Organic Coconut Sugar Adulteration
It has been eight years since Earth Circle Organics purchased our first 20-foot container of organic coconut sugar. At the time, very few people were familiar with coconut sugar. Today it is quite popular and one of our top-selling products.
I was very fortunate to start with the Indonesian company Big Tree Farms as our supplier. Working with the thousands of small organic farmers in Indonesia, they were the first to commercially export organic coconut sugar. Today Big Tree has evolved into the largest organic coconut sugar exporter in Indonesia. More importantly, theirs is the only certified fair trade organic coconut sugar which is also independently certified as HACCP and cGMP-compliant by a non-Indonesian certifier.
Why is having such a quality supplier so important? It is important because there is a big problem in the coconut sugar industry. A problem that only a few people are aware of, and a problem which some in the industry are attempting to quietly sweep under the rug. That big problem is the selling of adulterated organic coconut sugar.
Specifically, there are companies claiming to sell organic, 100% coconut sugar, which is not 100% coconut sugar because it was adulterated with cane or corn sugar. Likewise, it is not certified USDA organic because there are no certificates for organic cane or corn sugar in Indonesia. Therefore any cane or corn sugar added to the coconut sugar cannot be organic, thus rendering the entire product in violation of USDA organic standards.
It is estimated that 30% more organic coconut sugar is exported from Indonesia than there are organic certificates. So where is all this extra coconut sugar coming from? In large part, it appears to be coming from the addition of less expensive C4 sugars (corn or cane sugars). They do so because C4 sugars are less than half the price of the coconut sugar that it is replacing. This practice of selling adulterated coconut sugar is particularly tempting for some, because of the difficulty and expense of testing for such adulteration.
It is not surprising that such counterfeiting would occur in Indonesia. As anyone who has visited Indonesia can confirm, the sale counterfeit goods (designer purses, CD’s, DVD’s, etc.) is a thriving industry there. In 2014 we were approached by a new overseas supplier, who offered to sell us what they claimed was organic coconut sugar for 25% less than other suppliers were quoting at the time, which raised an immediate red flag. It sounded too good to be true, and it was. We had the sugar independently tested by Eurofins’ lab in France using advanced isotope testing developed to detect the addition of C4 sugars for the French wine industry. We routinely use this testing as part of our quality assurance process. The lab’s isotopic testing showed the presence of significant amounts of C4 sugar in the samples tested. When the supplier was advised of this, they attempted to brush it off as “no big deal” and we never heard from that supplier again.
More recently, however, we found an outlet in the United States who was selling to consumers and manufacturers what they claimed was “100% Organic Coconut Sugar” and well below prevailing market rates. How could they do this? We called and got pricing and samples and discovered that their fine sifted sugar was quoted at $1.26 per pound, and the regular grind at $1.56 per pound. Since there generally is a premium to have sugar fine screened, we wondered why their fine screened product cost less, and how they were able to sell it at that price. The answer became clear when we had their products tested and discovered that their fine screened 100% Organic Coconut Sugar actually contained C4 sugar. Multiple samples of the product showed adulteration with C4 sugar.
We find it abhorrent that customers are being sold, and are paying for, a product which is not what it claims to be. This is especially true where, as here, the adulteration of the product not only renders it non-organic, but also fundamentally changes its composition including its glycemic index. Indeed, we have seen test results showing from 15% to 50% added C4 sugar.
We cannot reasonably expect to change regulations in Indonesia. We need to be able to assure our customers that this product is produced with the highest integrity. Importers should be looking for transaction certificates and identity testing from a reliable lab such as Eurofins, because there is no way to know by touch or taste, or from one load to the next, that the product is pure.
My purpose in sharing this information is to educate buyers and importers and empower them to protect themselves. Due to current strong demand, we anticipate a big increase in the amount of adulterated coconut sugar entering the market in the next few months.
The matter has now been submitted to the FDA and FTC for further investigation. Now that this problem is a matter of public knowledge, it would be prudent for sellers to know your source and to establish and document the purity of the product you sell or use. If you don’t, and your product is later tested and found to be adulterated or mislabeled, you may face expensive recalls and lawsuits.
CEO & Founder
Earth Circle Organics
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