Counterfeit alcohol: consumers can't taste the difference

Alcohol consumers have "no general ability" to detect counterfeit alcohol by taste, new research has revealed. Findings of a study published in the journal Food Chemistry dispute a common belief even among some experts that alcohol consumers may be able to differentiate counterfeit alcohol by its taste.

The researchers from Germany, Kenya and Canada, sourced alcohol from Russia and Kenya, where counterfeit alcohol is a well-known and common phenomenon, and explored whether fakes could be distinguishable by taste alone.

The study also used 1H nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) fingerprints to detect any differences in the composition of genuine and counterfeit spirits.

The study showed there was no clear evidence that consumers could definitively pick the fake alcohol based on taste alone.

The researchers say the results confirm their previous study that only a sub-group of the population is generally able to distinguish between alcoholic beverages by taste.

They conclude that one cannot assume that consumers have some responsibility when consuming counterfeit alcohol because of their potential ability to discriminate such products.

Brewers and alcohol distributors in Uganda and generally East Africa are battling against the increasing availability of counterfeit alcohol sold in plastic sachets and bottles. Some of the counterfeit alcohol and wines are being smuggled to the region.

A market analysis for illicit alcohol in Uganda compiled for Nile Breweries by Euromonitor International Consulting in 2016 found that Uganda loses US$172m about Shs616bn in taxes annually to the trade and production of illicit alcohol.

The study found that illicit alcohol production was larger than legal production in both volume and value terms.

It said the total licit alcohol market value in Uganda stood at US$2,126M or 7.6trillion Shillings while the total illicit market value of alcohol stood at US$676m about Shillings 2.4 trillion.

The illicit alcohol market according to Euromonitor study continues to grow due to ease of access, high affordability and the uncontrolled production, distribution and sale in both informal and formal channels.

Experts says while counterfeit alcohol like other counterfeits goods are becoming more accepted, it has a detrimental effect on the economy and individuals' health and livelihoods.

Some of the counterfeit alcohol on the market especially that which is imported contains 40% alcohol, with high methanol levels than what is general accepted in Uganda.

Health experts have found that High doses of menthol may cause side effects, such as dizziness, weakness, confusion, headaches, vomiting, abdominal cramps and seizures.

Drinking menthol may cause blindness and even death.


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