Honey Authenticity

Honey authenticity: the opacity of analytical reports – part 1 defining the problem

npj Science of Food volume 6, Article number: 11 (2022)


The composition of honey, a complex natural product, challenges analytical methods attempting to determine its authenticity particularly in the face of sophisticated adulteration. Of the advanced analytical techniques available, only isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) is generally accepted for its reproducibility and ability to detect certain added sugars, with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) being subject to stakeholder differences of opinion. Herein, recent reviews of honey adulteration and the techniques to detect it are summarised in the light of which analytical reports are examined that underpinned a media article in late 2020 alleging foreign sugars in UK retailers’ own brand honeys. The requirement for multiple analytical techniques leads to complex reports from which it is difficult to draw an overarching and unequivocal authenticity opinion. Thus arose two questions. (1) Is it acceptable to report an adverse interpretation without exhibiting all the supporting data? (2) How may a valid overarching authenticity opinion be derived from a large partially conflicting dataset?


In November 2020, the Government Chemist, the UK statutory technical appellate function for food control1, was asked to provide an independent secondary expert opinion on the dataset of analytical results underpinning a UK media article. The story carried the headline “Supermarket brands of honey are ‘bulked out with cheap sugar syrups made from rice and corn’2; similar media stories recur from time to time, e.g3,4,5,6,7,8. The dataset stemmed from the analyses of 13 own-brand honey samples of major UK retailers, commissioned by a South American bee-keeping organisation. The UK Foods Standards Agency, FSA, supplied three certificates of analysis (CoA), representative of the dataset9. Herein is presented the Government Chemist’s opinion.

A European Directive (‘EU Directive’)10 defines honey as ‘the natural sweet substance produced by Apis mellifera bees from the nectar of plants or from secretions of living parts of plants…..

To read the complete paper go to; Honey authenticity: the opacity of analytical reports – part 1 defining the problem | npj Science of Food (nature.com)