Material Claiming Naturally High Amounts of Vitamin C IRMS-Tested, Establishing It as Non-Amla, Fermentation Source

Sabinsa, which alerted the industry to synthetic curcumin masquerading as natural source turmeric, has identified mischaracterized amla (Emblica officinalis) extract with claims of high levels of natural vitamin C for sale in the marketplace.

Vitamin C, which is vital for human health, is in high demand today as people seek to support their immune function. Because vitamin C occurs only in trace quantities in amla (aka Indian gooseberry), it is not economically feasible to isolate and extract vitamin C up to 25% from that raw material. However, some companies are claiming to offer 25% weight for weight vitamin C derived from amla and further alleging their material is organic.

Research has confirmed that amla does not contain ascorbic acid in consistent amounts, and often only in trace quantities, which is why it is neither a valid biomarker nor a source of high amounts of vitamin C. Sabinsa's successful Saberry® Amla Extract brand, standardized to 10% beta-glucogallin, highlighted this when introduced to the marketplace in 2009. Sabinsa scientists published research on the low occurrence of vitamin C in amla products1. They were, therefore, surprised to come across an amla extract advertised to contain vitamin C more than 25%, and decided to dig deeper

“The major source of vitamin C is through fermentation. If suppliers buy fermentation-derived vitamin C and blend it with their amla extract to claim as high as 25% w/w of vitamin C, they should disclose this,” said Sabinsa founder and chairman Dr. Muhammed Majeed. “This unethical practice is not easily detected by normal analytical methods for vitamin C analysis. It is also not distinguishable by C14 radiocarbon content method, either. But there are other analytical methods to expose this repugnant practice.”

The fermentation process for producing vitamin C uses carbohydrates as raw materials with C4-plant origin, so vitamin C from fermentation sources will have typical C13/C12 isotopic composition characteristic of C4-plants measured as 13δC in the neighborhood of -10. This result is obtained by Isotopic Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS). On the other hand, if derived from amla, a typical C3-plant, vitamin C will have a value of 13δC in the neighborhood of -29.

Experiments were designed to isolate vitamin C from an amla extract labeled as organic with 25% vitamin C. The IRMS measurements showed a value of 13δC to be -11.6 for vitamin C isolated from this product, clearly tracing the origin of vitamin C to be derived by fermentation, and not from amla.

To authoritatively confirm, beta-glucogallin was isolated from the commercially available high-vitamin C amla product and analyzed for its 13δC content. The measured value was -25.7, showing that the amla's secondary metabolites will have 13δC values expected for a C3-plant. Therefore, vitamin C, if from amla, should also have 13δC value in the neighborhood of ~-25 instead of the measured value of -11.6.

“Because we have the science and expertise to unravel this unscrupulous practice, tarnishing one of India’s beloved and cherished fruits will not be tolerated,” said Sabinsa president worldwide, Shaheen Majeed. “We have identified a few companies practicing this deception, and will be filing notices to them in the weeks ahead. We hope the industry will appreciate and adopt the methodology we’ve disclosed, so no further deception occurs.”

1 Majeed et al, Ascorbic Acid and Tannins from Emblica officinalis Gaertn. Fruits—A Revisit J. Agric. Food Chem. 2009, 57, 1, 220–225,