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Dr Simon Cotton, an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the university of Birmingham's School of Chemistry, has contributed to a new article in Chemical & Engineering News about a breakthrough in tackling food fraud.

The article describes how a group of chemists have developed a new test which allows authorities to tell the difference between expensive naturally occurring Alba white truffles and synthetic counterfeit equivalents. The test relies on distinguishing between subtle characteristic differences in the aroma produced by each type of truffle.

Growing under certain Italian trees and harvested only a few months per year, Alba white truffles are among the priciest of delicacies, fetching almost $7,000 per kg last season. The key to their flavor and aroma is bis(methylthio)methane, an aromatic compound that can be synthesized and added to foods to deliver truffle taste. “You may fool some people with cheap truffles, but spiking them with artificial aroma will make it easier to get away with false labeling,” says Simon Cotton of the University of Birmingham, who was not involved with the new work. Consumer desire for genuine products drives a need for analytical tests to prevent such food fraud, according to Luigi Mondello of the University of Messina and colleagues in their new study.

Chemical & Engineering News is a weekly magazine published by the American Chemical Society. C&EN editors and reporters based in Europe, the U.S., and Asia cover science and technology, business and industry, government and policy, education, and employment aspects of the chemistry field.

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