Durum wheat adulteration: what is the risk?

Durum wheat is renowned for its excellent rheological properties, making it the wheat variety of choice for pasta production. However, durum wheat products may be at risk of adulteration. According to the Decernis Food Fraud database, common wheat is the most prevalent adulterant of durum wheat products. FACTS can assist with testing to confirm the absence of common wheat in durum wheat products.

Durum wheat (Triticum durum) is the second-most cultivated wheat species after common wheat (Triticum aestivum), although it only represents 5% to 8% of global wheat production. Durum wheat is the hardest of all wheat varieties, producing dough with highly extensible properties and excellent cooking quality. This makes durum wheat ideal for pasta production.

What defines ‘pasta’?

Italian regulations define dried pasta as made exclusively from durum wheat, with an allowance of up to 3% common wheat in Italian-produced dried pasta products. This small margin allows for unintentional cross-contamination with common wheat during the natural agricultural process. South African regulations do not currently define dried pasta or govern the composition thereof. Pasta may therefore be made from durum wheat, common wheat, or niche ingredients such as buckwheat, spelt, chickpea, etc.

Pasta label claims

The Agricultural Product Standards Act (119 of 1990), the Consumer Protection Act (68 of 2008) and the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act (54 of 1972) all emphasise that a product label should not mislead the consumer. Many dried pasta products claim to be ‘made from 100% durum wheat’. If a product label carries this claim, then the product should comprise of durum wheat only.

However, the Regulations Relating to the Grading, Packing and Marking of Durum Wheat Intended for Sale in the Republic of South Africa, No. 43, under the Agricultural Product Standards Act (119 of 1990), indicate that ‘a consignment shall be classified as durum wheat if the wheat in the consignment consists of at least 95 per cent (m/m) of one or more of durum wheat seeds’. This means that products made from 100% durum wheat may actually contain up to 5% of a non-durum wheat component, as a consequence of R. No. 43.

Pasta fraud

If a product claims to be ‘made from 100% durum wheat’ and contains more than 5% of a non-durum wheat component, it would be considered as fraudulent.

Durum wheat is largely at risk of substitution with common wheat, according to the Decernis Food Fraud database. This is because durum wheat is approximately 25% more expensive than common wheat, so traders and/or local producers may blend common wheat into durum wheat to increase the profit margins for pasta production.

Moreover, a 2021 recent report indicates that the Canadian and European durum wheat harvests were poor, resulting in a 90% price spike for durum wheat read more here. Canada, the world’s leading durum wheat producer, experienced extreme heat and scarce rainfall since seeding, and Europe had excessive rainfall, both of which lead to a major drop in production. Consequently, there may not be enough durum wheat to meet global demands, which may motivate the adulteration of durum wheat with common wheat.

Managing this type of fraud requires a multi-faceted approach, which includes analytical testing. FACTS has established a targeted proteomic test method by LC-MS that can quantify common wheat in durum wheat products. Should fraudulent activity be at play, this test may provide valuable information early in the processing cycle in order to action timely corrective measures.

For more information on this topic, contact us.