SA team hits sweet spot in battle against 'honey fraud'

28 February 2017 - 13:35 By Katharine Child

Stellenbosch University researchers have caused a buzz in the bee world: they've found a way to combat "honey fraud".

Unscrupulous overseas producers are known to save costs by diluting their product with watered-down honey or sugar.

This hasn’t yet been detected in South Africa‚ said Professor Marena Manley of the university's department of food science‚ but overseas‚ not only would the consumer be misled‚ but it meant local producers would be unable to compete with the low pricing of adulterated honeys‚ said Manley.

Present methods of testing honey for quality‚ origin and trace amounts of sugar were expensive .

“There was therefore a need for a fast‚ non-destructive‚ easy-to-use and low-cost classification method to detect if there is adulteration in South African honey‚” she said.

The research team decided to use near-infrared spectroscopy. The technique has been used to determine the geographic or botanical origin of honey.

A portable machine‚ which could be used at a retailer or honey farm‚ is able to perform the tests. The technique measures light reflected from a halogen beam trained on the honey‚ allowing the measurement of a spectroscopic "fingerprint".

Calibrated by Dr Anita Guelpa‚ who worked on the project with Manley‚ the machine interprets the information to tell whether the honey is from South Africa or is adulterated.

“Authentic South African samples‚ despite coming from diverse regions and having been made from pollen from different types of flowers‚ share specific spectroscopic characteristics that help to differentiate them from imported and adulterated honeys‚” said Manley.