Real or Fake: How to Check If Spices Are Genuine?

Real or Fake: How to Check If Spices Are Genuine?

Ever wondered if your beloved spices sitting on your spice rack are the real deal or just clever imitators? It is time to distinguish the genuine from the fake ones! Get ready for the taste of truth as we dive into the hidden realms of the spice world.  

Veiled in Shadows: The Secret Truth About Spices

The whole reason we use herbs and spices is to create wonderful, tasty dishes full of flavor. So, the last thing we need is a low-quality, tasteless spice that we get completely annoyed by because it lacks aroma and flavor. Despite common perception, the problem is not solely in freshness or quality. The reason behind their poor aroma and flavor is far more alarming. The spice you bought may not actually be the spice you wanted. 

How is that possible? Take a deep breath and prepare yourself for the harsh truth. The spice you bought in your grocery store may be an imitation a fake, counterfeited, adulterated product full of cheap fillers, artificial flavors, toxic colors, and preservatives. Shocking, isn’t it? Or maybe not, considering the high global demand for spices, availability of the crop, and long and complex supply chains with many intermediaries. With all these factors, the fraudulent manipulations are just waiting to happen. 

Taste Bud Betrayal: Fake Spice Shenanigans

Donkey dung or manure was used to create spice. Photo by coffeekai

In 2020, the police in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh busted a factory producing fake spices using donkey dung, hay, acid, and inedible colors. They seized over 300 kg of counterfeit spices falsely labeled as local brands. 

In 2021, The European Commission published the results of the first research on the authenticity of herbs and spices in the EU. The goal was to discover misleading and unsafe products. The research found that the overall rate of suspicious samples was 17% (329 of a total of 1885 analyzed samples). 

Unfortunately, there is an alarming surge of counterfeit spices. It is our sad reality. But how are they made? What are some common malpractices that sneaked into the spice industry? 

Exposing the Dark Side: Common Malpractices

Diluting spices by adding other plants

Some suppliers play a deceitful game by adding other plants to herbs and spices, increasing their mass, and making them cheaper. The previously mentioned study showed that 48% of oregano samples were altered by adding leaves of various other plants. 

Increasing the weight and volume by adding fillers  

Another deceitful tactic is to increase the weight and volume of spices by adding fillers. Flour and starch are frequently used as a cheap way to add bulk to spices without adding flavor. Ground seeds and husks that are less expensive are often added to more expensive ones to lower their overall cost. Dust, chalk, and other fine particles are also used as fillers, undermining the quality of the spice, and reducing their aromatic and nutritional value. 

Enhancing the color with synthetic dyes 

Fake spices are often colored with synthetic dies to mimic the natural color of authentic spices. Deceitful sellers start with a cheap base ingredient and color it with synthetic dyes that imitate the natural color of spices. By grinding or mixing, and other processing tactics, they achieve the look of the original spice.  

Non-authorized and non-declared chemicals 

Another way spices are altered is by non-authorized and non-declared processes and additives. The majority of conventional spices sold in the U.S. contain toxic chemicals that are not allowed in Europe. Farmers often irradiate plants to kill bacteria and use pesticides to get rid of the pests. These chemicals can be hazardous.

In the packaging process, anti-caking agents are added to prevent the ingredients from clumping. Companies are not required to include these processes and additives in their labeling. Some chemicals are used to enhance the fragrance or flavor of spices. Some dried herbs, even from well-known brands, contain heavy metals that pose a health concern for children when regularly consumed.    

Fake Spice Alert: Mastering the Art of Detection

All that we say indicates that we are often not getting the pure product, even when we think we are. The only way to get a spice without fillers, additives, dyes, enhancers, anti-caking agents, non-GMO, and untreated with dangerous chemicals, is to buy 100% organic products. Still, some sellers try to deceive buyers with false declarations. It seems impossible for an average user to discern fake from authentic. Our sole chance lies in mastering the skill of discerning genuine spices. Here are some things to consider: 

Pay attention to the price  

Low prices are a red flag. Avoid cheap spices and sketchy bulk deals. Be aware of counterfeit spices even in well-known brands. Don’t let the brand name deceive you.  

Be aware of spices targeted by counterfeiters 

Several spices are more often altered and counterfeited, such as saffron, cinnamon, vanilla, oregano, black pepper, cardamom, turmeric, chili, and more. 

Wisely choose reputable brands and vendors 

It may take some time and a mistake here and there, but once you realize who the “good guys” are, you will enjoy your favorite spices to the fullest. 

Look for certifications and quality standards 

Learn to read certifications and check labels. Mastering this skill is an essential step to becoming a spice expert. 

Inspect the quality of seals and packaging 

Reputable manufacturers invest in secure packaging to protect their brand and maintain authenticity. Packaging must include essential information, such as expiration dates, batch numbers, and manufacturing details. That helps in making an informed decision about the purchase. 

Examine the appearance 

Be familiar with the spice you are buying. Know its genuine color, texture, smell, and taste. Authentic spices often have vibrant, natural colors, strong and distinctive aromas, and are consistent in size and shape. There should be no presence of foreign matter such as dirt, twigs, or insects.  

Recognize unpleasant scents and odors 

Genuine spices have distinct and complex aromas. Train your nose and develop your senses by smelling high-quality spices and recognizing their characteristic scents. 

Taste small quantities to verify the flavor 

Learn to differentiate between genuine and diluted flavors. Try different brands to distinguish variations in flavor and quality. Diluted spices may have a bland or modified taste. Excessive sweetness, bitterness, or lack of complexity may indicate that the spice is counterfeited. 

Conduct home tests 

Get informed about the tests you can conduct at your home to check the authenticity of certain spices. For example, add a drop of iodine to check if there is cassia in cinnamon. Or burn a small amount of saffron and inspect the fragrance. Real saffron has a sweet, pleasant fragrance, while fake ones often produce an unpleasant smell. Here's one of our blogs on how to avoid deceit and buy authentic spices.

Banish the Impostors from Your Spice Rack

It takes a lot of practice to become a real connoisseur, but the effort is worth it. Your new skills will help you recognize the imposters and purge your spice rack from any counterfeit infiltrators. Not to mention, your senses will be grateful for the richness and complexity of genuine spices and herbs. Do not get your taste buds fooled! Get the real deal! 

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