Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Barcoding Christmas delicacies

During Christmas you may wonder if your Christmas ham really contains pork, the herring in the tomato sauce really is herring, if the sausages you just bought contain beef, or if the Christmas anchovies have anchovies in them. No need to fret over this, DNA Barcoding can rescue the family Christmas dinner.

The NTNU University Museum in Trondheim analysed the DNA from ten randomly selected traditional Norwegian Christmas dishes found in grocery stores. When compared with the BOLD reference library the results showed that, overall, the ingredients corresponded to the descriptions on the packaging.

The colleagues from Norway sampled and sequenced products such as traditional Christmas sausage, Christmas ham, pressed ham, patties, sodd (a traditional Norwegian dish with mutton and meatballs), Christmas anchovies, pickled herring and pickled herring in tomato sauce. The results were mostly positive, products were labelled correctly with one minor exception: The Christmas anchovies contained sprat (Sprattus spp.), not anchovies (family Engraulidae with Engraulis encrasicolus being the main European commercial anchovy).  

In Norway products that are labeled as anchovy often traditionally contain sprat. The reason is most likely simple marketing because a label such as ‘Christmas sprat’ probably wouldn't sell as well. While researching in the web I also found out that in Scandinavia the name anchovy is more related to a traditional seasoning and not so much to a particular fish species. Even herring can be sold as 'anchovy-seasoned'. 

Overall good news for Norwegian Christmas dinners. It looks like the customers actually get what they pay for.

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