Would you like some sand with you black pepper powder ?

Thomas Wiegele

08 Apr 2021

3 min

Powdered spices vs Whole spices

"Powdered spices vs whole spices" by spicexplorer.com

After investigating 180 establishments, French authorities have found many irregularities within powdered spices making it rather unhealthy to cook with.

In 2018, the French authorities overseeing the Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control, the DGCCRF, controlled over 180 establishments (producers, importers and traders) focusing on powdered spices, particularly: saffron, pepper, chilli, paprika, curry, tumeric, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and ginger. After thoroughly analyzing 179 samples, investigators reported that 26% of the powdered spice samples had anomalies and 25% had quality defects.

Would you like some sand with your black pepper powder ?

The DGCCRF reported 2 kind of anomalies within powdered spices:

  1. The addition of filler substances: To decrease the cost of production, companies would mix spices with other cheaper ingredients. While they are harmless like starch or salt, investigators also found sand in some samples...

  2. Labbeling deficiencies: These faillures related to product labeling range from allergens not being mentioned to net weight lower than that announced on the label.

What kind of quality defects were discovered ?

Quality defects spotted by investigators ranged from the presence of substitute ingredients to outright lies on the type of ingredients used in the powder. 

For example, a sample of cinnamon was advertised as being from Sri Lanka when in reality it came from China which has different physico-chemical properties. In another instance, a saffron labelled as "saffron flower" was actually 100% safflower flower which has nothing to do with saffron !

Compliance rates vary greatly between spices

  • Saffrons: Only 19% were compliants

  • Peppers: 41%

  • Paprikas and Chillies: 46%

  • Curries and Tumerics: 59%

  • Other spices and mixes: 65%

France is not an isolated story, far from it

A report published by Which? in 2016 showed that out of 78 samples of Oregano sold in UK, 25% were using olive and myrtle leaves as filler substances that could sometimes represent up to 70% of the final product.

Australia and Denmark reported similar stories in 2016 and 2017 regarding oregano.

What now ?

There is no denying that powdered spices are extremely convenient in the kitchen. They save us time and effort when we are busy cooking. For many, going back to manually preparing spices for each dish in a mortar and pestle is unthinkable. Nevertheless there is no denying that it would be harder for companies to make sand look like whole peppercorns. If after reading this you are considering switching your habit from powdered to whole spices but are reluctant to manually prepare your spices, I recommend you to look for mixer-grinders that are specialized in grinding spices using blades or you can check our automatic mortar and pestle, Spicero, which is about to come out later this year.


  1. Contrôle de la qualité des épices. (2018). economie.gouv.fr. https://www.economie.gouv.fr/dgccrf/controle-qualite-des-epices

  2. Howes, O. (2015, July 23). Does your spice rack contain fake oregano? –. Which? News. https://www.which.co.uk/news/2015/07/does-your-spice-rack-contain-fake-oregano-408737/

  3. Staff, C. (2018, November 19). Oregano fraud in Australia. CHOICE. https://www.choice.com.au/food-and-drink/groceries/herbs-and-spices/articles/oregano-fraud

  4. foodnavigator.com. (2017, October 19). 40% of oregano tested was adulterated - Forbrugerrådet Tænk. https://www.foodnavigator.com/Article/2017/10/19/Danish-testing-finds-oregano-fraud

Food fraud, whole vs powder spices, Risks spices