Do you know what might be lurking in your chili powder, turmeric, pepper and other spices?
Taco night with a side of lead?
Sawdust, industrial dyes and the chemical element are just some of the things that may be lurking in the spices in your kitchen. “Many people have some adulterated spices in their cabinet,” says Karen Everstine, a food fraud expert and scientist at US Pharmacopeia, a scientific nonprofit organization that sets standards for food ingredients.
“As an industry, we are aware that adulteration can occur and generally acknowledge that if the price is too good to be true, there is probably a reason,” a spokesperson for the American Spice Trade Association, which represents companies that companies that grow and process spices, says.
That’s because, since most spices are ground, it’s easy to add fillers into them, Everstine explains. Plus, supply chains for these products are often complicated, and the FDA only inspects about 1 % of the products coming into the country.
The spice mostly commonly corrupted with unwelcome additives: Chili powder, according to data that US Pharmacopeia ran for Moneyish. Industrial dyes, plant husks or other fillers may be added to it to color it bright red, Everstine says. Turmeric, the trendy golden spice that reached peak hipster status, making cameos in everything from lattes to eggs, is another offender. In this case, lead chromate, which is bright yellow, is sometimes added for color. That can be dangerous when the levels of lead get too high, as they did last year when certain turmeric brands were recalled.
Chili powder and turmeric are far from the only spices with gross additives. Papaya seeds are sometimes used as a substitute for peppercorns, myrtle leaves for oregano, colored grass seeds for coriander. And peanuts, which three million people in the U.S. are allergic to, have been found a number of times in a number of cumin brands in recent years. The problem got so bad, the FDA had to recommend people with peanut allergies altogether so they didn’t put themselves at “risk of a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction,” the government noted.
ASTA says that is “has zero tolerance for adulteration” and points out that “most instances of adulteration that we are aware of involve substances that are not a safety issue, such as foreign leaves in oregano.
On way to help you avoid unwanted additives in spices: Buy whole spices and grind them yourself, say Everstine. Even if you don’t want to do that, you may be able to figure out if unwanted additives are lurking in your spices. In the cases of both chili powder and turmeric, adding them to water should do the trick. If these are artificially colored, the water may change color as you watch, says healthcare advocate Michelle Katz, author of “Healthcare for Less.” With peppercorns, a close look at the contents may do the trick: “If there are papaya seeds present, they look oval and shrunken and are a greenish or even brownish black color,” says Katz. And, of course, there’s always the good old taste test method.
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