; as well as (iv) validation of analytical methods, including standardisation and harmonisation of procedures for all relevant types of food.

Reduction of biogenic amines in fermented food

In all food products, which possess amino acid decarboxylase enzyme activity and contain free amino acids, endogenous originated biogenic amines are present. The processing and storage conditions that increase enzyme activity results an increase of biogenic amine level.

There are some trials to reduce biogenic amines in foods: utilising of some amine-negative starter cultures [107], [108], adding of some probiotic bacterial strains alone or in combination with the starter culture [109], [110], or low dose γ-irradiation [111], [112], [113], [114], [115].

Several papers deal with the effects of high hydrostatic pressure (HHP) on the changes of biogenic amine content in food [116], [117], [118]. HHP processing is one of the most encouraging alternatives to traditional thermal treatment for food preservation. Latorre-Moratalla et al. [119] reported that the application pressure of 200 MPa for 10 min strongly inhibits putrescine and cadaverine production in meat batter, but did not affect spermidine, spermine and tyramine. The HHP treatment at 500 MPa for 10 min showed an inhibitory effect on putrescine and cadaverine formation in most of the cases, while it showed activation of tyramine and spermine formation in dry sausage during storage at +8°C up to day 28, as compared with the control variant [120].

A systematic follow-up of the effect of each processing step on biogenic amine levels can lead to an optimised technology for low biogenic amine content food production.

Methods for determination of amino acids and biogenic amines

For qualitative and quantitative determination of amino acids and biogenic amines in foods various analytical methods are used including spectrophotometry, fluorimetry, electrophoresis and chromatography, e.g. thin-layer chromatography (TLC) [121], [122], overpressure-layer chromatography (OPLC) [123], [124]; high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) [125], [126], [127]; ion exchange chromatography (IEC) [128], [129]; ultra-performance liquid chromatography (UPLC) [130]; gas chromatography (GC) [131], and capillary electrophoresis (CE) [132], [133], [134]. Immunoassays, including enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) [135], and biosensors are relatively new tools for biogenic amine detection in food [136], [137].

The methods differ in sensitivity, selectivity, and ease of sample preparation, speed of separation and cost of analysis. The analysis by thin-layer chromatography (TLC) is a simple and rapid procedure, considering that several samples can be run in parallel on the same plate. Overpressure-layer chromatography (OPLC) is theoretically and practically a planar layer version of HPLC. OPLC involves a micro chamber in which a membrane under external pressure covers the adsorbent layer and solvent is introduced by means of a pump. OPLC combine the advantages of classical TLC, HPTLC and HPLC. High performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) is the most frequently used technique for amino acid and biogenic amine determination. Depending on the type of interaction between stationary phase, mobile phase and sample several separation mechanisms can be used in HPLC e.g. normal phase, reversed phase chromatography or reversed phase chromatography with ion pairing. Gas chromatography (GC) is considerably less applied technique for amino acid and biogenic amine analysis, probably due to the difficult pre-column derivatization step that is necessary to be determined of these non-volatile components. High-performance capillary electrophoresis (HPCE) and ultra-performance liquid chromatography (UPLC) are relatively new techniques in amino acid and biogenic amine analysis but has proved to be a powerful technique in the future.

Different methods have been developed in our laboratory for the determination of amino acids and biogenic amines. These methods include Ion Exchange Chromatography [128], Overpressured Layer Chromatography (OPLC) [123], [124], [138], and Capillary Electrophoresis (CE) [133].

Although many methods are available the development of new and more useful approaches for the analysis of amino acids and biogenic amines continues today [86], [139].


The important role of food and nutrition in public health is being increasingly recognised both at the governmental and individual levels. Consumers’ demand for good quality and healthier food products become more and more general. Amino acids and biogenic amines play essential roles in the development, metabolism, and physiological functions of humans. However, they are also involved in human pathologies causing different disorders.

To ensure food safety and nutritional quality throughout the entire food supply chain require further research and better cooperation between industry and academia. Regarding future research on amino acids and biogenic amines there are still many challenges on the areas of food science and nutrition.


Part of the research was supported by the European Union and co-financed by the European Social Fund (grant agreement no. EFOP-3.6.3-VEKOP-16-2017-00005).

Article note

A special collection of invited papers by recipients of the IUPAC Distinguished Women in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Awards.


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Published Online: 2019-01-31
Published in Print: 2019-02-25

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