Confectionery makers can expect no let up in the current high liquorice prices due to the fact that pending EU regulation, setting limits for the first time on Ochratoxin A (OTA) levels in the ingredient, will impose further pressures, claims a leading German supplier.
Michael Schmanns, managing director of Hamburg based liquorice producer Hepner & Eschenbrenner, said that the proposed European Commission legislation imposing maximum levels of 80 ppb for OTA in liquorice extracts will result in additional root drying and toxin analysis costs at the producer level.
He also told ConfectioneryNews.com that the new legislation will restrict, long term, the amount of raw material available to the European confectionery sector, with a tighter regulatory environment meaning liquorice suppliers will seek out other geographies and markets and port authorities will refuse entry of product over the imposed levels.
According to Schmanns, these combined factors will compound the spike in price levels that resulted from the 2008 shortage of liquorice roots in producer countries such as Iran and China and led to a severe price-increase for the liquorice roots as well as for the extract, a hike which has not dissipated since.
A spokesperson for the Directorate General for Health and Consumers (DG Sanco) confirmed to this publication that the regulation imposing 80 ppb max levels for OTA in pure and undiluted liquorice extracts (obtained whereby 1kg of extract is obtained from 3 to 4 kg liquorice root) is expected to be adopted in early February 2010, and it would then enter into force in July.
OTA is a mycotoxin produced by several fungal species of the genera Penicillium and Aspergillus. Animal studies have linked the toxin to renal tumors at high dosages.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) derived a tolerable weekly intake (TWI) of 120 ng/kg body weight for OTA which formed the basis for the rules placing new maximum levels for the toxin in a range of foodstuffs such as dried fruit other than dried vine fruit, cocoa and cocoa products, spices, meat products, green coffee, beer as well as liquorice.
Schmanns explained that OTA can develop in the liquorice root and, as it is a mould, will grow where there is moisture. He stressed that this regulation will require producers to dry root more intensively so that moisture evaporates effectively and quickly.
“It is also imperative that the appropriate storage conditions for liquorice root are met such as roofed warehousing; all of these new measures will have cost implications for the confectionery industry long term.”
Ahead of the game
Confectionery makers, continued Schmanns, should prepare for the new regulation ahead of its implementation, in particular when they are developing product specifications or drawing up contracts with their suppliers.
He also points out that there now exists a highly responsive detection method, sorely lacking in the industry previously, for OTA in liquorice extract and liquorice root. The analytical tool has been written up in the journal European Pharmacopoeia, added Schmanns.
Caobisco, the European association of chocolate, biscuits and confectionery industries, told this publication that it supports the Commission proposal on maximum levels.
The major European markets for liquorice confectionery are the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, Spain, France and Italy.
Used by manufacturers in confectionery products - notably Trebor Bassett's (Cadbury's) Liquorice Allsorts brand and by French sweet leader Haribo - liquorice is a wild-growing plant native to southern Europe and parts of Asia, and is harvested in the autumn two to three years after planting.
The concentrated and purified extract of the liquorice roots Glycyrrhiza glabra is used in confectionery formulations - as a sweetener, flavouring agent and enhancer, and debittering agent. The source of which comes from its active substance - glycyrrhizin - a very sweet glycoside occurring in the roots as the calcium plus potassium salts of glycyrrhizin acid.