Industry needs to wake up to adulterated bilberry extracts

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Bilberry extracts mixed with mulberry or black bean skins are
reported to have hit the Japanese market and elsewhere, duping
the industry into creating cheaper alternatives and undermining

Tony Jacobs, sales and marketing director of Artemis Nutritionals Europe AG, told that the scale of the situation has reached such proportions that Japan, currently the biggest market for the extract, is considering banning bilberry. Key players in the bilberry industry are now moving to counter the problem and advise companies to test their bilberry extracts independently, especially if they were purchased for less than €500 per kg. Bo Ahlstedt, director of Olle Svennson AB, Sweden's largest supplier of wild harvested blueberries, told that a simple test using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) is needed to verify the anthocyanin profile, as well as the concentration of these polyphenols, as this is key to verifying the identity of the extracts. "You then find a typical and unique fingerprint for Bilberry showing 15 peaks. The combination of HPLC and UV testing is the safest procedure to verify that you are buying the real thing,"​ stated Ahlstedt. "Most laboratories are able to also test the anthocyanin content by HPLC and verify that you are not using a fake look alike,​" he added. Growing demand from the food industry and a poor season's harvest in 2006 caused prices for Scandinavian bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus​ L.) to jump by a whopping 70 per cent, hitting the emerging bilberry market badly. Nutraceutical companies however have desperately tried to limit the impact of the price increase and protect their sales. With the price per kilo now estimated at around €600, there have been companies offering lower-price extracts that are cleaning out the market. The fake product is priced around € 400-450 per kg, said Jacobs, and it is "impossible to produce bilberry at this price.""Anyone buying for less that €500 is most likely getting a fake bilberry,"​ he said. The anthocyanins content is used as the standard for bilberry, using UV spectrometry to confirm the 25 per cent anthocyanins. However, according to reports this has led to extracts that masquerade as bilberry but actually contain mulberry (22-24 per cent), or black bean skin (20 per cent), with only the pigment or bilberry bringing this fake product to 25 per cent anthocyins. The industry has not been aware of the problem, and price has been driving the market, said Jacobs. "We know the price of bilberry 25 per cent must reflect the cost of the fruit and the extract ratio. It is a competitive market and cheap Bilberry is only cheap because it does not meet specification,"​ he said. Jacobs was quick to point out that the many bilberry extract producers in China were also suffering from the fake products. He recommended that companies sourcing the extracts from China ensure that the company is pharmaceutically registered, a sign of quality practices. "Bilberry has active ingredients that provide a notable and quick response for eye health,"​ said Jacobs. "But you are not going to get these benefits from these fake products."

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