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It can often be difficult for traditional tests to differentiate between natural and synthetic curcumin.
Judging by turmeric’s surge in online search traffic and the starring role its active constituent, curcumin, has played in numerous recent studies, turmeric is having something of a moment. But with great popularity comes great risk of synthetic adulteration, and it can often be difficult for traditional tests to differentiate between natural and synthetic curcumin.
That may be changing, though, with ingredient supplier Sabinsa (East Windsor, NJ) announcing it has adopted a “conclusive test” that guarantees its range of Curcumin C3 Complex products are of natural origin. By assessing the radiocarbon content of curcumin samples, Sabinsa says it is possible not only to distinguish between natural and synthetic curcumin, but also to determine the exact degree of synthetic contamination in a synthetic/natural mixture.
Typically, tests based on chromatography or spectral means struggle to distinguish between natural curcumin (derived from turmeric) and synthetic turmeric (derived from fossil-fuel or petroleum–based materials), Sabinsa explains. But the presence of radiocarbon offers one clear difference, as turmeric plants biosynthesize curcumin with carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere, which contains “extremely minuscular but accurately determinable quantities of radiocarbon,” Sabinsa says. Synthetic curcumin, on the other hand, does not contain radiocarbon.
By using methods such as accelerator mass spectrometry, Sabinsa says it can accurately assess a curcumin sample’s radiocarbon content to determine whether it is natural or synthetic. And if synthetic contamination is found in a mixture, the process is also able to identify the degree of contamination.
“Curcumin-based products are among the best-selling nutritive ingredients in the market today, which has given rise to highly feverish marketing and promotional activities,” says Shaheen Majeed, marketing director for Sabinsa. “It also positions it as a material ripe for economic adulteration, making it imperative that companies sourcing curcumin take steps to be sure to know exactly what they are getting, both for regulatory and brand integrity reasons.”
The radiocarbon testing methods were first developed by academic labs such as the Center for Applied Isotope Studies at the University of Georgia (Athens, GA), though they have since been adopted by several commercial labs. The American Society of the International Association for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has also established a method that can be readily applied to determine the authenticity of curcuminoids, according to Sabinsa.
Nutritional Outlook Magazine