*Editor’s Note: This article is an update from Perfumer & Flavorist’s December 2016 article titled “Natural Source Testing for Flavors and Fragrances” by Jasmine Garside.
The flavors and fragrance industry often faces regulatory challenges when it comes to defining the term “natural.” Alongside this complex term, the potential for mislabeling and ingredient adulteration is high due to increasing consumer demand for naturally sourced flavors and fragrances. In response, the need for differentiation between naturally sourced (biomass-derived) and petrochemical-derived ingredients is crucial for industry stakeholders in order to avoid legal and financial repercussions.1,2
This is where carbon-14 testing comes into play to authenticate naturally sourced ingredients derived from biomass, or in other words, renewable sources from plants, animals or microbiological materials.3 Several programs and regulations such as the Food Chemicals Codex (FCC) and the Flavoring Regulation (EC) No 1334/2008 recognize carbon-14 analysis as a method for distinguishing biobased sourced content from petroleum-derived material.
Biomass-sourced or Petrochemical-derived?
Ingredient adulteration and mislabeling of flavors and fragrances are often due to consumer demand for naturally sourced ingredients. Within the flavors and fragrance sector, essential oils and constituents of plant species are vulnerable to adulteration.4
The relatively high prices for these commodities in addition to the often limited and variable availability of plant material have often led to cases of ingredient adulteration. For example, lemongrass oil is susceptible to adulteration by cheaper petrochemical-derived synthetics such as citral. Bergamot oil is another essential oil favored for its citrus aroma and flavor which is sometimes adulterated by cheaper synthetic ingredients such as linalool, which can also be petrochemical-derived.5 The problem is that these essential oils adulterated with petrochemical-based ingredients may still be labeled as natural.