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Honey: sweetness at the cost of your health

Dec 04 2020 • Written by Team Fitgenix

~ Smriti Mishra

It’s not the first time, big-name FMCG companies have flunked in the food safety test. We still have not forgotten the 2 min magic food- Maggie. India’s food regulator had banned Maggi in 2015 after tests showed it contained excessive lead and also, for alleged mislabelling over flavour enhancer MSG. However, it came back in the market with claiming correction and now, have been consumed widely.

Misleading and misbranding have always a space in the Indian market. 

Taking a recent example. In 2018-19 calender year, Twenty-six thousand food samples were found adulterated or misbranded. As reported by Rameswar Teli, Minister of State in the Ministry of Food Processing Industries in Rajya sabha

  • In 2018-19, 94,288 samples of processed food were analysed. Out of this 26,077 thousand samples were found adulterated or misbranded.
  • The maximum number of samples found adulterated or misbranded were in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

And, now CSE (Centre for science and environment) shook the big households name- Dabour, Zhandu, Baidyanath, Patanjali and many more. One good thing to make you little relax this time is, food is not adulterated by harmful chemical-ingredient but with sugar. So, those who were keeping a distance from sugar and having honey as a healthy option are disappointed to the core. Being cheated add on their disappointment because people now have gained much awareness about the excess ingested sugar and the risk of obesity and metabolic syndromes.

The sale of honey has boomed for all these above names of giant brands. After COVID had hit the world, the common mass understood honey as an elixir of life, being the anti-inflammatory agent and immunity booster. Soon, it becomes the practice of millions of households. Even several new players have also mastered the honey-market and have received the acceptance in a very easy manner. How? It’s the magic of communication in India. Every person is a doctor and a big nutritionist. They don’t leave a single chance to advice what they practise. Period!


What all the CSE has reported

  • CSE put up the report saying 77 per cent of the samples were found to be adulterated with the addition of sugar syrup. It added that most of it is being imported from China.
  • The current regulations specify around 18 parameters that honey must comply with for producers to label it ‘pure honey.’
  • Testing of the samples from big brands was done at a lab in Germany, Out of which only three brands (spanning six samples) passed: Saffola, Markfed Sohna and Nature’s Nectar (one sample of two). There were often multiple samples tested for each brand.

You must know that earlier, sugars from corn, sugarcane, rice and beetroot used to be added to honey to increase its sweetness. Such adulteration too is detected by what are known as C3 and C4 tests. But in later years, Chinese Sugar has dominated the Indian food market. The new modified ‘Chinese sugar’, however, can only be detected by a test called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR).

Before understanding honey fraud, let’s have a glance over export and import of Sugar in and out from India.

  • India is the largest producer of sugar in the world with 32 MMT production in 2018. India produces sugar of all three grades- raw, refined and white.
  • Indian sugar is also of high quality and is Dextran free because of the minimum time taken from cut to crush. India is in a position to become a regular and dependable exporter of high-quality sugar in significant volumes to China.
  • India plans to export 2 MT of raw sugar to China beginning from next year. India’s export to China in 2017-18 amounted to USD 33 billion while imports from China stood at USD 76.2 billion.
  • Indian sugar mills aim to export around 50,000 tonnes of sugar to China.
  • On average, China imports around 50 lakh tonne of sugar annually.

What you must have missed reading or didn’t know

Present CSE investigation report

When CSE began its investigations and carried out the conventional test at the NDDB laboratory in Gujarat, nearly all of the top brands passed the test. And a few smaller brands failed. They were found to be containing C4 sugars (derived from C4 photosynthetic plants such as sugarcane and corn) that are basic adulterants. When the same honey was tested using NMR by a specialised laboratory in Germany, however, only three were found to be free of sugar adulterants.

Earlier CSE investigation report, 2019

As per their report, FSSAI had informed food commissioners in various states about sugar syrup being used to adulterate honey. In May 2020, the team has asked importers of ‘golden syrup’, ‘rice syrup’ and ‘invert sugar syrup’ to register with it and inform it about its usage. Further, on their investigation, they found that ‘golden syrup’ and ‘rice syrup’ were not on the list of imported items, as per filings with the Union commerce ministry. On top of that Chinese websites listed ‘fructose syrups’ with claims that these won’t get detected by the conventional sugar detection tests. Dig deeper, CSE team on checked with government data and found these were being imported in bulk from Chinese companies.

CSE says the advertisements of this fructose, in fact, said that this could be mixed with honey and would beat the C3 and C4 tests. CSE sent mails to these firms confirming whether this property indeed existed and even got samples of this syrup that, it was told, could pass tests even if 50-80% of the honey comprised this syrup. As it happens, the syrup is now even made in India, in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab, under the code-name ‘all-pass’ syrup.

In the win-lose game of brands and licensing company, its the people again who are being cheated. One must admit! So, understand little more about the honey fraud and everything about it.


What is meant by Honey fraud? 

Honey fraud can take different ways to cheat common people. It is done either by selling cheaper multi-floral honey as single-source honey at a higher selling point or by adding sugar syrups to increase the volume or by harvesting it ahead of time and then drying it artificially in large “honey factories”, to save their time and costs. In all cases, the final product is far from the real honey that consumers think they’re buying in the market.


How is honey’s purity tested?

Through NMR test

The Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) test uses nuclear energy transfer principles to identify the molecular structures. This is performed by applying a magnetic field to a sample and measuring the wavelength emitted by the energy transfer of the charged nuclei. This process relies on the spin of the element’s nucleus.

NMR tests have recently been made mandatory in India for honey that is meant for export.

How common people can test it easily?

Take a teaspoon of the honey and put in a glass full of water. Pure honey which has a more dense texture will settle right at the bottom of the glass forming a lump. While the fake or adulterated honey will dissolve in the water.

Honey has been used in a variety of food items. Majorly used in our household as a home medicine for sore throat, improve metabolism, anti-ageing agent, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory agent. It has also been used in the treatment of insomnia. Put it straight, honey has been the best domestic medicine-like agent that has been used from centuries behind.

Back to basic, one must know what Honey is and its composition.

About Honey

Honey is sugar-rich nectar. Bees use the nectar they collect from a wide variety of flowers to create honey. The sweet taste of honey is because of the presence of Fructose and glucose. Fructose is known to be sweeter than glucose or sucrose.

Before understanding more about honey, You must know about Sucrose, glucose and fructose. These are three types of sugar that contain the same number of calories per gram. They’re all found naturally in fruits, vegetables, dairy products and grains.

About Sucrose

  • The scientific name for table sugar is sucrose.
  • It is a disaccharide consisting of one glucose and one fructose molecule, or 50% glucose and 50% fructose.
  • It’s a naturally occurring carbohydrate found in many fruits, vegetables and grains, but it’s also added to many processed foods, such as candy, ice cream, breakfast cereals, canned foods, soda and other sweetened beverages.

About Fructose

  • Glucose is a simple sugar or monosaccharide.
  • Glucose is less sweet than fructose and sucrose.
  • It’s often added to processed foods in the form of dextrose, which is extracted from cornstarch.

About Glucose

  • Fructose is a monosaccharide like glucose.
  • It’s naturally found in fruit, honey, agave (succulent plan) and in root vegetables.
  • Fructose is sourced from sugar cane, sugar beets and corn.

There are more than 300 varieties of honey. Each variety of honey has a distinct flavour and appearance. Few of them are

  • golden blossom
  • alfalfa
  • eucalyptus
  • wildflower
  • tupelo

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