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NMR Authentication: The Best Food Fraud Detective for Spices

Today’s market conditions have created a “perfect storm of opportunity for fraudsters”, according to a 2023 article by Dale Buss in Food Technology Magazine. Because of the supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, record-high recent inflation rates, and new commodity shortages caused by war and weather disasters, incidents of food fraud are climbing. Food fraud now affects about 1% of the global food industry, with a cost of at least $10 billion to $15 billion a year, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The European Food Safety Authority estimates that food fraud incidents rose by about 30% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spices, being high-value commodities, are frequent targets of food fraud: these occur through adulteration, substitution, dilution, and mislabeling. Some of the most frequently adulterated spices typically include:

  • Saffron: Due to its high cost, saffron is frequently adulterated or replaced entirely with cheaper substances like marigold flowers, turmeric, or strands of red-dyed silk fibers.
  • Turmeric: Adulteration of turmeric often involves adding fillers such as starches or toxic metanil yellow, coloring it with synthetic dyes to enhance its bright yellow color.
  • Paprika and Chili Powder: These spices can be adulterated with cheaper, less potent chili types, dyed substances, or even brick powder in extreme cases.
  • Black and White Pepper: These are often adulterated with cheaper fillers like ground papaya seeds, buckwheat, or other substances.
  • Oregano: Oregano is often bulked up with leaves from other plants, such as olive or myrtle leaves.
  • Cumin: Ground cumin can be adulterated with fillers like ground barley, or in some extreme cases, it has been found to be adulterated with potentially allergenic peanut proteins.

Third-party authentication services are the best defense against food fraud. No matter how trustworthy a chain of supply might have been in the past, today’s conditions have led to contingency buying across many markets. And because it is impossible to know what kind of fraud might exist, targeted testing can be fruitless.

The principle of NMR relies on the magnetic properties of certain atomic nuclei. NMR can provide information about the structure, composition, state, and even the identity of molecules in a sample. In order to build a defense plan against food fraud, consider authentication services that include NMR testing.

Fight food fraud! Learn more about the power of NMR and the testing services available at Purity-IQ.

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