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Health News of Thursday, 22 August 2019

Source: Dr Courage Besah-Adanu

How safe is the honey you eat? An analysis of local honey brands within EU quality standards

Hendy Farms honey Hendy Farms honey

Understanding the safety and quality (in terms of Moisture, HMF, pH, Diastase activity, Free acidity and Electrical conductivity) of locally packaged honey brands and beekeeper honeys in Ghana. This publication is just a part of Ph.D. research studies 2014-2018.

Honey quality is influenced by a swarm of factors related to production, processing, storage, the environment as well as the pollen and nectar sources. Adulteration of honey is a serious issue in global honey trade with significant economic, nutritional and organoleptic consequences. Honey is the third most adulterated food product in the world after milk and the oils.

Honey quality is mainly determined using the physicochemical, sensorial and microbiological characteristics. Honey adulteration is getting complex by the day as its becoming difficult to differentiate between good and bad honey based on physical and sensorial analysis prior to purchase.

While the sensorial properties are perhaps most important for consumers, the chemical properties and their compliance with honey standards are important for accessing national, regional and international markets.

Essential physicochemical qualities of honey accepted globally include measurement of sugar, moisture, electrical conductivity, free acidity, diastase activity and Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) with their acceptable limits.

Honey sold within the EU and most international markets must comply with these parameters making them important when characterizing honey. Honey samples with correct parameters within the EU honey safety guidelines for instance, are described as ‘Table Honeys’ which means they can be eating directly from the table as sweeteners for tea, porridge, bread spread etc.

However, samples that fall outside the limits are termed as ‘Industrial Honeys’, which means they can only be used as a commodity for industrial use hence fit for use in bakery and other confectionaries.

Domestic markets in Africa has expanded and in Ghana, honey has been in high demand over the years.

Honeys from Ghana are reported to be of good quality and acceptable for the international markets, based on chemical components such as 18.8% moisture content, 0.8% ash content, 57.% sugar levels, 0.10%, nitrogen, 55 mg c1acium and 1.44 mg iron (per 100 g of sample). However there is a high perception of honey adulteration in Ghana induced by economically motivated adulteration (EMA) where honey is deliberately adulterated in order to meet local demands hence large profit to the detriment of consumer health.

This situation is usually linked to middle men or local packagers of honey in Ghana. Substances such as melted wax, sugar syrup (inverted sugar) and water have been reported as some of items used to adulterate honey during processing. In some cases adulteration of honey had also been common among artisanal honey production and retail honey in Ghana. In order to test this assertion, I analysed 21 honey samples from Ghana as part of a Ph.D. research which ended in September, 2018.

The relevance of the Physicochemical Parameters Analysed

Moisture content: The moisture content in honey higher than 20% leads to rapid fermentation and spoilage of the honey. Fermentation results in off-taste and high levels of dead yeast, glycerol and butanediol in honey and this gives the honey a shorter shelf life.

Hydroxymethylfurfural content (HMF): The HMF level in honey is one of the most commonly monitored parameters for determining the degree of honey freshness, authenticity and proper handling hence critical for honey quality assessment.

Honey containing an HMF value of more than 80% is not good for use as table honey and those above 200% is an indication of serious adulteration.

Diastase activity: Diastase activity also determines the freshness of honey.

A diastase is an enzyme group that transforms starch into glucose, one of the sugars in honey. Mishandling of honey especially by heating and poor storage degrades the enzyme. This would make the honey lose its freshness and hence shelf life. The acceptable limit for this parameter is 8 Schade unites minimum.

Which means that diastase activity must be very high in honey samples.
pH value: The pH is a scale used to specify how acidic or basic a honey sample.

It determines honey adulteration, texture, stability and shelf life. Lower pH values show more acidity, which inhibits microbial growth and high pH implies basicity which encourages microbial growth, a bad indicator for quality. Lower pH is therefore encouraged. Honey pH is critical for authenticity. For instance adulteration of honey with high fructose corn syrup results in a significant increase of pH values compared to pure honey. The acceptable limit is between 3.2-4.5 units on the pH Scale.

Free acidity: Free acidity measures the level of deterioration of honey. It is usually associated with the presence of organic acids and inorganic ions in honey.

A maximum value of 50.00 meq kg_1 is acceptable for free acidity. Values above this figure implies possible fermentation of sugars in honey into organic acids. This parameter is also critical for the determination of the geographical and botanical sources of honey samples hence is critical for traceability of honey.

Electrical conductivity (EC): The (EC) of honey indicates the concentration of mineral salts, ash, organic acids, proteins, some complex sugars and polyols.

Mineral content may be indicative of environmental pollution and geographical origin, because the content depends on the type of soil used for the flowers from which the nectar was collected. EC is an indicator often used in the quality control of honey that can be used to distinguish honeys from plants or otherwise. A maximum of 0.8 mS/cm of EC is allowed for honey samples.

In this research study, four local honey brands were bought from four supermarkets in the city of Accra which were added to 17 other samples collected directly from beekeepers in the Volta Region. Final results after analysing all 21 samples in in Europe in accordance with the Europe quality parameters mentioned and explained above, all 17 samples collected directly from honey produces were found not to be adulterated. 7 were described as Table Honeys and 10 Industrial Honeys.

However, all four local honey brands were found to be heavily adulterated. These local brands recorded an average HMF value of 656.25 when the maximum HMF value for honey is 80. Two of this samples recorded over 1000 value for HMF and the remaining two recording over 200. Honey samples with over 200 HMF values implies serious adulteration with a substance known as Inverted sugar. Inverted sugar (also called invert sugar) is a syrup that is made up of glucose and fructose. It is sweeter than ordinary sugar and is very useful in certain types of cooking and food processing.


The fact that honeys that have been packaged, labelled and placed on the shelves of prominent supermarkets, in a sense to connote safety and quality comes out to be heavily adulterated, is a cause for ALARM!. Though only four local honey brands were analysed compared with probably the over 30 different local brands on the market, the results is still worthwhile and must not be ignored. Public safety and health is seriously being undermined.

Consumers must be careful about who and what honey brand they buy. This is because it is difficult to tell band honey from good ones from just physical observation. You may be eating sugar syrup with alacrity!

Authorities must pay more attention to such products like honey which is the world’s most abused food product in terms of adulteration. There is certainly an urgent need to consider new ways to ensure honey quality on the Ghanaian market.

A brief profile of Courage Besah- Adanu (Ph.D.)

Courage Besah-Adanu has worked with small scale producers and local food systems since 2010. He currently is a key member and consults for the Agrifood Value Innovations and Marketing Society, Ghana (AGRIVIMS). Courage has been trained in how to explore Intellectual Property Rights (Geographical Indications, GIs) for the development of Agribusiness. He has worked extensively on honey quality within global standards and is also an advisor at the Chamber of Agribusiness Ghana.

Contact: +233 2466 30512

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