How to Tell Natural Spices From Fakes

The world of spices is amazingly bright and diverse. Unfortunately, we often buy low-quality goods or even cheap imitations. No one can be safe from this, even in countries where these spices are produced.

Bright Side gives a few simple tricks that will help you determine the quality of what you buy. Enjoy real aromatic spices!

  • Chinese cassia is often sold instead of cinnamon. They look alike, but cassia has a weaker aroma. In addition, cassia sticks are thicker and more coarse, and they're curled mainly to one side.
  • Ground cinnamon can be easily distinguished from cassia by adding a drop of iodine into the powder. If the spice turns blue, it's cassia.
  • When crushed, a fresh black peppercorn splits into pretty large pieces, leaving a slight fatty trace. A product of poor quality that is too dry or old crumbles into small parts when crushed.
  • White pepper should be creamy and slightly coffee colored; if the pepper is too white, it was most likely bleached. White peppercorns don't have shells.
  • Allspice should be large and have a dense even shell. Quality allspice peppercorns sink in water.
  • The ginger root should be smooth, hard, without wrinkles, and have a thin skin. If the ginger is wrinkled or mushy, it's stale. It's better if the root doesn't have too many growths, then the pulp won't have coarse fibers.
  • Ground turmeric can be replaced with colored flavored flour. In this case, it's easy to recognize the fake: simply dissolve the powder in water. Natural turmeric won't form whitish stains on the surface.
  • The whole root of turmeric is yellow or orange. The skin is thin, and the juice paints everything in a bright color. The root shouldn't be soft or wrinkled.
  • Star anise resembles anise in its smell and has a reddish-brown color. There should be 8 segments containing shiny seeds. Fresh star anise, if damaged, gives some oily liquid. If the stars are too brittle or too dark, it's an old product of poor quality.
  • Cardamom pods should be large and of an olive or greenish color. A bright green color can indicate the presence of artificial colorings; a yellowish or ocher color suggests it was wrongly dried or very old.
  • Real nutmeg is large, oval, and has a lot of furrows inside. Its wild fellow, often sold instead of nutmeg, has a more elongated shape and far fewer furrows when cut.
  • Quality clove buds are brown with heads of a lighter color than the stalks. They give oil when damaged. A clove has a strong aroma and a burning, slightly bitter taste.
  • You can check the freshness of the spice by lowering the buds into water. Fresh cloves will float vertically, while old ones will lie on the surface of the water.
  • Vanilla pods retain their flavor for several years. Quality pods have curls at their ends. They're chocolate in color, flexible, and from 15 to 25 cm (6-10") long.
  • Vanilla, even when not the best in quality and aroma, will be significantly better than its synthetic analog, vanillin.
  • Natural saffron is very expensive. When buying it at a "good price," you risk buying a fake made from turmeric, safflower, or dried beetroot.
  • The quality product is homogeneous, without crumbs, and of a rich burgundy or dark red color. When ground, saffron gets a powdery texture. If you dissolve the spice in water, it will be colored in the spice color only after 15 minutes.

General advice

  • When choosing spices, it's always better to choose whole and not ground ones. Ground spices are often diluted with cheap analogs and additives, and it's difficult to independently check the quality of such a product.
  • Pay attention to the packaging. It must protect the product from dust, moisture, and other smells. Glass is considered to be the best container: it doesn't let smells and moisture in, and it doesn't affect the aroma of the spice. Spices are affected by light, so it's better if the contents of the container are at least partially covered with a paper label.
  • Spice mills are the perfect containers because they let you grind your spices just before adding to a dish. In addition, they're reusable, which is very convenient.
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