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The Spice Trap: Navigating the Perils of Adulteration

Adulteration in Spices

In the previous blog we discussed about how adulteration is more common practice than we would like to imagine. In this blog we will discuss in detail about different types of adulterants in details. Read about classifications of adulterants here

How to check for adulterants?

Regardless of one's area of expertise, consumer preferences, or business type, it is quite easy to recognise the most frequent forms of adulteration in whole spices and powders. These adulteration methods can be carried out effortlessly by anyone, highlighting the importance of remaining vigilant and safeguarding your business. Below are the most commonly adulterated spices and powders with their identification.

Chilli Powder and Turmeric Powder: The main adulterant that is added to a chilli powder and turmeric powder is food colouring, which often makes it appear more genuine. However, to test if your packet is adulterated with this adulterant, you have to follow the same procedure for both. Add a pinch of powder in a glass of water and note its dispersion. If it is adulterated with food colouring, it will change the colour of the water very prominently. In case of turmeric, slight yellow colouration of water is to be expected. Some other common adulterants in red chilli powder include brick powder and sawdust.

Black Pepper: Papaya seeds are a very common adulterant present in a packet of black peppercorns. All you have to do is add a handful of black pepper over water, as the papaya seeds are much heavy, they sink, whereas the black pepper will continue to float.

Cinnamon: Usually mixed with cassia bark, which has a similar colour and texture as the spice itself. However, upon close examination, these adulterants can be easily visible. Cassia bark has more layers and a different aroma altogether.

Cumin Seeds: The only way to remove the fennel seeds from cumin is by visual inspection. Take a handful quantity of cumin seeds, and upon close examination, fennel seeds could be extracted. The fennel seeds would appear longer and lighter in colour. There are a lot many different ways for the cumin, which we will be covering in one of our future blogs.

Mustard Seeds: The way of checking for adulteration in mustard seeds is to observe them closely. Mustard seeds tend to have a certain light tone of yellow pigments and are much lighter in appearance as opposed to argemone oil, which is instead darker.

It is more common than you think....

Here is a look at instances of adulteration which resulted in substantial losses for importers:

  • In 2018, a well-known spice importer in Europe suffered a loss of over $1 million due to the discovery of adulterated turmeric powder. The company faced legal penalties and a damaged reputation.

  • A U.S.-based importer experienced financial losses exceeding $500,000 when their consignment of chilli powder was found to be adulterated with brick powder. The incident led to customer complaints, product recalls, and legal battles.

  • A Canadian importer incurred losses of around $200,000 when their consignment of cumin powder was found to be adulterated with an excessive amount of fillers. The company had to recall the product, compensate customers, and invest in rebuilding their brand image.

  • In 2019, a spice importer in Canada was fined $500,000 after it was found that they had imported cumin powder that was adulterated with artificial colours.

  • In 2018, a spice importer in the United Kingdom was forced to close its business after it was found that they had imported chilli powder that was adulterated with brick powder.


The prevalence of adulteration is more widespread than imagined. This article highlighted various types of adulterants in spices and powders and provided methods to detect them. Instances of substantial financial losses and reputational damage can be devastating for the company. Hence by staying informed and conducting simple tests, we can protect our businesses and consumers from deceptive practices.


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