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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

8 Hidden Truths About Additives in (Organic) Spices

When you go to buy eggs in the grocery store, you do not expect to read the ingredients label to find anything other than eggs listed in it so why should it be any different for spices and seasonings?

If there is one thing in the spice industry that both frustrates and saddens me the most, it has to be the amount of non-spice ingredients companies feel they have to add into spices and blends in the name of "preservatives" when it is probably just another profit enhancing move.

I was perhaps quite naive when I started my company, Spice Sanctuary, as it did not even occur to me to include any non spice ingredients into the blends that I created. Yet this is common practice across North America and something many consumers may not even be aware of.

Before I go into the nasties present in so many spices, it is worth noting that for organic spices and even non-GMO spices, only 95% of the ingredients need to be certified organic or non-GMO and so the other 5% can be non organic or GMO leaving room for the nasties to creep in yet the product is still considered an organic product or non-GMO as the case may be.

I have taken a sample of Canadian and US companies offering both conventional and organic spices and blends within Canada to seek out the hidden truths everyone should know.

1. Silicon Dioxide

Silicon Dioxide is usually synthetically produced and is an additive in spices to act as an anti-caking agent to absorb moisture and prevent clumping. There should be no need to add this in at all because if the quality of spices is high and they are fresh and meet all Health Canada requirements, there will be no clumping. 

2. Citric Acid

When you think of citric acid you might think of lemon or lime acting as a preservative but no, this is far from a derivative of something so natural. Citric acid is in fact produced synthetically using ingredients such as sugar, beets, corn - in other words the most common offenders of genetically modified foods. The rationale for adding it to spices is to act as a preservative but again I bring the Devil's Advocate out of the closet and ask why is this needed if you are getting the freshest best spices? Even the Globe & Mail had something to say about its unsavoury production!

3. Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil

Essentially an oil extracted from the seeds of the cotton plant (a common GMO), it is yet another additive found in spices such as cinnamon to extend shelf life. Cinnamon is one of the most used spices in North America yet companies feel the need to extend its shelf life? 

4. Maltodextrin

Maltodextrin is yet another synthetically produced additive, this time to act as a thickening agent or some sort of sugar substitute. Ironically, it is made from starches and contains glucose in its composition and results in a high glycemic index of 85-105. The starches used to make it are usually corn based (a common GMO).  Healthwise, it is said to deplete the body of vitamins and cause other issues too.

5. Sugar

Spices and herbs are so often marketed as healthy alternatives to flavouring food with sugar and salt yet there are many seasonings (organic and not) that go on to contain sugar. The convenience that blends and seasonings bring may mean that consumers then don't have to think about adding sugar and salt when using it but in reality I wonder if they still go on to season it further?

6. Salt

Admittedly sea salt is better than table salt but again the contradictions in marketing spices and herbs as healthier alternatives to high sodium intake sends confusing messages to the consumer. If the blends and seasonings are well balanced and developed, there should be no need to add in salt and probably better to leave it to the consumer to manage their own intake.

7. Natural Smoke Flavour & Spice Extractive

I have to admit, as resourceful as I may be, even I don't know what exactly this means, how these are produced, whether they have any adverse effects and what they really add to any spice seasoning. Again, I go back to my fundamental belief that spices and herbs are natural food ingredients and if they are the best quality then their flavour should not require any further modifications or additions.

8. Ethoxyquin

I think this extract from Wikipedia says it all about this E324 additive/preservative:
"Ethoxyquin has been shown to be slightly toxic to fish.
Ethoxyquin is not permitted for use in Australian foods nor is it approved for use within in the European Union. It is an approved food additive in the United States."

As sad as it is, I encourage you to read the labels and ingredient lists of the spices you buy as it is clear not all spices are created equal and organic is definitely not enough when it comes to flavouring your food with the beautiful spices and herbs our planet has been blessed with.


  1. Great article. I would like to get more information on your company. How?

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  3. An eye opening analysis. Nothing but excellent.