Undeclared Additives: The Trojan Horse in Your Spice Jar

Undeclared Additives: The Trojan Horse in Your Spice Jar

In the vibrant and exciting world of spices, an unexpected concern quietly lurks – the presence of undeclared additives. These hidden ingredients can seriously affect our health. It is, therefore, crucial to be fully aware of the content of our spice jars. Let’s delve deeper into the hidden ingredients that can be found in spices we use every day. 

The Most Common Additives Hidden in Your Spices

Spice manufacturers are required to list all ingredients of their spices on the package. However, some ingredients may be listed collectively as “artificial colors” or “artificial flavors,” without naming each one. Some undeclared ingredients are harmless, but others are hidden deliberately because their use is not allowed or can be hazardous to health.  

Salt (Sodium Chloride)

Salt is known for being an excellent food enhancer. It is often added to spices to intensify their flavor and make them more robust. Salt is also used to increase volume, improve texture, or mask undesirable flavors in spice blends, especially in lower-quality products. In most of these cases, the presence of sodium chloride is not mentioned on the packaging.  

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Monosodium glutamate is a well-known flavor enhancer that adds a savory taste to foods, including spices and seasoning blends. It is considered safe, but many people claim to have serious allergies to this ingredient. Therefore, in the U.S. and many other countries, monosodium glutamate has to be declared on food labels. There is no established limit below which monosodium glutamate does not need to be declared. Still, it is not required to label it if a certain ingredient contains it naturally. 

However, labeling requirements may be different in other countries. In some cases, MSG is not clearly labeled because it is a component of another ingredient or is included under broader terms. MSG can also be hidden behind names like:  

  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein 
  • Textured vegetable protein 
  • Yeast extract 
  • Yeast nutrient 
  • Soy protein Isolate 
  • Whey protein isolate
  • Sodium caseinate 

Artificial Colors 

Adding various synthetic colors is a way to enhance the visual appeal of spices. Industrial dyes that are not authorized as food colors in the U.S. and many other countries are: 

  • Sudan Red 7B 
  • Methanol Yellow 
  • Butter Yellow 
  • Malachite Green 
  • Acid Red 
  • Congo Red 
  • Solvent Red I 
  • Naphthol Yellow 
  • Ponceau MX 
  • Oil Orange SS 

Nonetheless, these prohibited dyes are frequently used to enhance the appearance of counterfeit or low-quality spices. Therefore, to steer clear of spices contaminated with these potentially harmful substances, it is advisable to avoid spices in powdered form and buy unprocessed, whole spices from reputable retailers. 

Anti-Caking Agents 

Anti-caking agents are commonly used to prevent clumping or sticking together of spice particles. Anti-caking agents absorb moisture or act as a sealant to repel water and oil. The most common anti-caking agents or industry-standard ingredients are: 

  • Sodium aluminosilicate
  • Sodium ferrocyanide 
  • Potassium ferrocyanide 
  • Calcium carbonate 
  • Magnesium carbonate 
  • Calcium silicate 
  • Silicon dioxide 
  • Hydrophobic silica 
  • Calcium phosphate - bone ash 

By law, these ingredients are not required to be declared on labels. What that means is sometimes you are not getting a 100% pure product even when the label says you are.  

Preservatives

Substances like sulfites, nitrates, or benzoates may be added to extend the shelf life of spice products. They are often used to prevent spoilage caused by microorganisms such as bacteria, mold, and yeast. 

The rules for declaring preservatives in food labels vary widely by country and region. Some countries require individual listing of specific preservatives, while others allow more general labeling. 

Sulfites, for example, do not have to be declared in the EU if their amount is less than 10 milligrams per kilogram. The same rule applies in the US, except the use of sulfites as preservatives on food intended to be eaten fresh has been banned since 1986. 

In recent years, the use of nitrites and sulfites has become a concern due to the health problems that these additives can cause in humans. 

Fillers and Extenders 

Inexpensive ingredients such as starch, flour, or ground nut shells may be added to increase the volume of spice products. These fillers and extenders are typically safe but can dilute the purity and potency of the spices and compromise their flavor and quality. 

Labels rarely disclose this practice, leaving consumers often unable to know the true content of their spices. What appears to be a pure spice could be a blend with a significant amount of non-spice ingredients. This can be particularly concerning for those with specific allergies. 

Pesticide Residues 

Pesticide residues in spices refer to the remnants of pesticides used during the cultivation and processing of spices. The most commonly detected residues of excessive amounts in spices and herbs include: 

  • Ethylene oxide (ETO) and its metabolite 2-chloroethanol (2-CE) - both are banned in the EU 
  • Chlorpyrifos 
  • Anthraquinone 
  • Cypermethrin 

The use of synthetic pesticides is not allowed in organic production. Still, a very low residue level is allowed if proven to be the result of cross-contamination and not illegal use. The analysis of pesticide residues in spices and herbs can be a difficult challenge for laboratories. However, various regulations and procedures are being developed and established to protect the health of consumers. 

Allergens 

Spices can sometimes contain allergens that are not listed on the product label. One of the primary ways undeclared allergens get into spices is cross-contamination during processing or packaging. That can occur in facilities that process various food items along with spices. The most common allergens that contaminate spices are: 

  • Peanuts 
  • Nuts 
  • Soy 
  • Gluten 
  • Dairy 

The undeclared presence of allergens in spices is a significant health risk. For some people, even the smallest amount of allergen can cause serious reactions. While some countries and regions have strict regulations for labeling potential allergens, others do not, which leads to inconsistency in practices.  

Health and Safety Concerns 

Given the widespread use and importance of spices, ensuring their quality and safety is of utmost importance. Consumers have the right to know about any potential risks associated with spices and seasonings. Therefore, this article aims to offer accessible information and help you in making well-informed choices regarding your spice selections. Knowledge is power! Stay informed and protect your health! 

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