Cinnamon bark oil: Carbon-14 testing helps catch adulteration

Although companies often market their products to include naturally sourced cinnamon bark oil, the industry faces a high risk of fraudulent claims due to acts of economically motivated adulteration.

Cinnamon bark oil is commonly used as a fragrance and flavoring agent. Although companies often market their products to include naturally sourced cinnamon bark oil, the industry faces a high risk of fraudulent claims due to acts of economically motivated adulteration.1 In an effort to steer clear of ingredient adulteration, both manufacturers and distributors are implementing authenticity testing as part of their quality assurance and quality control procedures.

To ensure cinnamon bark oil is authentic and derived from plant-based sources, carbon-14 analysis is employed to differentiate between biomass-derived (biobased) and petrochemical-derived ingredients.

Risks of Economically Motivated Adulteration

Economic adulteration occurs in several industries in the natural products sector, including the flavor and fragrance industry. Economically motivated adulteration (EMA), often known as food fraud, refers to the intentional adulteration of ingredients, with the goal of financial gain or advantages.2 This phrase can refer to the addition, substitution, or dilution of ingredients as means of adulteration.

Cinnamon bark oil is a common flavor and fragrance ingredient that is often used as a spice. The global cinnamon oil market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 3.6% between 2018 and 2025, forecasted to increase from a value of USD $100 million to USD $130 million USD.3 Given cinnamon bark oil’s high demand and high production costs, the ingredient runs the risk of being adulterated with a less expensive alternative such as synthetic cinnamon leaf oil, synthetic cassia oil, or cinnamaldehyde.1

Detecting EMA is a challenge to the food industry. This calls for analytical methods such as carbon-14 analysis to verify whether or not flavor and fragrance ingredients, like cinnamon bark oil, are authentically derived from biomass-based material. By analyzing cinnamon bark oil using carbon-14 analysis, it is possible to verify whether cinnamon oil was formulated from its natural source or if it was adulterated using synthetic petrochemical-derived cinnamaldehyde.4

Understanding Carbon-14 Testing

Carbon-14 testing is an analytical tool used to differentiate between biomass-derived and petrochemical-derived ingredients. Any product or ingredient sourced from plants, animals, or microbiological materials contains a measurable amount of the radioactive isotope carbon-14. Ingredients sourced entirely from petroleum-derived material, meanwhile, do not contain any amount of carbon-14.

Carbon-14 analysis uses an accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) instrument to measure the exact percentage of carbon in a material that comes from biomass, according to international standards such as ASTM D6866 or ISO 16620-2.

ASTM D6866 is a standard that was developed in the United States that is used to determine the biobased content of solid, liquid, and gaseous material. This standard reports results as a percentage to indicate the portion of a product, such as a flavor, fragrance, food, or beverage, that is of biobased sources compared to petrochemical-derived synthetic sources.5 Likewise, the ISO 16620-2 standard uses carbon-14 analysis as a method to determine the biobased content of solid, liquid, and gaseous samples. ISO 16620-2 is applicable for various sample types, including flavors, fragrances, food, and beverages.6

Carbon-14 test results will yield a percentage to indicate the portion of a sample tested that is derived from biobased content.

Strengthening Quality Control Procedures

The prevalence of adulteration has made it critical for stakeholders throughout the supply chain to detect fraudulent products and ingredients. Submitting products for analysis by a third-party laboratory is a critical step for manufacturers and distributors to strengthen quality control procedures and maintain product quality.7 Although carbon-14 analysis cannot distinguish between different natural-derived sources, it is a reliable analysis for verifying whether a sample is biomass-derived, petrochemical-derived, or a mixture of the two sources.

Within the food and beverage industry, carbon-14 analysis is useful in both authenticating ingredients that are biomass-derived and in verifying ingredient adulteration using petrochemical synthetic ingredients. For instance, if a sample of cinnamon bark oil with a label claim of “all-natural ingredients” is measured using the analysis and reports a result of 100% biobased content, this indicates that the sample is wholly derived from biomass sources, authenticating the all-natural label claim. However, if a cinnamon bark oil sample with the same “all-natural ingredients” label is analyzed and reports a result that falls between 0% and 100% biobased content, this means the sample is a mixture of petrochemical-derived and biomass-derived sources, demonstrating a case of ingredient adulteration and mislabeling. Furthermore, if a carbon-14 test result yields a report of 0% biobased content, this indicates the sample is fully derived from petrochemical sources and therefore does not contain any naturally sourced material.

As a result, carbon-14 analysis plays an important role in a company’s quality control and quality assurance process.


As a result of the genuine ingredient’s high demand and high price, cinnamon bark oil is vulnerable to adulteration. Although threatened by economically motivated adulteration, establishing robust quality control programs throughout the supply chain can lessen the potential of ingredient fraud cases within the flavors and fragrance industry. Submitting samples for routine analysis such as carbon-14 testing allows manufacturers and suppliers to verify early on whether ingredients like cinnamon bark oil are derived from biomass or petrochemical sources.

Haley Gershon is marketing manager for Beta Analytic Inc. (Miami;


  1. Food Fraud Advisors website. “Cinnamon Fraud Warning.” Posted March 5, 2017.
  2. Johnson R. “Food Fraud and ‘Economically Motivated Adulteration’ of Food and Food Ingredients.” Congressional Research Service report. Published January 10, 2014.
  3. Precision Reports. “Cinnamon Oil Market Size and Forecast in Global by Product Type and End-User and Regions (Countries) 2016-2026)." Published June 5, 2021.
  4. Sajilata M et al. “Quality indices for spice essential oils.” Handbook of Herbs and Spices, Second Edition. Published December 12, 2012: 42-54
  5. ASTM International. “ASTM D6866 - 21, Standard Test Methods for Determining the Biobased Content of Solid, Liquid, and Gaseous Samples Using Radiocarbon Analysis.” Updated January 28, 2021.
  6. International Organization for Standardization. “ISO 16620-2:2019, Plastics – Biobased content – Part 2: Determination of biobased carbon content.” Published October 2019.
  7. Do TKT et al. “Authenticity of essential oils.TrAC Trends in Analytical Chemistry, vol. 66 (March 2015): 146–157