Aug. 24, 2000 Washington, D.C. -- Commercial purchasers of natural honey may one day have a quick and easy test to assure that sugars from other sources do not adulterate the product, according to Penn State researchers.
"Adulteration with cheaper sugars brings down the natural value of the honey," says Dr. Joseph Irudayaraj, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering. "Consumers expect a natural product with nutraceutical properties, so added sugar does not supply good service to purchasers."
Those who wish to adulterate honey use beet sugar invert because it has a mixture of sugars -- fructose, glucose and sucrose -- similar to that found in honey. Beet sugar is less expensive and increases the volume of honey. However, because the sugar compositions are so similar, determining if foreign sugars are part of the composition is difficult.
"Current analysis uses carbon isotope ratios to determine if sugars were added to the honey," says Irudayaraj. "The analysis is time consuming and requires trained personnel."
The United States also imports honey from China and Brazil. According to Irudayaraj, standards vary between countries and a rapid test to determine the amount of adulteration could help meet U.S. standards.
Irudayaraj and Dr. Sivakesava Sakhamuri, a post doctoral associate in agricultural and biological engineering, were looking for a method that could be done in a few minutes by someone with minimal training. They chose spectroscopy, a method that uses the principle of interaction of light with mater to differentiate substances.
The researchers explained their preliminary study today (Aug 21) at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C. So far, they have tested one type of honey adulterated with various amounts of beet sugar invert.
"Using spectroscopy and statistical analysis, we can identify honey adulterated with as little as 1 percent beet sugar invert," says Irudayaraj. "Usually, anything above 7 percent foreign sugar is considered adulterated, so this method works."
Honey Board is categorizes by type -- clover, orange blossom, wildflower -- and by geographic region. A clover honey from Colorado and one from Florida, while both derived from clover, may have different chemical properties. The researchers are now working with Jack White, a recognized honey expert and the National Honey Board, to test their method on a variety of honey types from diverse regions to develop a set of standards for this test method.
Although Sakhamuri and Irudayaraj have shown that there is a spectrographic difference between natural honey sugars and the sugars in beet sugar invert, they do not yet know what those differences are.
"We now know that the test will show a difference, but we are not sure why," says Irudayaraj.
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