Upcoming trade show session to focus on adulteration, including cranberry

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Grape seed extract Adulterant

MALDI-TOF can distinguish between A- and B-type PACs, researcher says.
MALDI-TOF can distinguish between A- and B-type PACs, researcher says.
The NYAG affair has put the simmering pot of adulteration of herbal ingredients back on the front burner. A session at the upcoming Ingredient Marketplace trade show in Orlando will focus on the scope of the issue, on methods of detection and on new adulteration modes that are popping up on the market.

One of these newer modes is the use of grape seed extract to spike botanical materials, including cranberry ingredients, whose identity and potency are measured by looking at the signatures of various proanthocyanidins (PACs) on chromatographs. Grape seed extract, or GSE, gives a signature that is similar to the PACs of interest, and can fool a less-than-perfect quality control system.

Grape seed extract is not quite as cheap as the dirt in which the grapes grow, but it’s close.  A recent twist on this story is the cutting of GSE with peanut skin extract, which is cheaper still.

“It’s a case of adulterating the adulterant,”​ said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council who will be one of the speakers at the session, titled "Adulteration & Your Role in Delivering Value to Consumers: Quality, Safety & Efficacy.”​ For several years now ABC has, in concert with the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and the National Center for Natural Products Research, operated the Botanical Adulterants Program, which identifies for industry the substances that are used to adulterate botanicals and the analytical methods to find them.

Cranberry presents an interesting case in that the GSE/peanut skin adulteration mode presents a chromatographic signature that closely mimics the real thing.“They are similar structured chemicals and if you look at it in HPLC there is a bunch of noise, a bunch of peaks all clustering around the same area in the chromatograph,” ​Blumenthal told NutraIngredients-USA.

It’s difficult to assess how extensive the cranberry adulteration situation is because you’d have to have fairly broad testing of commercial products and I don’t think that anybody has done that,”​ he said.

Better analytical technique

The difficulty in determining cases of cranberry adulteration has made this an issue which up to now has flown mostly under the radar, asserts Stephen Lukawski, marketing director for Canadian organic cranberry and blueberry ingredient supplier Fruit d’Or. 

I’m not surprised that there is some ignorance on the issue. We see adulteration in cranberry and other botanicals. There is a strong need for more testing of botanicals,” ​he said.

In concert with researcher Christian Krueger of the University of Wisconsin, Fruit d’Or has been pushing the use of the MALDI-TOF (Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization– Time of Flight) flavor of mass spectrometry to better characterize ingredients standardized to proanthocyanidins.  According to a paper co-authored by Krueger​, the technique can distinguish between the various bonds in the PACs (dubbed A-type and B-type) to give a better fingerprint of these materials and help to determine when GSE is present.

Furthering the conversation

The planning of the upcoming session has been overtaking by events, and much of the discussion will of necessity be given over to talking about how NYAG Eric Schneiderman’s actions have changed the landscape, Blumenthal said. As far as Lukawski is concerned, the open discussion of poor quality and the need for greater transparency is overdue.  In his view, the deal that GNC, one of the original retailers named in Schneiderman’s investigation, while widely panned among informed observers for setting a bad precedent, will ultimately redound to the good of the industry.

“If GNC starts doing good, you can disagree with what they are doing, but it’s better than where we were yesterday. I think what GNC has done they have done to protect the consumer,”​ Lukawski said.

“I don’t think there is the trust out there with the consumer to keep the industry growing. I think that all ingredient suppliers need to be held accountable as to what they are selling to manufactures and the formulators and researchers need to know how to ask the right questions. My interest is having an industry that’s vibrant with credibility and trust,”​ he said.

Session details 

“Adulteration & Your Role in Delivering Value to Consumers: Quality, Safety & Efficacy,”​ will be held on Wednesday, April 8, from 9:00 to 10:30 am. This important topic will be led by Mark Blumenthal, founder & executive director, American Botanical Council; Dan Dwyer, managing partner, Kleinfeld, Kaplan and Becker, LLP; and Steve Mister, President & CEO, Council for Responsible Nutrition. The session is sponsored by Fruit d’Or.

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