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Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program Publishes Bulletin on Adulteration of Pomegranate Products


In June 2021, the ABC-AHP-NCNPR Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program (BAPP) released a Botanical Adulterants Prevention Bulletin (BAPB) on pomegranate (Punica granatum, Lythraceae) juice and extracts.

Pomegranate is a popular food and dietary supplement ingredient. As a food, the fleshy seeds are consumed raw or after pressing into juice. For dietary supplements, the whole fruit, rind (or husk), seed, or seed oil is processed into various forms (e.g., powder, 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 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 numerous lower-cost botanical sources, including Asian holly oak (Quercus infectoria, Fagaceae) galls (abnormal growths that can occur on any plant part) 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 the perceived value of the pomegranate extract, while in reality the “extract” is not a pure pomegranate extract.

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 BAPP technical director, co-authored the pomegranate BAPB. It is an update of an article on pomegranate adulteration that was published in HerbalGram issue 112 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. Fourteen experts from the international nonprofit medicinal plant research sector and herb industry reviewed the bulletin before publication.

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 passed 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 article. We believe it was time to revise our previous publication to demonstrate 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 BAPB. As with all BAPP publications, the bulletins are freely accessible to all ABC members and registered users of the ABC and BAPP websites.

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) BAPP 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 as of July 2021, including BAPBs, Laboratory Guidance Documents, Botanical Adulterants Monitor e-newsletters, and articles on botanical adulteration in HerbalGram.