Why is water most preferred as an adulterant in many food products?

“No doubt, everything has merit or demerit. It depends on the purpose of usage, as drinking water is not an exceptional case. Water for life and life for water resemble each other, but they should be for a healthy purpose. When it is used as an adulterant, it may cause violations of consumer acts, regulatory bodies, or counterfeit to customers. Water is a simple, polar, and universal solvent, resulting in universal adulteration, easy availability, and cost savings in the process of adding other liquid chemicals to mix into the desired products to increase product volume. Water is the major component of drinking water, beverages, and most foodstuffs. Therefore, they are a soft target for adulterated water, but they can be traced with a sophisticated analyzer.

The detection of added water is quite a challenging task because of the natural availability of water as a moister. The water activity of food products already exists, which can be distinguished from added water, i.e., water adulterant. Water adulteration has been the most common practice in milk to increase volume for a long time. It causes a reduction in nutritional value as well as it may cause serious health problems due to contaminated water. FSSAI conducted a survey in 33 states across India and reported that milk was potentially adulterated with water and other substances such as detergent, fat, and urea. These are the handful of examples that do not comply with FSSAI or other regulations.

How much water is the cynosure in the adulterant market?

Water acts as a diluent for other chemicals added to milk, such as urea, detergent, ammonium sulfate, melamine, starch, sugar, and neutralizers. Thus, water plays a key role in making diluents or solutions for mixing in milk. But water adulterants can be detected with the help of a comparison in physical characteristics between control and market milk samples, which may be confirmed by a significant difference in pH value, freezing point, specific gravity, titratable acidity, and viscosity or simply be detected by a lactometer.

Water adulterant is very cheaply available, or it may be used in another way as it increases the moisture content and ultimately promotes the weight of products. But sometimes it may cause harm to consumers as water content increases in food, making a silent offer for bacterial contamination.

Water adulteration is not only limited to milk, but is also used in alcohol, soft drinks, and other beverages. Fruit juice products are added with dilution water to increase volume. It is one of the most serious frauds for getting economic benefits, especially if poor quality water is added to fruit juice to cause serious health issues for the consumer.

How can you identify adulterated water in food or beverage products?

At present, several methods have been developed to test for added water in fruit juice. One of the most commonly used Brix values is an estimate of how much water and sugar are present in juice samples. If the Brix value is estimated below the required specification, it implies that there is over dilution of water in fruit juice, while a higher Brix value is indicative of the addition of sugar.

Another sensitive and costly technique using the isotopic signature of oxygen in this water is different from that naturally present in fruit juice water. The addition of water in fruit juices or wines can be detected by measuring isotopic ratios of oxygen (O18/O16) and hydrogen (2H/1H) by isotope ratio mass spectrometer.

The Brix value is given as per FSSAI regulation 2011




Name of the Fruit

Botanical name

Total Soluble Solids in °Brix (Min)

Acidity expressed as Citric Acid Max. (%)



Ananascomosus (L.) Merrill Ananassativis L. Schult. f.





 Mangiferaindica L





Psidiumguajava L.





Malusdomestica Borkh.




Mandarine/Tangerine /Orange

Citrus reticulata Blanca



Why is testing for water adulterants required?

Adulteration of alcohol, milk, and any other beverage is a punishable offence according to sections 272-273 of the IPC, Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, and Consumer Protection Bill 2019. Cultivator Phyto Lab offers testing solutions for all types of adulteration in your food and beverage products. CPL lab testing services ensure compliance with national and international requirements, which will provide you with the highest quality products.

Authors : Sandeep Sharma and Dr. Sanjoy Gupta