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Poor Quality Spices Cost Processors More

Buying cheap spices means paying more - up to 25% more per pound of finished product.

Over the past 5 years or so, we have noticed a general decline in the quality of the spices coming into the Canadian market.  There are limited government regulations or standards for spice quality in Canada, and demand for ‘cheap’ spices has resulted in poor quality spices becoming the norm across the board in Canada – poorer quality than those available in Europe, and even in the US.  Over the past 6 months, together with the technologists at RAPS Germany, we have analyzed many of the common spices available in the Canadian market – and we were both surprised and disappointed. 

Comparative tests included reviewing the colour, smell, taste and chemical properties of black and white pepper, chilies, nutmeg, ginger, and oregano. 

Spices are treated differently across the world.  For example, the European spice market demands higher quality for all of their spices.  This includes how the spices are cleaned, how they are sterilized, and how they are tested both for volatile oils and also for possible adulteration (with Sudan red) and for toxins (including aflatoxins). As a result, European spices and seasonings taste stronger, and are purer and more consistent than those normally available here.

Some Results from the Lab:  Testing Spices in Canada
Here we publish our results for four of the spices most commonly used in food processing - all sourced from standard distributors in Canada.  Here’s what we found:

Cayenne Pepper
The “hot” taste of cayenne pepper is measured in scoville heat units (shu).  A general standard for our specifications has been for 35,000 shu, with the understanding that there would be a 10% range as the volatile oils in cayenne pepper are difficult to standardize.  Our test results reported scoville heat unit values of only 22,000 – 25,000 – when the specification sheet stated 35,000.  This difference results in noticeable differences when blending seasonings, including those used for pepperette units or hot sauces, for example.
Oregano Flakes
We tested a number of samples of oregano flakes that are distributed in Canada.  Our tests showed up to 30% of the “oregano” was in fact bits of sumac leaves, myrtle leaves and olive leaves, including twigs and stems.  This allows for a cheaper price, and also a cheaper product with much reduced flavour.  Usage would have to be increased to achieve the traditional flavour, and it would still be impossible to obtain a true clean oregano smell and flavour.  The poor quality is then also carried into ground oregano.  (This same blending of “other” leaves was found with Sage and with Laurel).
Much of the nutmeg sold in Canada today is from Indonesia.  West Indian (Grenada) nutmeg was traditionally the nutmeg of choice due to its excellent flavour.  In 2004, Hurricane Ivan caused catastrophic damage and destroyed approximately 60% of the island’s nutmeg crop.  Today, Indonesia has 75% market share for nutmeg, but the flavour is not the same, so that again, seasoning blends are affected.  Today, the price for Grenada nutmeg is higher than nutmeg from Indonesia, and therefore not readily available in Canada.  The same considerations apply to ground mace.  (Our partnership with RAPS will allow us to again supply Grenada nutmeg to our customers.)
White Pepper

In doing flavour tests for pepper, consideration is given for the country of origin, methods of cleaning, and method of sterilization. Piperine (volatile oil found in pepper) is one consideration, however strict water quality when cleaning and the use of steam sterilization all combine to provide a “cleaner” pepper smell and taste.  We noticed a great deal of variation in flavour and potency among standard peppers currently available to processors in Canada.

As a result of these quality differences, dosage level required to obtain a full and intense spice flavour when using these “cheaper” spices is higher.  By increasing the required dose, the cost of the required spice per product also increases and is no longer cheaper in comparison - processors are in fact paying more for the cheaper, poorer quality spices on a per-product basis.  According to our usage survey, it’s up to 25% more, depending on the processor and the end product.  Sadly the result is an unnecessarily expensive, yet still inferior end product - something that the industry, and indeed consumers, would prefer to avoid. 

The Team at Malabar Super Spice


Call 1-888-456-6252 [MALA], or email info@malabarsuperspice.com.

Gourmet Liquid Marinades are manufactured by Raps GmbH and distributed in Canada by Malabar Super Spice

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