Food Fraud with Spices and Herbs

Packaging looks great, seller states Grade A Premium while selling at the cheapest price

Talented people can me a sows ear look like a silk purse, when you get it though and it looks pretty you start to look closer and then you see something is not quite right

Its an oxymoron statement to say best quality and lowest price - you cannot get best quality at a price lower than the rubbish being rejected, that is not how economics works, doesn't matter how much you buy in one go, the cream rises to the top and costs more than the milk

A recent radio programme on BBC Radio 4 highlighted food fraud, in particular with Spices and Herbs, fascinating to listen too, a link is provided below - valid for 12 months from writing this article March 2024 - 30 min episode

To cover some of the points we do here at to ensure what we source is what it is, from start to finish


A word we use often, plants have to be grown in the right area of the world where the evolution of the plant allows it to be happy, happy spice happy meal

Do the farmers and producers produce lots of different crops?

In some parts of the world small holdings produce the majority of the crops consumed domestically and exported, something that joins up every culture and generation

These farmers will produce a varied assortment of crops, harvest every month to be paid every month, these farmers are not usually the problem

The problems start with large producers who will buy up lots of crops and then process in the same unit - machinery as every other crop

Cross contamination is rampant

The aim of these producers is quantity, the more you can produce the more you can make

Bulking Out

A practice known to many, take a crop that is cheap to produce and add it to one that is expensive - flour in mustard is a classic case, very hard to see with naked eye, hard to taste if you are not aware, adding 20-30% bulk to the spice saves or makes a lot of money when containers can hold upto 20 tonnes

This is before we get to adding lead to weigh the crop further, I know its hard to believe but this does go on around the world

Spent Spices

This is the practice where the essential oils that make up the aroma and flavours of the spice are extracted to make spice oil extracts

What is left is tasteless dead plant matter, no use to anybody par the people who want to buy a spice at the very cheapest price

Paprika and Turmeric are popular targets for this

Adding Dyes to improve the colour

Cayenne is another classic case with this, olives too

Chilli pods mature to an end colour, most are red, however they mature through a colour spectrum depending on how long it sits on the plant, starts light red to a dark red

If the harvest picks lots of light red and some green pods, cleans, dry, grinds into a powder, the colour of the cayenne powder can make a difference in the price

The unscrupulous traders will then add what is called Sudan B dye, several types and I guarantee you have seen these dyes all over the place - Plastics!

Sudan B are used to dye plastics into blue, white, greens and red, mixed it will produce a wide range of colours, using red in cayenne powder will make it a deeper red cayenne powder that is more attractive and sells at a higher price

Consuming Sudan B will give you cancer!

Olives get a higher price for being larger and greener, the size cannot be fooled easily, the colour though is, spraying olives with copper sulphate witch turn them a deep green olive colour

Consuming copper sulphates is poisonous


When you combine all these awful practices a farmer - producer can make a lot of money over a shipment of 20 tonnes which can be sent every month, the economic incentive is sadly present with Spices and Herbs

What do we do?

The first part is knowing who you are buying from, in most cases we source from specialised companies who just do Garlic or Cayenne etc, dealing with one crop provides the producers with the cream and the milk, they dont need to do bad things to make sales

This doesn't prevent the problems though, skills in knowing what aroma the spice should be, look and feel - touch is highly important, as in the case of the spent spices, when the oils are removed you are left with dry dead dust, when the crop is fresh and full, the oils are present, felt and seen

Microscope will identify the particles that make up the colour - the naked eye blends small particles into one colour, as in seasonings which come across as mostly one colour, when single spices are viewed under a microscope you can see the different coloured particles that make it up - they should be very similar, bulked out spices will show different shaped and coloured particles

Dyes are harder to see or feel, a scientific test is required for this, which is performed by a globally recognised laboratory, along with tests for metals, diseases and fungus

When crops are ground to a powder, where its ground is just as important as the source of the crop, in most cases we are part of a cooperative where we get some stocks ground with others to make it worthwhile, most reputable grinders will not work for less than a ton a a time, this is too much for us, being part of the coop allows us to ensure we know what's in the crop, it not being bulked out, just clean spice as it should be

We do not buy on price and label - back to authentic, you cannot buy quality at the cheapest price

Ensure Lab tests are all present and correct

While we always try to get the best price possible for ourselves and our customers, the cheapest end of the market is not where you will find us

Take the Taste Test

After all these tests and points to check, we then get to the final stage, good old fashioned - try it for ourselves before selling, a simple consuming session goes on, for a new supply its several of us, an existing supply it falls to one of a few people who are trained to do such a test

Even after all of this, even after tastes tests, a spice that has been supplied by the same company for years can still come bad, a recent example we have had is Hungarian Paprika, for some 20 years supplying the very best consistent good paprika, the last batch was orange not red, low in oils, low in flavour - wrong dimension and aroma was gone, lower Asta levels, we suspect its caused by climate changed harvests

Asta Levels refer to the colour red on the spectrum of light - the higher the red number or Asta number the better the paprika is, 120 is good, 150 is great, anything lower is bad

This leads us to a new problem facing the worlds famers ....

Climate Change and growing crops

As climate change moves over the globe harvests are being affected, in some cases a crop that should be harvested 3x a year - 4 in a good, 2 in a bad year has seen just 1 harvest in the last year, whether its drought heat or swamping, the crop hasn't grown or been ruined, Parsley in this case has been affected badly

Prices either increase as annual bills dont change, or the producer sadly lowers the quality without saying anything, as in the case of the Hungarian, which just ruins a great long standing relationship, for one not being honest and hope for the best, we will not buy again unless we are convinced it is right, finding new suppliers providing quality takes time, especially considering the context here

Out of Stock - Delayed Delivery

It is annoying to us and to you when items are out of stock, I do not like to see this, over the last few years supply chains have been interrupted for all manner of reasons, the desire to sell at a certain level by some producers is creating more food fraud then we have seen before

I could buy spices very numerous sources around the world and domestically if I didn't care about any of these points, but I do and as such when supplies are a problem and the next best supply is just not good enough then it doesn't pass our tests, it is not sold

For me I would rather be honest and tell you there is a problem than try to supply something that would ruin years of good supplies

BRC - ISO Quality Controls

British Retail Consortium - BRC is a quality control certification, expensive to get, expensive to run and has very little control over the quality of the food, lab tests are for sure a major part of this along with from farm to table traceability, non of this though is about the actual aromatic and flavour quality of the product

If the produce is rubbish, but you have all the paperwork that satisfies BRC then you will get Certified

Be very wary of companies that state BRC Certification means a Quality Product - its another oxymoron statement, a company can source spices from BRC companies and there are good ones out there, there are some bad ones too, ISO is similar but more generic, same results, some good - some bad, if we do not follow the steps above we cannot say quality spices are sold here, lab tests check for details of what is in the spice, DNA testing checks the authenticity, 500 million years of our senses evolving to understand our food for sure plays a major part


After covid, brexit, inflation and an ongoing climate change problem, food fraud will continue.  Making sure we follow simple steps described above will ensure we will always provide the best best spices, herbs and chilli

Aromatically and Flavoured correctly as 100s of years of farmers intended it to taste 

If you have any questions on this, our food or quality please contact Steve and the team to help 





















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