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Bulletin on Adulteration of Pomegranate Products Published by ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program

Document provides recent examples of adulteration of pomegranate juice and extracts

AUSTIN, Texas (June 7, 2021) — The ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) has released a Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletin on pomegranate (Punica granatum) juice and extracts.

Pomegranate is a popular food and dietary supplement ingredient. As a food, the fleshy seeds are consumed raw or after pressing as pomegranate juice. For dietary supplements, the whole fruit, rind (or husk), seed, or seed oil is processed into various forms (e.g., powdered herb, extracts, etc.).

At least three different forms of adulteration have been reported in pomegranate products in the global marketplace: (1) pomegranate juices diluted with water or containing undeclared levels of juice(s) from other, lower-cost fruits; (2) pomegranate products made mostly from unknown or unidentified lower-cost source materials, with little-to-no pomegranate constituents; and (3) pomegranate extracts “spiked” with additional undisclosed ellagic acid or other polyphenols from exogenous, non-pomegranate sources.

Ellagic acid is a naturally occurring polyphenolic compound found in pomegranate and many other plants. It can be obtained in highly purified form from a number of lower-cost botanical sources, including Aleppo oak (Quercus infectoria) galls (abnormal growths that can occur on any plant part), also known as Chinese galls, and various tree barks, and it can be made via chemical synthesis. Some commercial “pomegranate” extracts claim to contain up to 70%, sometimes even 90%, ellagic acid — presumably to give the buyer a false sense of perceived value of the pomegranate extract, while in reality the ‘extract’ is not truly a pure pomegranate extract.

The new pomegranate bulletin was co-authored by John H. Cardellina II, PhD, an expert in natural products chemistry and analysis, and Stefan Gafner, PhD, American Botanical Council (ABC) chief science officer and the technical director of BAPP. The bulletin is an update of the article on pomegranate adulteration published in ABC’s peer-reviewed journal HerbalGram in 2016. The new bulletin lists the known adulterants, summarizes current analytical approaches to detect adulterants, and provides information on the nomenclature, supply chain, and market importance of pomegranate. The BAPB was reviewed by 14 experts from the nonprofit medicinal plant research sector and the herb industry in the United States and internationally.

According to ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal, who is also the founder and director of BAPP and co-author of the 2016 pomegranate article in HerbalGram: “Five years have elapsed since our initial publication in 2016. At least two additional research papers have been published in the global scientific literature that confirm what we published in that first article; we believe it was time to revise our previous publication to demonstrate to responsible members of the global botanical industry that intentional adulteration and fraud in the pomegranate market continue to exist and that pomegranate ingredient and finished product buyers must be aware of new research and appropriate analytical methods.”

Gafner commented: “Ellagic acid concentrations have become a marketing tool for pomegranate supplements, suggesting to industry members and consumers that higher levels represent more concentrated, more potent, and thus more efficacious extracts. This is despite clinical studies indicating that various pomegranate constituents — in addition to ellagic acid — are responsible for its pharmacological activity and beneficial health effects. As such, pomegranate products that do not contain certain naturally occurring pomegranate compounds such as the characteristic punicalins and punicalagins not only may be adulterated but also may not provide the expected health benefits.”

The pomegranate bulletin is BAPP’s 23rd botanical adulterants prevention bulletin. As with all BAPP publications, the bulletins are freely accessible to all ABC members, registered users of the ABC website, and all members of the public on BAPP’s website (registration required).

About the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program

The ABC-AHP (American Herbal Pharmacopoeia)-NCNPR (National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi) Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program is an international consortium of nonprofit professional organizations, analytical laboratories, research centers, industry trade associations, industry members, and other parties with interest in herbs and medicinal plants. The program advises industry, researchers, health professionals, government agencies, the media, and the public about various challenges related to adulterated botanical ingredients sold in commerce. To date, more than 200 US and international parties have financially supported or otherwise endorsed the program.

BAPP has published 67 peer-reviewed documents, including Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletins, Laboratory Guidance Documents, Botanical Adulterants Monitor e-newsletters, and miscellaneous articles on botanical adulteration in HerbalGram.