Honey can be adulterated with low cost sugars obtained from the likes of cane sugar and high fructose syrup (HFCS) to increase yields and profit. These commodities have a similar sugar spectrum to honey on inversion.
Bees that feed on single or mono-floral sources produce honey that is directly related to the source by its ¹³C content. Most bees produce honey from plant nectar derived from the Calvin (C3) photosynthetic cycle and these honeys have a relatively uniform δ¹³C value of - 25 (using the PDB scale). Sucrose produced from cane sugar etc., is derived from the Hatch-Slack (C4) cycle and is heavier in δ¹³C with values ranging from -10 to -16.
Because of the difference in δ¹³C between adulterants and pure honey, Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer measurements can indicate if a honey has been adulterated. This is the basis of the AOAC procedure. Honeys that are tested with a δ¹³C value of -23.5 and lower are deemed to be pure. Honeys that have a δ¹³C value between -23.5 and -21.5, fall into a grey area. Honeys that have a δ¹³C of -21.5 or higher are deemed to be adulterated.
ISCIRA TEST (Internal Standard)
It is the grey area that would be adulterators target as they become increasingly aware of the testing procedures, thus a secondary test is also used. This secondary test is also useful for honeys such as acacia which have a δ¹³C value higher than -23.5. As previously mentioned bees produce δ¹³C close to its source. The protein contained in the honey will have a similar δ¹³C value close to that of the honey sugars. Thus the results from the two tests should be similar in the absence of adulteration. Using the difference between the two procedures allows an estimate of the level of adulteration that has occurred. This procedure has also been adopted by the AOAC.
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