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Analysis for Coumarin in Food Products

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The natural flavouring agent coumarin is present in a wide variety of plants, from tonka beans, lavender, woodruff, many grasses and in cassia species. It can be found as a natural ingredient in products such as seasonings, foods containing cinnamon or drinks (e.g. liqueurs). The pleasant sweet fragrance of coumarin makes it a valued additive for cosmetics such as lotions, perfumes, deodorants and other products.

Coumarin is classified as damaging to the liver and carcinogenic and was banned in food products in the USA as early as 1954. In the EU, the REGULATION (EC) No. 1334/2008 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT regulates the use and maximum content of coumarin. According to this legislation, coumarin cannot be added to food products and the natural content of coumarin cannot exceed the following maximums:

  • "Traditional and/or seasonal bakery ware containing a reference to cinnamon in the labelling" (e.g. cinnamon stars): 50 mg/kg
  • "Breakfast cereals including muesli": 20 mg/kg
  • "Fine bakery ware, with the exception of traditional and/or seasonal bakery ware containing a reference to cinnamon in thelabelling": 15 mg/kg
  • Desserts containing cinnamon: 5 mg/kg

Cassia cinnamon is most common in processed products because of its stable aroma. Unlike Ceylon cinnamon, Cassia cinnamon has a higher concentration of coumarin from the outer layer of the cinnamon cassia (Cinnamomum cassia, Chinese cinnamon). For this reason, the German Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (BfR) (German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment) advises limited consumption of cassia cinnamon and the use of Ceylon cinnamon that contains low quantity of coumarin.

Food products are tested for coumarin according to official methods described in §64 LFGB (German Food and Feed Code) using HPLC-MS/MS, which permits quantitative determination of coumarin content in solid and liquid sample matrices.

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