Tuzemák gets reprieve

The Czech version of rum has five years to get rid of rum ether

Tuzemák will survive for another five-year period, as European Union regulators gave the Czech Republic and Slovakia an exception to a ban on one of its ingredients. Tuzemák, which was sold simply as rum until the Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004, has been under fire because one of its flavor additives, rum ether, has been linked to cancer.

Manufacturers of tuzemák last year had been given a deadline of April 22 to either stop production or find a substitute flavoring agent. The manufacturers then asked the EU for a permanent exception, but the European Commission has decided to grant a five-year exemption from the ban on using rum ether so manufacturers can find a substitute flavoring ingredient.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in August 2017 said certain substances in rum ether pose a health risk. Rum ether is also used in the production of some non-alcoholic beverages and baked goods. The exemption only applies to tuzemák.

The specific chemical in rum ether that is suspected of causing cancer is called furan.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia asked the European Commission’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF Committee) for an exemption to a ban on its use in December, as it was not possible to change the beverage formulas in such a short time.

Manufacturers welcomed the decision. Jaroslav Burkart, director of the Union of Producers and Importers of Spirits (UVDL), told news server Aktualne.cz that the exemption gives producers some time to either produce a new version of tuzemák that meets EU requirements or convince the EU that rum essence does not pose any health risk.

Karel Melzoch, rector of the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague (VŠCHT) told daily Hospodářské noviny that some substances in tuzemák could be hazardous to health, but the suspected substances are also widespread in other foods. If all of the suspected foods were avoided, there wouldn’t be anything to eat or drink.

Some manufacturers hope that the EU will realize that the levels of suspected cancer-causing chemicals in tuzemák are comparable to what naturally occurs many foods, and the ban will be dropped.

Other manufacturers are already experimenting with new recipes.

Rum-type spirits are among the best-selling category of hard alcohol in the Czech Republic. Last year, customers spent about Kč 3 billion, according to a statistics firm Nielsen. Deals on tuzemák are considered a good way to attract people to a store, according to marketing analysts.

The production of rum ether dates back to 1832 when Sebastian Stroh began producing alcoholic beverages from food-based sources. It was used to make imitation rum, as real rum from the Caribbean was scarce in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It also quickly began to be used in foods as a flavoring.

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