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  Checking the Authenticity of Honey Using - Charles Belanger & Steven Brookes, Iso-Analytical Limited / info@iso-analytical.com

The addition of inexpensive sweeteners to honey to increase bulk and lower production costs is an unwanted practice that harms beekeepers, honey importers and the consumer.
As honey is a low yield and high input product, it demands a high market price. In many developed countries the market demand for honey cannot be met by domestic production, and is heavily dependent on import. Corn syrup is a relatively inexpensive sweetener, which can be added to honey to increase yields. Although overall taste may not be affected, addition of honey to corn syrup is prohibited by law in many countries.

Thankfully, plants and bees have themselves provided a way of finding out if honey has been adulterated with syrup. Natural stable isotopes (i.e. NOT radioactive) provide a fingerprint as to whether the honey is pure or adulterated with corn syrup. The use of carbon stable isotope testing for the detection of the addition of high fructose corn syrup to honey has been routinely used since 1978. / In terrestrial plants, the principle source of variation in carbon-13 content is derived from the different photosynthetic pathways used for carbon dioxide fixation. Plants fix carbon dioxide photosynthetically by three different mechanisms: the Calvin cycle (C-3) pathway, the Hatch-Slack (C-4) pathway and the Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) pathway. The C-3 pathway results in a relatively large change in the carbon isotope proportions relative to atmospheric carbon dioxide. The C-4 pathway produces a much smaller change. In the case of honey, bees collect nectar from single or multi-floral plants which use the C-3 photosynthetic cycle. Consequently, the honey they produce reflects the carbon-13 signature of a C3 plant which is –25 per mil on the PDB scale*. High fructose corn syrup is produced from plants that use the C-4 photosynthetic cycle and is 'heavier' in carbon-13 with values ranging from -9 per mil to -12 per mil. Because of this difference in carbon-13 between adulterants and pure honey, measurement of carbon stable isotope ratios can reveal if a honey has been adulterated. / In Practice, the carbon-13 content of a sample of honey is measured on an isotope ratio mass spectrometer which can accurately determine the very small changes in the abundance of an isotope. To be even more sure, the carbon-13 signature of protein extracted from the honey sample is also measured. The protein provides an ‘internal standard’ for the honey. A difference between the carbon-13 values of the whole honey and its protein portion indicates whether the honey has been adulterated with corn syrup (adulteration with as little as 7% corn syrup can be detected). / *The PDB scale refers to the convention where the carbon-13 to carbon-12 ratio is measured in comparison to an international reference and then expressed as a ‘parts per thousand’ or ‘per mil’ difference to the reference.


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