High-tech food authenticity tests

As we want/need to know everything about where our food is from and what is in it, scientists are hard at work developing ways to measure everything from exactly where a coffee bean was grown to whether that mozzarella is made from cow’s milk.

    Is the premium food we’re buying — from wine to coffee, rice to saffron — actually what its packaging or the merchants selling it claim it is?

    Scientists are already developing ways to make sure fraudsters aren’t giving us less than what we pay for. Here are some of the tests they’ve developed to ensure the authenticity of our food.

    TomatoesOrganic bona fides

    The organic versions of food at your local supermarket can often cost 100% more than their traditional counterparts.

    English scientists have been working on a test to help ensure that a fruit or vegetable claiming to be organic actually is just that. They have attempted to take advantage of the fact that a heavier isotope of nitrogen, nitrogen 15, is present in natural fertilizers used in organic farms, but not in synthetic fertilizers more often used on conventional ones. Because there’s very little nitrogen 15 in our nitrogen-rich atmosphere, if you can detect a measurable amount on, say, a tomato using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, it probably is organic.

    Ice creamNatural vanilla or a chemical?

    If the vanilla flavouring or extract in an item of food isn’t natural, it probably was made from the organic solvent toluene, which can be derived from petroleum.

    Since petroleum comes from the decay of thousands of years-old organic matter, isotopes again can come into play. If your vanilla extract has no C-14 presence, then it’s probably not natural. Modern-day vanilla beans will carry a trace of the nuclear period.

    Fast Company: See the full article here