Honey: Adulteration and Impurities
HoneyGate: Fake Honey, Adulterated with Low-Cost Sugar
Honey is the third most adultrated food item in the world.
What if this honey contains extremely harmful, carcinogenic, pesticides antibiotics etc.
This is our second blog in the series Honey. In the first blog, we talked what honey actually is and how it is made.
We recommend that you read that blog for a better understanding of honey and related issues.
In this blog, we would talk about the issue of contamination of honey by adding low-cost sugars.
We see Honey as a healthy, beneficial, and natural sweetener which has immense utility in medicinal and food purposes.
But in modern times, the honey that is reaching our table is generally neither natural nor healthy.
In the era of modernisation and environmental pollution, the honey produced by the bees is also contaminated by various sources.
The sources can be environmental and related to malpractices in beekeeping.
The contaminants are present in the environment, in air, soil and water, reach the beehives through bees.
The contaminants that reach honey due to malpractices in the apiary are bee repellents, used during the time of harvest, pesticides, added sugars and antibiotics.
A consumer awareness organisation CONSUMER VOICE conducted lab tests on the top ten honey brands in India.
The organisation designed the test as per the latest parameters set by FSSAI and Indian Standards and Agmark released on 31 Aug 2018.
All ten of them including brands like Dabur, Patanjali, Zandu etc failed the tests.
Here is the report for your reference.
In fact, 2010 a study conducted by the Centre of Science and Environment had found harmful antibiotics in the major brands they tested.
This is the report.
The brands that were tested and failed included foreign brands like Capilano and Natural pure.
Out of ten Indian brands tested, including, Patanjali, Dabur, and Himalaya nine were found to contain harmful antibiotics like Oxytetracycline.
Only Hitkari didn’t have any antibiotics.
India didn’t have any regulations for regulating antibiotics in Honey for the domestic market until Aug 2018.
Although, strict regulations were present for Honey which was being exported.
And most of the honey rejected by EU, USA and other foreign markets for quality reasons was sold in the domestic market.
To cope with the growing demand in the domestic and export market, beekeepers and these brands started using all kinds of malpractices.
- Adding glucose, dextrose, molasses, sugar syrup, invert sugar, corn syrup, or other similar products to increase the volume of the honey.
- Using various chemicals, antibiotics, pesticides for improving the yield of Honey.
- Extracting almost all the honey and not leaving anything for the bees to consume during the times of winter, causing damage to bees and ecology.
- Harvesting honey ahead of time before it has reached the maturity.
Quantity became more important than quality.
Most of the Indian brands have been found to have some kind of impurity, either residue of antibiotics, pesticides, or added sugars for increasing the quantity.
Due to these reasons, Indian Honey consignments were turned back many times from the shores of the EU and USA.
In fact, Indian honey was banned by the EU in 2010 for the presence of antibiotics, that’s when Export Inspection Council (EIC), created standards at par with International regulations to control antibiotic content in Honey that India was exporting.
It took another eight years to have such regulations for the domestic market.
We would discuss malpractices in beekeeping antibiotics and pesticides in upcoming blogs.
In this, we would focus on fake honey made of added sugars.
Different types of low-cost sugars are added in natural honey to increase the volume. Some of the commonly used sugars that are added in honey are cane sugar, corn syrups and potato syrups.
Corn syrup and sugar cane are sourced from C-4 plants.
The sugars produced, reflect their original carbon isotopic composition.
These are C4 plant sugars whereas honey is largely made of C3 plant sugars.
Hence, to capture this there is a C4 sugar analysis done to understand whether the honey has been adulterated or not with low-cost sugars.
To understand this better we need to know what are C3, C4 and CAM plants depending upon different types of photosynthesis they go through.
C3: The C3 pathway comes the first molecule produced in the cycle (a 3-carbon molecule) called 3-phosphoglyceric acid. About 85% on Earth use the C3 pathway to fix carbon via the Calvin Cycle.
They are most efficient for wet climates.
C4: The C4 is named after the 4-carbon intermediate molecules that are produced, malic acid or aspartic acid.
Almot 3% of plants roughly 7,600 species use the C4 pathway. Of which almost 85% of are angiosperms (flowering plants).Corn, sugar cane, millet, are also C4 Plants.
These are most efficient in sunny and dry climates.
CAM Plants: CAM stands for Crassulacean Acid Metabolism. CAM plants, are efficient at storing water. They keep their stomata closed during the day time to save water from evapotransporation.
Almost 16,000 species of plants which follow CAM including cacti, sedum, jade, and orchids.
The carbon dioxide is converted to malate. The malate is stored until sunlight returns. And then photosynthesis begins via the Calvin Cycle.
The International Standards For C4 Sugars
The ratio of the carbon isotopes, 13C/12C in honey is
- ) From C3 plants (–22 to –33δ‰)
- ) From from C4 plants (–10 to –20δ‰ )
- ) From CAM plants (–11 to –13.5δ‰ )
When C4 sugar is added to pure honey, the 13C/12C ratio will be altered, whereas it corresponding 13C/12C ratio protein extract will remain constant.
The difference that is accepted in 13C/12C results between honey and its associated protein extract is -1δ‰ deviation.
This translates into an international benchmark of 7% of C4 sugar to consider a honey sample pure.
This problem of added sugars has been a major problem in global honey trade. And it has been difficult to identify the contamination and its concentration.
With the advancement of mass spectroscopy, it became easier to study.
Elemental Analysis -Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (EA-IRMS ) is the only official detection method for the addition of C-4 sugar in honey.
Although it may give false positive results in case they are naturally made of C4 plants.
FSSAI’s notification: Dated 31/07/2018 has stated that
“Honey sold as such shall not have added to it any food ingredient, including food additives, nor shall any other additions be made other than honey.”
Following international standards, any honey containing C4 sugars in more quantity than 7% is considered fake by FSSAI.
And only a single brand, Zandu, among the tested 10 passed this test done by Consumer Voice in Dec 2018. Just six months ago.
Although, Zandu also didn’t clear some of the other tests.
FSSAI also introduced the following parameters for finding out whether the honey is pure or not.
F is Fructose, G is Glucose, P is Protein, NMT is Not More Than
How to Differentiate in Fake and Real Honey?
There are a few tests that one can easily perform to see if the honey is real or fake. Although, these tests are not accurate. They might not be able to capture small scale contamination but one can make out whether it’s natural honey or honey made of added sugars.
1) Stickiness Test
Pure Honey: Pure honey is generally sticky when rubbed between fingers.
Fake Honey: It is fairly sticky because of the high percentage of added sweeteners and additives.
2) Thickness Test
Pure Honey: Pure honey is thick and takes some time in moving from side to another in the jar.
Fake Honey: Fake honey is lightish and moves relatively quickly inside the jar. Not dense at all.
3) Aroma Test
Pure Honey: Pure honey contains aromas of certain flowers and wild grasses. It can be easily detected upon smelling.
Fake Honey: There is mostly no natural aroma.
4) Heating Test
Pure Honey: Pure honey caramelises upon heating quickly but does not make foam.
Fake Honey: Fake honey forms foam. It becomes bubbly due to added sugars and moisture.
5) Dissolution Test
Pure Honey: Pure honey doesn’t get dissolved in water immediately but after stirring for a while. It makes lumps at the bottom in the beginning.
Upon mixing honey and methylated spirits in equal amounts of honey settles at the bottom.
Fake Honey: Gets dissolved very fast when added to water because of additives. Dissolves in methylated spirits while making the solution milky.
6) Bread test
Pure Honey: The slice of bread will become solid in a few minutes after pure honey is spread on it.
Fake Honey: Slice of bread would remain wet and moisturised the because of additives.
Pure Honey: Pure honey generally contains the presence of impurities, which are not actually impurities like pollens.
Agmark and FSSAI have regulations for grading, packing and selling of honey. Which at times some brands don’t follow.
Be an aware consumer and if you find anything fishy report it.
And don’t consume anything unless you’re sure it’s safe.
A grading system for honey has been laid down under AGMARK by the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation for indicating the quality of honey. Special, Grade–A, and Standard are three grades of honey depending upon different parameters like specific gravity, moisture content, and fructose content etc.
No brand other than Khadi had mentioned grade on the packing among the ten tested.
It’s mandatory for these companies to mention the grade of honey on Label Claim but most of the brands don’t do it.
If you notice this than in that case report it to the CONSUMER COURT.
The Grading and Certifications specify the method in which it is packed, marked and labelled and conditions under which the certificate of authorization is granted.
Following are the packaging guidelines by AGMARK.
- The packing material should be closed and sealed.
- That honey should be packed in new clean glass containers or China-ware lacquered cans or tin container which should be Acid Resistant and such other food containers as may be approved by the Agricultural Marketing Adviser from time to time.
- The manner and the pack size in which the honey is packed should be as per instructions issued by the Agricultural Marketing Adviser.
- The containers should not be wholly or partly made up of any material which is of any poisonous or injurious to health.
- The containers should free from insect infestation, fungal contamination or any other foul and undesirable smell.
- The sealed caps should be made of a non-corrosive and non-reactive material to honey.
If you feel the brand that you’re buying doesn’t comply with any of the above-mentioned guidelines, report it to the consumer court.
The fake honey problem has had authorities all over the globe scratching their head for better regulations, guidelines, testing labs, mechanisms etc. with time the regulations and tests came in place but the defaulters are also becoming smarter.
We as consumers need to be aware and active so that we can outsmart these defaulters and help authorities in saving the market and consumers from such fake products.
In this blog, we discussed how corn syrup and other low-cost sugars are being added to honey by even big brands that we trust.
In fact, some of the really unknown brands are selling genuine products but since they are genuine, their scale is small, they don’t of money for marketing most of us don’t know about them.
For obvious reasons, their honey is relatively expensive but at least it’s honey.
In the upcoming blogs, we would write about other contaminants and small brands that you can trust while buying honey for your family.
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