Contract testing lab OmegaVeritas says it has created the first third-party testing process to authenticate krill oil.
Krill oil’s benefits for the heart, brain, joints, and more have made this omega-3 source a noted ingredient in dietary supplements. Much of the krill oil used in supplements comes from Antarctic krill. Like any other ingredient, by the time krill oil makes its way to store shelves, there can be risk of adulteration. That is why a contract testing laboratory based in Norway, OmegaVeritas, says it set about creating what it deems the first third-party testing process to authenticate krill oil. As the company’s CEO, Svein Erik Haugmo explains, it took a solid year to develop the procedure.
Krill Oil Testing Challenges
Before he describes the test, Haugmo explains why krill oil samples are generally difficult to analyze.
“What makes krill oil more challenging to analyze with currently used, standard techniques is the fact that it contains phospholipids (PL), in addition to triglycerides (TG), which regular fish oil is made from,” he says. “Knowing which part of the fatty acid profile is connected to PL and which is connected to TG can be crucial information, and this can be quite laborious to analyze.”
Not only that, but it is difficult to determine which marine sources an oil came from, Haugmo says. Determining the source is especially difficult to do with processed oils because by the time the oil has been processed, much of the ingredient’s DNA has degraded.
As for existing methods of authentication, Haugmo says that gas chromatography is usually used to analyze fatty acids in general but that this method only provides information on the amount of different fatty acids in krill oil; again, it does not indicate which marine sources the oil came from. This knowledge gap leaves room for adulteration, and as a result, “adulterated products [may] consist of a mixture of oils from several different sources, made in a way which makes it hard for traditional analysis methods to detect,” he says.
In short, a product marketed as pure krill oil may not, in fact, be krill oil alone.
A New Testing Technique
OmegaVeritas says that its new testing technique makes a difference because it can test both the origin and the authenticity of krill oil. The process comprises two main elements: 1) nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) analysis, which is used to test lipids isolated from the oil, and 2) algorithms that enable the company to accurately interpret the data.
OmegaVeritas not only developed these new software algorithms; it also created a reference database against which to compare sample data. Two leading, vertically integrated, Norway-based krill oil suppliers, Aker BioMarine AS and Rimfrost AS, helped OmegaVeritas build this reference database by providing authentic reference samples. “Having their own vessels and ability to fully trace batches to the precise krill-harvesting times and locations was important for ensuring a large enough spectrum of authentic samples,” OmegaVeritas explained in a press release.
Haugmo says the test can reveal if an oil is actually a blend of different oils and not just pure krill oil alone. It can be used to test both crude and refined or processed oils.
For now, the process cannot be used to test chemically modified oils such as ethyl esters and re-esterified triglycerides; in the future, however, the company plans to build reference libraries for ethyl esters and re-esterified triglycerides.
Also important, the company’s process is only suited for Antarctic-sourced krill ingredients because the firm’s reference database is built around Antarctic-sourced krill.
And although the company is rolling out this new capability for krill oil testing, it is not limited to krill oil alone. Haugmo says it can be used for cod liver oil, salmon oil, and salmon meal.
To validate that the system works, OmegaVeritas says it tested a handful of commercially available krill oil products. What did the company find? That “not every krill product contains what is stated on the label,” Haugmo says. “The testing uncovered that some of the products claiming to be based purely on krill or salmon actually consist of standard fish oil or fish oil concentrates (ethyl esters).”
OmegaVeritas is now offering the program as a third-party test, which is now commercially available to krill oil product manufacturers. “Testing needs to be done by our lab in Norway,” Haugmo says. OmegaVeritas is also offering an authenticity seal to products that have been tested. “Players in different parts of the value chain have different verification needs,” Haugmo says. “A producer of crude salmon meal might need a certificate of origin to add to a shipment, while a finished product can be fitted with our ‘verified’ logo on the box.”
OmegaVeritas seems to have the backing of some key krill suppliers. Jon Cameron, Rimfrost’s CEO, said in the OmegaVeritas press release, “With strong support from the industry, OmegaVeritas has now developed a tool for purchasers that will assist in isolating products that are 100%-authentic krill oil.”
Aker BioMarine’s CEO, Matts Johansen, said in the same press release, “As often happens with successful, premium ingredients, the krill oil category risks being attacked by suppliers with adulterated, low-cost products. The result of this project in is a third-party verification service, which might prevent this adulteration from happening.”
Nutritional Outlook magazine