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CR tests for heavy metal levels in spices and herbs

Most of us shake spices on our food and add them to our recipes without much thought, but Consumer Reports found there could be problems with some of them.

“Of all the spices that we investigated, one-third of them had concerning levels of heavy metals: lead, cadmium or arsenic,” says James Dickerson, chief scientific officer with Consumer Reports.

Dickerson says Consumer Reports tested 126 herbs and spices from 38 different companies. Concerning levels of heavy metals were detected in every brand of oregano and thyme tested. The metals were also found in almost all brands of ginger and basil tested. And in around half of the paprika and turmeric brands that were tested.

Studies have shown that frequent exposure to lead, cadmium, and arsenic can be damaging over time. “For children, during their early stages of development, these heavy metals can adversely impact their neurological development as well as the respiratory development,” Dickerson says.

Spices are often grown overseas where contaminated water can lead to heavy metals in the soil. The American Spice Trade Association says an analysis shows spices make up less than .1% of dietary lead exposure in children ages one to six, and the risk is low in adults.

Dickerson says, “don’t panic.” He says the good news is every brand tested of curry, garlic powder, black pepper, coriander, sesame seed, and saffron did not have concerning levels of metals.

“Think about what herbs and spices that you and your family use and diversify the amount that you use, so don’t overload on a particular spice,” Dickerson says.

In the Consumer Reports tests, organic products did not perform any better than non-organic spices.

You can read the full report here.


Correspondent: Naomi Ruchim
Producer: Chris Stein

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