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Analytical Chemistry

Identifying honey’s floral origins

NMR can be used to fingerprint honey samples and help identify food frauds

by Alla Katsnelson
May 2, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 18

Credit: Shutterstock
Honey fraud is sticky business.
Photo of a jar of honey.
Credit: Shutterstock
Honey fraud is sticky business.

Honey is big business, and often a dodgy one: It’s one of the foods most often affected by fraud. Honeys derived from a single type of flower command a higher price than polyfloral ones, creating an incentive for unscrupulous producers to dilute the golden syrup with cheap knockoffs. New research shows that NMR spectroscopy can distinguish chemical signatures of different flowers in honey, which could help snag honey cheaters (J. Agric. Food Chem. 2016, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.6b00619). Honey’s floral origins are typically determined by studying pollen grains in honey samples under a microscope—a labor-intensive process. Elisabetta Schievano of the University of Padova and colleagues instead used chloroform to extract compounds from almost 1,000 samples representing 16 Italian monofloral honeys. NMR examination of the extracts revealed a spectral fingerprint for each type of flower. The researchers used more than 700 of these spectra to create a model that classified test samples according to their floral origin. Testing the model with the remaining spectra showed that they could determine not just the main floral component of each sample but ­secondary ones as well. The method provided 90% agreement with a pollen analysis.


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