Application Note - Magnetic Resonance

Using NMR Profiling to Spot Food Fraud in the Lucrative Honey Market

TM Honey Profiler, developed by Bruker BioSpin, is based on the company’s proven FoodScreenerTM systems that verify the claims touted on wine and juice labels.

Combating scams with a comprehensive test for purity, geographic origin and variety of honey.

The health benefits of pure honey over artificial and plant-based sweeteners mean the market for honey is expanding. Along with potential health benefits, taste has a sweet spot in the hearts of many buyers, and sophisticated preferences abound for honey varietals originating from particular countries. While the honey market has grown, honey production has not. Climate change, bee diseases and agricultural practices hinder how much honey comes to market.

The premium profits reaped through honey sales, coupled with decreasing production, create a situation ripe for fraud and abuse.

Forget the label, what’s in the jar?

Premium honey comes at a premium cost. So when someone picks a jar off the shelf of a specialty store and shells out top price for pure Manuka honey from New Zealand, they want to be sure what’s in the jar matches what’s on the label. They don’t want generic honey diluted with corn syrup or rice cane. In addition, counterfeit ingredients and false provenances may interfere with ensuring consumer health, especially if honey contains banned antibiotics or additives. Another type of fraud, known as honey laundering, occurs when pollen is removed from honey to circumvent identification of the geographic origin, which often requires analyzing the pollen spectrum.

When that happens, consumers aren’t the only ones to suffer. Governments stand to lose big. In recent years, honey importers tried falsifying geographic origin to avoid import taxes amounting to USD 180 million. An investigation uncovered that honey produced in China was falsely labeled and imported to the United States via a circuitous route to hide the country of origin.

A New Approach Using NMR

Traditionally, certifying the purity and provenance of honey involves a number of scientific tests almost as varied as the subtypes of honey. But using many tests has a downside. Separating ingredients and preparing samples is time-consuming. Results may be difficult to reproduce, and older methods might not reveal important differences in honey, like provenance.

In contrast, NMR testing has been proven effective in verifying the authenticity of wine and the purity of fruit juices, making NMR ideally suited to certifying the complex characteristics of honey.

TM Honey Profiler, developed by Bruker BioSpin, is based on the company’s proven FoodScreenerTM systems that verify the claims touted on wine and juice labels.

An overview of using NMR to authenticate quality and purity, “Honey, what else?” was published in the magazine New Food, Volume 18, Issue 6, 2015. The German researchers included Stephan Schwarzinger, Felix Brauer and Paul Rösch of the Research Center for Bio-Macromolecules at the University Bayreuth and ALNuMed GmbH, along with Bernd Kämpf, FoodQS GmbH, Markt Erlbach.

How Honey Profiling Works, Finding the Unexpected

An extensive and ISO 17025-accredited reference database is the key to the success of honey profiling using NMR. Built by a consortium of laboratories specializing in honey analytics and Bruker BioSpin, the database includes reference data to screen for quality, authenticity and geographic origin. The reference data are used to determine if a sample is pure or if it contains plant-based sugars. While other techniques test for targeted markers, the NMR approach records the entire spectrum of all ingredients, including untargeted, unexpected and unknown ingredients.

Users run the spectrum tests at their locations and transmit the results to Bruker BioSpin, where results are compared to the centralized reference database. Researchers receive an easy-to-interpret report. A “traffic-light” system shows green when the honey producer’s claims are verified by the database or red when the claims are false. In addition, the report breaks down specific metrics used to verify purity, confirm the location of origin and identify the classification/varietal.

For more information

  • Godelmann, R. et al. (2013) Targeted and nontargeted wine analysis by (1)h NMR spectroscopy combined with multivariate statistical analysis. Differentiation of important parameters: grape variety, geographical origin, year of vintage, J. Agric. Food Chem. 61, 5610-5619
  • “Honeygate” Sting Leads to Charges for Illegal Chinese Honey Importation
  • Council of the European Union, Council Directive Relating to Honey