They instantly invite you to travel and sublimate the slightest recipe. But fraud and an ugly pesticide put them in the hot seat. Our wise advice to spice up without being fooled.
In ten years, our consumption of spices has jumped by more than 35% (source: DGCCRF). For the magic of their taste, we accumulate them in our cupboards, without knowing that some contain allergens or filler substances (starch, almond powder, etc.). And now there is the case of sesame imported from India, contaminated with ethylene oxide, a pesticide banned in Europe since 1991 and detected in our small jars! What to do? Maybe buy them more expensive, but better.
Rififi in the grocery store
In September 2020, a Belgian company discovered during a self-check of ethylene oxide in its sesame, at a rate 600 times higher than the authorized maximum residue limit (MRL). Fighting in Europe with the withdrawal of thousands of batches of sesame, spices, and other food products… “With this scandal, the repression of fraud has landed in our country in the Gard. As we all know our suppliers, our analyses were good. They are right to control this already so discredited sector” plagues Martin Lacroix, spokesman for the company Arcadie (arcadie.fr) which holds 80% of the organic spice market with its Cook brand.
The scarcity of spices makes some falsify them, in order to reduce their cost of production. If the fillers, added to artificially increase the weight, represent 19% of the anomalies, a quarter of the controls have pointed the finger at the quality: the “saffron flower” is actually safflower flower (bland cheap substitute), medicinal turmeric replaces the food spice, certified cinnamon from Sri Lanka (the best) comes from China (necessarily cheaper), etc.
Long live the made in France!
Of course, there is the Espelette pepper, the saffron of Quercy and Gâtinais, but how to imagine Sichuan pepper in the Southwest? “I wanted organic but no air transport, so I imagined a brand of French spices,” says Samir Ouriaghli with a smile. On the site of his young company, Ankhor(Ankhor.fr), there is no shortage of surprises: coriander from Auvergne, ginger from Berry, caraway from the Drôme, or Reine-des-prés to replace the expensive vanilla…
Guarantees of quality and traceability
If we can rely on organic spices sold by weight in silos, such as those installed in stores by the Cook brand, it is recommended to avoid buying those offered in bulk on the markets. Spices put in bottles or jars indicate ingredients, conditions, and place of production. Finally, fresh or whole, so often tasery, they can be used, grated, crushed, etc.
Small producers and local short circuits
Roï Hendel, the founder of the organic spice brand Shira(Shira.fr), took a long time to find the family farm in Spain producing a rare old-fashioned smoked paprika. Alongside the producers during the harvest, the former cook brings back from Nepal organic curry leaves and saffron with the scents of brioche. “From my childhood, I kept in mind the perfumes of the Levinsky market (Tel Aviv). They inspired me the “Amazing Mixtures”, handmade in the workshop.” The result is stunning. The sachets of spices, fruits, vegetables, grown and dried in a short circuit, are poured into the water of the rice to make a feast! All at fair prices, for consumers and producers alike.
A market divided in two
About 55% of the French spice market is in the hands of the American McCormick & Co, the owner of Ducros and supplier of mass distribution. Then there are the enthusiasts… Before creating Terre Exotique, Erwann de Kerros ran a pepper plantation in the Penja Valley, Cameroon. “Our work is 100% artisanal and there is no chemistry in our 600 references. Each bay represents a culinary culture from afar: Cambodia, Ethiopia, Madagascar, or Indonesia,” says the one who, from now on, brings his treasures aboard a long-distance sailboat…
The opinion of our expert
Antoine Haentjens is an agri-food engineer at the Comparative Testing Centre of the Institut national de la consommation (INC). www.inc-conso.fr
“The majority of peppers tested in 2019 contained between 35 and 40% starch. The worst is the spice blends. The more the product is processed, the easier it is to slip overloads: crushed olive stones, flour, sand, etc. As for the presence of ethylene oxide (which kills bacteria) in sesame and other spices, it is due to hygienic conditions that are not respected. The problem is that tracking down this pesticide was not part of the routine testing for customs. And that the German laboratory Eurofins was the only one in Europe to be able to search for traces of this phytosanitary product, carcinogenic to humans, but also capable of causing damage to human DNA.“