Test: Fruit flavored water without fruit

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Stiftung Warentest: Benzene and artificial flavors in mineral water

Instead of real fruit, which one might suspect from the illustrated fruit on the labels of flavored water, one usually only finds artificial flavors. The Stiftung Warentest criticized this after examining 25 different products.

Label fraud fruit
Fruit-flavored water has become a bestseller, with sales increasing by more than 20 percent in 2012. The impression of a healthy drink is created, among other things, by the fresh fruit printed on the labels. The colorful illustrations of fresh apples, strawberries or lemons suggest that the product is water with aroma from the respective fruit. But in the flavored types of water there are often only artificial aromas. In addition, many of the waters are pretty calorie bombs. The Stiftung Warentest examined 25 of these beverages in eight flavors, none of which scored better than "satisfactory". The "test" editor-in-chief Anita Stocker criticized the packaging, among other things: "This is misleading: none of the drinks contain full fruit, notable fruit juice or fruit pulp."

24 pieces of sugar cubes per bottle
Of the products tested, none received an overall rating of “very good” or “good”, six were “satisfactory” and five even received only “poor”. Sugar was added almost everywhere, especially those with strawberry flavor. Some of these drinks can contain up to 200 calories in one liter. A whole bottle with 1.5 liters can contain the calories of almost 24 sugar cubes. The price of the sugar bombs is between about 33 cents at a discounter up to about 1.45 euros for well-known products.

"Natural apple aroma" instead of "apple aroma"
It is important for customers to read the fine print well and to understand the guidelines for food labeling. Stocker criticizes: “Most of the time it doesn't contain what's on it. But what is in it is what is not on it. ” The project manager for food tests at Warentest, Birgit Rehlender, pointed out that the ingredients contained mostly only "natural aroma". The taste does not have to come from the fruit in question, but can also be made from other vegetable or animal raw materials. For example, animal juices can be found in fruit juices, the consumer protection organization Foodwatch reported. The legal regulations for food additives cause more confusion than clarity. For example, the aroma must consist of 100 percent fruit if the ingredient is "apple aroma". With "natural apple aroma" at least 95 percent must come from the apple. According to Rehlender, the tested water tasted and smelled, with the exception of one product, not fruit-typical and error-free, but mainly flavored and only fruit-like.

A worrying find of benzene
The product testers also checked the beverages for harmful substances and specifically five products that contained benzoic acid. It is a preservative that creates the risk that the beverage may be contaminated with carcinogenic and germ-cell-damaging benzene. According to Rehlender, 0.6 micrograms of benzene per liter were found in water tested. The current limit for drinking water is 1 microgram per liter. Since all four products with cherry flavor contain the flavoring substance benzaldehyde in large quantities, which is similar to benzoic acid, they were also tested for benzene. The "completely unacceptable load" of three micrograms was found in one. However, the results have not yet been finally clarified and further tests are necessary. (sb)

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