5-hydroxymethylfurfural (formally known as “HMF”) is an organic compound which is formed from sugar in an acidic environment during heat treatment. This reaction naturally occurs in many food products that contain sugar and a low pH value. It is nearly ubiquitous with its presence in our daily foodstuffs such as breakfast cereals, bread, dairy products, honey, fruit juices, and also liqueurs at various concentrations.
Many different parameters influence the formation speed – primarily the temperature. An increase in temperature by 10°C (18°F) causes the reaction to occur about 5 times faster. Table 1 shows an example:
Table 1: Reaction Kinetics of HMF formation
HMF is used as a marker to prove the raw, uncooked nature of the honey as well as showing that the product has not been stored for an excessive period of time. Freshly extracted honey displays HMF levels lower than 5 mg/kg.
In the Honey Directive, The European Union distinguishes between non-tropical origins with a limit of 40 mg/kg and tropical origins with a maximum limit of 80 mg/kg – honeys with excessive HMF values are considered as “industrial honeys“ and cannot be sold for direct consumption. None of these limits are legally established yet in the US – nevertheless, we strongly recommend proving any claims made on the label.
For honey processing some heating is unavoidable – but in order to preserve the raw character (and claiming this on your label) the heating should be as gentle as possible.
In table 2, the statistics of worldwide honey samples analyzed at QSI, display typical concentrations found:
Table 2: Statistics off HMF measurements at QSI
Here at QSI America, we can help you test the HMF levels in your product and help to provide confidence that it meets international guidelines. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or requests for quotation – we are happy to support your business!
CEO Tentamus California
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Averaged data from: White, J.W. (1994) Bee World 75 (3): 104-117