India is a leader in the global spice market and is known the world over as “the Home of Spices”. It caters to 48 percent of the world demand for spices. Spices are consumed in various forms as whole spices, ground spices, oleoresins and extracts and are used to enhance the flavour and taste of processed foods. They are also used in medicines because of their carminative, stimulating and digestive properties. Spices are also an integral part of a kitchen in India as no Indian meal is complete without them.
Consumers buy a number of spices each month and when packaged spices are not available they even buy loose spices. However, buying loose spices increases the risk of consuming adulterated spices as loose spices are sometimes adulterated with artificial colours, chalk, starch, etc. which increases the weight and enhances appearance. Spices that are of high value are often adulterated for economic gains and adulteration is often difficult to identify by visual and sensory means alone. Consumption of adulterated spices is a health hazard which can lead to skin allergies, liver disorders, etc. Since loose spices have a high probability of adulteration so the FSSAI has banned the sale of ground loose spices. This document will increase consumer awareness about the safety of ground spices and serve as a guide to ensure that consumers do not buy adulterated ground spices.
Adulteration in ground spices
Spices have a high value and are most often sold in the ground of powder form which makes it easy to adulterate them. To add weight to the spices less expensive or low-quality spices, flour, cornstarch, sawdust and chalk powder are mixed into these spices. Sometimes toxic and carcinogenic dyes are also added to the old stock to enhance their appearance and hide the presence of the adulterants. Metanil yellow and lead chromate are used in turmeric; Sudan 1, a red dye is used in chili powders which are non-permitted colours and category 3 carcinogens.
Consumers must keep in mind the following points
- Avoid buying powdered spices sold loose
- Buy packaged spices from trusted brands especially that have the AGMARK logo as these are AGMARK certified
- Check for the FSSAI license number on the packaging
- Whole spices must be bought from known/ reputed stores or dealers and ground at home after they have been cleaned and washed. Since adulteration in whole spices can be visually identified so chances of these being adulterated are low.
- Do not buy spices that have extra shine or bright colours as they are likely to be adulterated
- Do not buy spices that are lumpy and which have an unpleasant odour
- Read the manufacturing date, manufacturer details, best before the date and other labeling declarations before buying spices
- If the package is damaged do not buy the ground spices
- When buying organic spices always look for the FSSAI organic logo (Jaivik Bharat)
Health effects of adulterated spices
Adulteration is intended for economic gains but it leads to serious public health risk. Long-term consumption of adulterated spices may lead to stomach disorders, vomiting, diarrhea, liver and skin disorders, neurotoxicity and even cancer.
Common adulterants in ground spices
- Black pepper powder – Addition of papaya seeds, starch, and sawdust
- Turmeric powder- Addition of lead chrome, metanil yellow, chalk powder or yellow soapstone powder and starch; substitution with other rhizomes like arrowroot.
- Chilli powder – Addition of brick powder, salt powder or talc powder, artificial colours and dyes, colour, grit, sand, dirt, filth, sawdust dried tomato skin
- Asafoetida (Hing) – Addition of soapstone or other earthy material, starch and foreign resin
- Coriander powder – Addition of dry animal dung, seed removed coriander
- Oregano – Addition of other similar herbs and plant leaves
- Curry powder – Addition of starch powder and sawdust
- Cinnamon – Substitution with cassia
- Cumin – Addition of grass seeds coloured with charcoal, immature fennel
- Saffron – Addition of coloured dried tendrils of maize cob, sandalwood dust, Tartrazine and coconut threads
- Cardamom – Substitution with de-oiled cardamom, artificial colorant like ‘apple green’ and malachite green
How to detect adulteration in ground spices at home
Adulteration in ground spices can be detected at home by using simple test methods that have been listed in Detect Adulteration with Rapid Test (DART) booklet prepared by FSSAI. This book is a compilation of common quick tests for detection of food adulterants at the household level and can be carried out by consumers themselves. It can be downloaded from the FSSAI website https://www.fssai.gov.in/Pink-Book-and-DART.html.
How to report sale of loose ground spice adulteration
- Consumers must inform the Food Safety Department about any illegal sale of loose ground spices in their areas. Anyone can report the problem, relating to the safety of food to the concerned State Food Safety Commissioners
- Contact details of Food Safety Commissioners are available on FSSAI website fssai.gov.in
- Consumers can also share their concern through the Food Safety Portal
- https://foodlicensing.fssai.gov.in/cmsweb/ or register their complaint on FSSAI app which is available from Google Play store
- Consumers can also visit http://foodmart.fssai.gov.in/home.html so as to become aware of food safety and labeling provisions
Provisions under Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006
Standards for 30 spices and condiments (whole and ground) are prescribed under sub-regulation “Salt, Spices, Condiments and Related Products (2.9)”of Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Additives) Regulation 2011. ‘Restrictions Relating to Conditions for Sale’ (2.3.14) of the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on Sales) Regulations 2011, states that powdered spices and condiments can only be sold under “packed condition”. It prohibits the sale of powdered spices and condiments in loose form. This regulation also restricts the sale of compounded asafoetida exceeding one kilogram in weight except in sealed container with proper labeling. There are provisions of penalties for persons who manufacture for sale or store or sell or distribute adulterated spices.
NOTE: the guidance document has been prepared by Ruby Mishra who is a Technical Officer and is based on FSSAI Regulations and standards. The guidance note contains information collected and compiled by the author from various sources that do not have any force of law. FSSAI does not take responsibility for any inadvertent errors and omissions in this note.
This article in FSH just highlights the important points in the FSSAI Guidance note