Tuzemák faces EU health concern

The flavoring chemicals in Czech rum may be carcinogenic

Czech tuzemák has again caught the attention of food regulators in Brussels. A chemical used to create the artificial rum flavor in the popular Czech liquor is suspected by the European Food Safety Authority of being carcinogenic. The chemical, called rum ether, is also used in candy and bake goods.

An EFSA report published in August concluded that some chemical components in rum ether “are carcinogenic and genotoxic” and as a result “rum ether is of safety concern.” The European Commission will evaluate the information and could ban the chemical from use in food and beverages across the European Union.

If that happens, Czech Agriculture Minister Marian Jurečka (KDU-ČSL) will ask for an exception so that tuzemák, commonly called Czech rum, can still be made, according to daily Hospodářské noviny. He added that Czech rum was a traditional alcohol that is also used in cooking.

“We want to negotiate with the European Commission and with the European Food Safety Authority. We will want all the documents and want to know if the small amount that is in tuzemák is dangerous,” Jurečka said.

The European Commission has granted exceptions before when banned substances were a part of traditional culture. Some fish in the Baltic States and Scandinavia were granted exceptions, but cannot be exported.

Producers of Czech rum say that the rum flavor in the final product is highly diluted. They also say the ban would hurt business. Liquor sales have been falling and are just recovering from a methanol scare five years ago. Since 1990, liquor sales are down 30 percent, according to the Czech Statistical Office (ČSÚ).

People buying liquor also tend now to by more expensive brands and types, rather than the traditional types such as Czech rum.

This is not the first time the EU has dealt with the issue of Czech rum. As part of the conditions for joining the EU in 2004, the Czech Republic had to agree to stop calling the flavored liquor “rum” on the label, as it is not made from sugar cane and does not meet the international definition of rum.

As a result bottles of Czech-produced rum must be called something else. Most brands use the name “tuzemák,” but it is still commonly called rum in pubs. The name “tuzemák” is derived from “tuzemský rum,” which means domestic rum. Other countries in the EU also had to change the name.

The beverage has been made since the 19th century from potatoes or sugar beets plus added flavors, and was sold throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The empire had no colonies in the Caribbean, and no cheap source for sugar cane.

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