Alkemist Labs releases ingredient 'watch' list

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

© Viktoriia Ablohina / FRANCOIS-EDMOND / Getty Images
© Viktoriia Ablohina / FRANCOIS-EDMOND / Getty Images
By releasing its list of 20 suspect ingredients, Alkemist says it hopes the effort will "make it harder for cheaters to cheat."

Garden Grove, California-based Alkemist Labs recently released a list of the botanicals and fungi that most frequently failed identity testing during the first half of 2024. The company said it hopes the information will bring value to the industry. 

Petra Erlandson​, director of sales and marketing at Alkemist Labs, said her clients inspired the initiative. 

“We work with some of the best companies in the industry who understand adulteration and quality issues with herbs and fungi,” she said. “For years, they have asked us to offer our insight into what we are seeing with quality and identity testing trends. Last year, we experimented with releasing this list in a limited way.  We had such positive feedback that we knew we needed to offer this information to the broader industry. Alkemist’s goal is always to help the industry continually improve product quality.”

Method 

All the ingredients were tested using High Performance Thin-Layer Chromatography (HPTLC) to assess identity and quality of botanicals and various ingredients. HPTLC, for which Alkemist holds a flexible scope ISO 17025 accreditation, is able to detect adulterants and contamination, such as containing incorrect plant parts, closely related species and unknowns. This technique is applicable to crude raw botanicals from powdered to whole form, extract (powdered or liquid) and finished product/blends.

Findings 

Several of the materials on this list have made repeat appearances, including eleuthero, lion’s mane, apple, monk fruit, nettle, grape and ashwagandha. Perhaps to no one's surprise, elderberry​ is a repeat offender. The botanical saw the most failures in 2023. 

“These days, almost nothing surprises us,” Erlandson said. “Several on the list are repeat offenders including Sambucus nigra​ aka elderberry, which has been on every list since we started tracking. Recently Malus pumila​ aka apple showed up on the list, which I didn't expect.”

Erlandson explained that all of the items listed were included due to failures detected through Alkemist’s HPTLC testing. 

“It's hard to generalize the causes, but all of the individual samples listed were failing due to substitution, adulteration or severe quality issues caused by processing such as egregious dilution,” she said.

The suspects 

elangraph
Courtesy of Alkemist

Moving forward 

The best way to avoid failed ingredients is by taking a multifaceted approach, Erlandson said. 

“Brands need to carefully qualify their ingredient vendors and have rigorous specifications for both identity and quality conformance of the materials they buy," she explained.

"The proof is in the thorough, scientifically valid testing of every delivery of every lot. Skip lot testing makes me nervous—we have seen that go wrong too many times! Brands working through contract manufacturers must scrutinize the details of their quality systems, request copies of all testing reports, double check everything. It’s a good idea to periodically send product to a third-party testing lab you have vetted to spot check the contract manufacturer. And when failures happen, do the right thing.    

“The best way for the industry to thwart bad actors and protect consumers is when we work together. This list from Alkemist that alerts the industry to use extra scrutiny with specific ingredients is one part, the American Botanical Council’s BAPP program​ is another part, not to mention the efforts of reputable companies and the trade associations. We can all work together to make it harder for cheaters to cheat.”

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