Six out of ten Finnish liquorice and salmiak (salty liquorice) products tested contain forbidden amounts of the insecticide matrine, according to an investigation by the state broadcaster Yle.
Matrine is an insecticide that occurs naturally in plants but can also be produced industrially. In the EU, the use of matrine is limited to 0.01 mg/kg in food as a safety measure, as its safety profile has not been fully established.
In the Yle investigation, ten popular salmiak and liquorice products from Finland were tested by the Eurofin laboratory. The results showed that six of the products contained levels of matrine that exceeded the permitted limits, in some cases up to forty times the permitted level.
The affected products include Fazer’s Lakritsi Soft Original and Salmiakpastiller, Kouvolan Lakritsi’s Salmiakkilakritsi and Lakritsbitar, Halva’s Salmiakki Ruuti and Malaco’s Sisu Xylitol Salmiakki.
– The results suggest that confectionery manufacturers are using raw materials that do not comply with matrine regulations. This also shows that manufacturers should test their raw materials more thoroughly for matrine, says Arja Heinonen, an expert at the Finnish Food Authority.
Liquorice plants do not contain matrine, but the substance is found in plants of the genus Sophore in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean, which is where the raw materials for liquorice production in Europe are sourced. These plants resemble liquorice root and can sometimes be accidentally harvested along with liquorice. Timo Nisula, CEO of Kouvolan Lakritsi, was surprised by the high level of matrine in the company’s products.
– We did not measure the content ourselves. We get the product information from the supplier. I don’t even know where to test it, says Nisula.
Heinonen points out that the findings may lead to the withdrawal of products with high matrine levels from the market.