American pancake and waffle lovers who consume large quantities of syrup containing caramel colour may be putting themselves at a higher risk of developing cancer, a new report reveals.

Caramel colour is often used to give imitation maple syrups in the U.S. their amber hue common in more expensive pure maple syrups.

Consumer Reports, an American magazine published by the Consumers Union, says that some types of caramel colour contain 4-MeI, a potential carcinogen.

Consumer Reports sampled four pancake syrups sold in the U.S. found that all contained 4-MeI. The four brands of imitation maple syrup were: Smucker’s Hungry Jack Original; Quaker Oats’ Aunt Jemima Lite and Original; Pinnacle Foods’ Mrs. Butterworth’s Original and Log Cabin Original.

The Canadian version of Aunt Jemima Lite does not contain 4-MeI.

Hungry Jack showed the highest levels of 4-MeI (38 micrograms per 1/4 cup), while Log Cabin Original had the lowest level (11.5 micrograms per 1/4 cup). Consumer Reports also tested one brand of pure maple syrup -- B & G Foods Maple Grove Farms 100% Pure Maple Syrup -- and found it had a 4-MeI level of 0.7 micrograms per 1/4 cup.

“We're concerned because this chemical has been shown to cause cancer in mice and is a possible human carcinogen,” Urvashi Rangan, Consumer Reports’ safety director, said in an interview. "Our sample size was not big enough to be able to recommend one brand over another. But we do know that how much and how often people eat syrup can increase their cancer risk."

Consumer Reports says that eating two weekly servings of pancake syrup with the lowest average level of 4-MeI (Log Cabin Original) would pose a negligible cancer risk: one in a million. It said that the cancer risk in two weekly servings of any kind of syrup would “still be close to negligible.”

But it says that their research shows that four per cent of children in the U.S. -- ages one to five -- consume syrup every day. Putting the syrup with the highest level of 4- MeI, Hungry Jack Original, on your pancakes everyday increases the cancer risk to one in 100,000.

“And if consumed daily, none of the pancake syrups had low enough 4-MeI levels to reach the negligible risk level,” the report says.

But Rangan notes that it’s not pancake syrup that actually poses the greatest risk: some soft drinks have significantly higher levels of caramel colouring, and therefore higher levels of 4-MeI.

Tests conducted by Consumer Reports in December showed that 355 mL cans of Pepsi One from New York state averaged 160.8 micrograms of 4-MeI. Coke products had significantly lower levels of 4-MeI than Pepsi products.

"4 -MeI in syrup is less of a concern than in soft drinks because people tend to consume far less syrup,” Rangan said.

The report shows, however, that levels of 4-MeI in certain products were lower in December than they were when previously tested, “suggesting that some manufacturers may be taking steps to reduce levels, which would be a step in the right direction.”

With files from CTV Ottawa