The dangers of herbs and spices on a wheat free or celiac diet
I read a disturbing article this week on the latest food fraud. According to Which? dried oregano is the latest of the many food frauds to be uncovered. In their study, carried out by the Global Institute of Food Security, 78 samples of dried oregano were analysed and 19 of those samples were found to contain other products adulterating the oregano. In some cases less than 33% of the oregano in the package was actually oregano.
This is of course a big problem for people with food allergies or celiac disease. We have to take it on trust that the item we are buying is the item that the label and ingredients list say we are buying. Unfortunately food fraud in herbs and spices is not as uncommon as we would hope.
The problem is how to make sure that herbs and spices are pure. Some simple tips:
- Never to buy from bulk jars—you can guarantee that someone used the wrong scoop and cross-contaminated the entire jar.
- Avoid buying herbs and spices that are "discount" brands, you know the ones I mean. The higher quality—read expensive—herbs and spices are more likely to be pure, and some even state it on the packaging.
- Take care with fine ground mixes as some manufacturing dinosaurs still use wheat as an anti-caking agent though calcium silicate, silicon dioxide, or sodium aluminum silica are more commonly used.
- While those foreign spice markets are exciting, buying spices from them is not a good idea, especially in Third World countries where contamination or food adulteration is very common.
- Seasonings also require care as they are a blend of herbs and/or spices. These may use anti-caking agents from wheat, salt, sugar, or lactose, and while some countries now require these to be listed on the label, many countries still don't.
Because herbs and spices are usually used in such small quantities a typical celiac possibly wouldn't react to gluten cross-contamination because it would be well below the 20 ppm gluten codex requirement. But a wheat allergic person would probably still react quite violently—I know I would. It all depends on a persons tolerance level... mine being zero. But either way it's not worth the risk.
So where herbs and spices are concerned usually you really do get what you pay for. Go for the better quality more expensive versions to get the best chance of no gluten contamination or adulteration.
Manufacturers websites are also a good place to check. Before I buy something I haven't used before, or I'm restocking after I've used up what I have, then I just do a quick check on the manufacturers website—it helps to know which brands my local stores stock first of course.