Review of chemistry associated with honey

Jamie Ayton, Paul Prenzler, Harsh Raman, Amanda Warren-Smith, Richard Meyer

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report (public)

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Executive Summary
What the report is about
This report provides a comprehensive overview of the analytical methods available for the detection of adulteration or fraudulent activity in honey supply chains. The report discusses the advantages and disadvantages of each analytical technique, how they are being used in other countries and the applicability of the methods to Australian honey.

Who is the report targeted at?
The report is targeted at Australian honey producers, processors, wholesalers and retailers. It is important that all levels of the Australian honey industry are aware of the current issues and that they are involved in overcoming issues as they arise.

Where are the relevant industries located in Australia?
The Australian honey industry consists of a small number of medium to large producers and many small producers. Production levels vary with seasonal conditions; however the volume of honey produced is generally around 30,000 tonnes per annum, with a total value of $100150 million. Production areas are generally spread across the southern part of the continent, with NSW typically producing about 40% of the total production. A coordinated approach to deciding the best methods for determining the authenticity of Australian honey and therefore assuring consumers that Australian honey will benefit the Australian honey industry at all levels.

Recent negative media coverage regarding the presence of apparent adulterated honey in Australian supermarkets has raised concerns for the industry. However, some of the analytical methods used to identify adulteration in honey have inherent problems, especially when used for Australian honey samples, as analytical methods and “typical” ranges have been established with honeys from other countries, mainly in Europe and Asia. These analytical methods are not necessarily appropriate for Australian honey and may produce misleading results because of the origin or diversity of flora available in Australia for honey production.

This review was undertaken to investigate the different analytical techniques available to determine the authenticity and quality parameters of honey and how these may be applied to Australian honey. Australian honey producers, processors, wholesalers and retailers will benefit from the findings in this review.


Results/key findings
While there are many different analytical techniques for the determination of adulteration in honey, two particular methods, isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy are the main techniques to have gained acceptance in some regions in the past. However, these methods have inherent problems. The IRMS technique only detects adulteration from C4 sugars, so samples adulterated with sugars with the same isotopic ratio as honey, such as rice or wheat, are unable to be detected. There is also some concern that inter and intra-laboratory errors occur with this method, causing some concern about the accuracy and precision of the method. While considerable effort has gone into developing a database for NMR spectroscopy analysis, most of the honey used in the database has been sourced from Europe, Asia, North and South America and relatively few from Australia. As a result, Australian honey which is analysed using the NMR spectroscopy technique generally does not conform to the database and therefore produces erroneous reports. Analytical techniques such as liquid chromatography - isotope ratio mass spectrometry (LCIRMS), infrared spectroscopy (such as NIR, MIR and Raman), liquid chromatography - mass spectrometry (LC-MS) and gas chromatography - mass spectrometry (GC-MS) for investigating various chemical compounds or markers in honey have been investigated in this review. There are opportunities to further investigate some of these techniques to determine their suitability for Australian honey.

Implications for relevant stakeholders
It is important the Australian honey industry, including stakeholders such as producers, wholesalers, retailers, exporters and policy makers work toward developing systems which can be used to determine the authenticity of Australian honey, thereby regaining consumer confidence.

It is recommended that the Australian honey industry adopts some immediate strategies to regain consumer confidence in honey. These include:• The development of a chemistry based quality assurance program/code of practice based on simple quality tests. Although these programs may not necessarily include complicated analytical techniques to identify adulteration, they have been used in other industries, such as the Australian olive industry, to improve the overall quality of the products and have gained acceptance from industry and consumers.• Market surveillance to determine compliance with domestic and international regulations. Screening methods using technology such as near infrared (NIR), mid infrared (MIR) or Raman spectroscopy could be developed and used to undertake some of the analyses, providing a quick, inexpensive alternative for producers to have their honey tested.


Medium to long term strategies should include: • The standardisation of methods for the detection of adulteration in honey. • Participation in proficiency programs and ring-tests to ensure results are accurate and precise.• The industry should determine which analytical techniques are most useful and create a representative database of Australian honey for future reference. It is possible that NMR spectroscopy will gain broader acceptance in food industries including the honey industry.• The Australian honey industry should determine if there are opportunities to include more Australian honey in the international database, or if a more viable alternative is to develop a local Australian database.• Some studies have shown that supplementary feeding practices can have an effect on the so called “indirect adulteration” of honey. Some experiments should be conducted to determine guidelines to prevent this type of adulteration from occurring.• The Australian honey standard is very broad compared to some international regulations. It is recommended that an Australian standard for honey should be developed to reflect the composition of honey produced in this country. A significant amount of data should be generated to get a clear understanding of the general composition of Australian honey before ranges or limits are created.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationWagga Wagga, NSW
PublisherAgriFutures Australia
Commissioning bodyAgriFutures Australia
Number of pages52
ISBN (Print)9781760530525
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jun 2019


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