That’s sure got to sting!

Some of Australia’s biggest honey companies and supermarkets are accused of selling ‘fake’ honey. Photo credit: Hans, via Pixabay

What’s all the buzz about?

Drama in Australian supermarket honey!

It has just been found by the German company ‘Quality Services International (QSI) that 12 out of 28 honeys from Capilano (Allowrie), IGA and GOLD and ALDI were adulterated!

These adulterated honeys could have been mixed with sweeteners like sugar, rice and beet syrups.

QSI, who are essentially the secret service in uncovering honey fraud, used a technique known as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) to show that these honeys were adulterated.

This report crazily excited me! I am a chemistry student (NMR is a chemist’s best friend) but also a part-time honey salesman (Queen Victoria Markets, The Land of Soy and Honey).


The sweet chemistry of honey

Honey has incredibly interesting chemistry! Bees are the chemists of the natural world, converting the nectar of flowers into gooey honey.

The sugars glucose and fructose make up the bulk of honey. Photo credit: author’s own

Honey is mostly composed of the sugars glucose and fructose (with other things like amino acids, vitamins and organic acids). There is very little water present, making honey an incredibly concentrated solution of sugar, known as supersaturation. It is why honey eventually crystallises; the sugar molecules just want to solidify.

The flower from which the bees collect the nectar dictates the colour, taste and texture of the honey (try Tasmanian leatherwood honey for something different).


NMR; chemistry super tool and honey detective

A typical NMR instrument used to analyse honey purity. Photo credit: author’s own

NMR is to the chemist what a microscope is to a biologist. It is probably the most frequently used instrument by a synthetic chemist, used to test if the chemicals they made is the right stuff.

On the day of writing, I used NMR three times (and I consider myself an infrequent user).

NMR is so popular because it’s relatively easy to perform and gives you very accurate information about the shapes and structures of molecules too tiny to see. It can also detect tiny amounts of sample.

So, how did NMR show that these honeys were adulterated? Well, it comes back to what is in honey.

The sugar makeup in honey is drastically different to the sugars in syrups. NMR can differentiate between the sugars in honey and the sugars in syrup. It can tell us if anything has been added to the honey. NMR can even show where the honey comes from!

NMR essentially gives a fingerprint of the honey.

An NMR fingerprint of a chemical I tested (and made). Photo credit: author’s own

Capilano drama

Australia currently does not employ NMR to test honey, but rather uses the ‘C4 test’. However, producers of adulterated honeys are finding ways to beat the C4 test.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is considering a move toward NMR because of its high precision.

Consumers want the real deal, made by bees, not by humans. Photo credit: PollyDot, via pixabay

Capilano has strongly denied issues with their honey. Capilano has rejected NMR as the superior test, claiming that NMR is a ‘weak’ analytical method. This made me chuckle, as I am sure it would for any chemist. Most chemists would claim NMR to be the most superior technique in analysing chemicals.


What honey should you buy?

So what do you do if you want good honey to spread on crumpets? Trust these results found by NMR and avoid buying the honeys in question. Buy brands that are 100% fully Australian honey.

Otherwise, ditch supermarket honey (and large chain honey brands) and buy from a local beekeeper. Or, come to the shop I work at and I will be more than happy to show you what really different and special honey can taste like (we have over 100 different honeys)!

Small brand honey is always the best (and tastiest!) Photo credit: Rich Roberts, via Flickr


Further reading if interested:

Is your honey faking it?

The great honey wars

Capilano, supermarkets accused of selling fake honey

7 Responses to “That’s sure got to sting!”

  1. Jett Janetzki says:

    Thanks Ben! 😊

  2. Benjamin Andrikopoulos says:

    Great post Jett! Loved how you put your own personal twist by combining your chemistry and your honey expertise 🙂

  3. Jett Janetzki says:

    Thanks Robin for the feedback! Yep, sift through the false reporting

  4. Awesome post. Its always great to get insider knowledge on whats in the news.

  5. Stephen Yao says:

    Thanks for you explanation, Jett!
    Now it’s much clear!

  6. Jett Janetzki says:

    Thanks Stephen for the feedback! The NMR of honey and syrup is much less resolved than a simple aromatic I showed in my blog. The position and area of the peaks for the sugars differs between honey and syrup. Its a bit like comparing NMR of proteins.
    Yep, so my spectrum has characteristic aromatic peaks with splitting and chemical shift 🙂

  7. Stephen Yao says:

    Hi Jett, that’s really an interesting post, and I am curious about some stuff you talked in this blog.
    And I do still have some questions confused me: What is the differences of fingerprint peak with glucose and fructose? And as the NMR profile you showed, what is the fingerprint in that, is it because J-coupling?
    Good luck on the final exams starting from next week, we can discuss on that when you get time.