Green circle with question mark inside Most likely or definitely true

Red circle with X insideFalse/misinformation

Gray circle with question mark insideWe’re not sure yet

Change or refine your search

Eating burnt marshmallows can cause cancer

What you may have heard

Consuming burnt foods or burnt marshmallows increases the risk of developing cancer.

What science tells us

Marshmallows are composed of a majority of sugars. They are eaten alone, but sometimes are roasted over a fire to make smores. Many chemicals are found in burnt food including acrylamide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) (Dana-Farber). Acrylamide forms naturally from chemical reactions in certain types of starchy foods when they are cooked at a high temperature. However, the chemical is only formed when food is cooked until it turns dark brown and if it is cooked over long periods of time (Dana-Farber). PAHs are released when fat and juices drip onto the flame while cooking meat. HCAs form when meat is exposed to high temperatures for a prolonged period of time (FDA). Neither of these are of concern with burnt marshmallows.

Epidemiological Evidence

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, there is no strong human evidence of a link between overcooked starchy foods and cancer risk (WCRF).

Laboratory Evidence/Supporting Evidence

There is no laboratory evidence that consuming burnt foods causes cancer.

IARC Carcinogen Classification: Not classified (although some compounds that may be found in burnt marshmallows may contain chemicals that IARC has designated as carcinogenic).

How to reduce your risk

It is not clear if there is a relationship between overcooked starchy foods and cancer. To minimize acrylamide exposure when cooking other types of foods, minimize frying and deep frying, avoid storing potatoes in the refrigerator, and soak raw potato slices in water (and dab dry) before frying or cooking. To reduce HCA and PAH consumption when cooking meat, avoid direct exposure of meat to an open flame, keep the duration of cooking times as brief as you can, microwave meat prior to cooking it on a high temperature, remove charred portions when eating, use acidic-based marinades, or enjoy grilled vegetables and tofu as a meat alternative (Dana-Farber).

Bottom line

Though no specific studies have been done on the link between burnt marshmallows and cancer, eating burnt marshmallows is not likely to increase cancer risk.

Dana-Farber: Burnt food and cancer
Food & Drug Administration (FDA): Acrylamide
World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF): Burnt toast


June 25, 2021
Verified/updated: August 22, 2022