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Are There Harmful Ingredients Lurking In Your Spice Cabinet?

Before I started investigating what’s in my food, I had no idea there were several harmful ingredients lurking in my spice cabinet!

Spices have incredible medicinal properties including curbing hunger (cayenne), boosting metabolism (paprika), and fighting inflammation (cinnamon), but these benefits are more likely to be realized if the spices are purchased and consumed correctly. 

Conventional Spices Contain Harmful Ingredients

There are many reasons for adding spices to food, including enhancing flavor, boosting nutritional value, and also preserving freshness.  Unfortunately, when we buy conventional spices, they often contain more negative qualities than positive. Like conventional food found in supermarkets, many of the spices we find on the shelves are treated with chemicals, contain GMOs and are irradiated. Virtually all conventional spices sold in the United States are fumigated [sterilized] with hazardous chemicals that are banned in Europe.

Conventional Spices

What is Irradiation?

Food irradiation is the process of using radiation to kill bacteria and other contaminants. But while radiation is used to reduce bacteria in the spices we are consuming, the finished product has decreased levels of vitamins and natural enzymes. Irradiation changes the chemical composition of a spice, potentially creating toxic, carcinogenic by-products in the food and increasing our exposure to free radicals. Free radicals cause aging and disease – something we want to avoid at all costs!

How To Buy Spices Safely

With that said, it’s extremely important to fill our pantries with spices that promote health, rather than take away from it.  Below are strategies for buying spices to make flavorful dishes, promote health and limit your exposure to hidden toxins.

  1. Always buy organic spices – not only will they not have toxic pesticides, but they also will not be irradiated. Organic spices cannot have genetically engineered ingredients (GMOs), artificial colors, preservatives, and other synthetic anti-caking agents. (Some of my favorite spice companies include – Simply OrganicFrontier, and various store-brands that are organic.)
  2. Buy spices from the bulk bin to get the most bang for your buck. Buying a small amount ensures the spices will be used in an appropriate amount of time. 
  3. Check the expiration date. Spices, unlike wine, do not get better with age. Make sure you clean out your pantry often to avoid using expired spices. With age, spices lose their powerful benefits.
  4. Replace conventional spices as soon as possible. If your spice cabinet is full of conventional spices, start to buy organic spices for each new recipe you make week after week, eventually you’ll have a whole new assortment of organic spices to choose from. 

Share This Info With Everyone You Know!

If you know someone who could use a spice cabinet spruce up, please share this post with them. They will hopefully love you for it.

Spreading good cheer, 
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152 responses to “Are There Harmful Ingredients Lurking In Your Spice Cabinet?

  1. Thank you SO much! I have just been changing out my spice cabinet over the course of a couple of months and wondering if I should just pitch the gigantic container of cinnamon that I’ve been using or wait till I ran out. I think I will get rid of it now. It’s the only one left that isn’t organic. I’ve been wondering about olive oil. Are there issues with GMO olives? What is the best way to choose a good olive oil? Thanks again! 🙂

      1. awesome find John thank you for sharing so glad Kirklands olive oil was on there that is just what I buy 🙂

    1. I live in the country and our neighbors grow olives. EVERYDAY, they are out there shooting their guns and killing the birds in the trees..I am LIVID about this. I have yelled out when they do this but they do it more and my landlord told me not to cause problems even though he hates it too. We are also afraid they will shoot our ferals here on our property. My landlord says they have a legal right to shoot the birds. I HATE these people and our legal system. These people also go to the farmers market here in the summer to sell their olive oil. I want to expose them as killers and let people know how many critters die so they can use their olive oil.. these idiots just want to use this as an excuse to kill…oh, sorry..Thank you Food Babe for finding this wonderful company that donates their money to the Orangutans.

      1. Is it legal in your municipality to shoot guns? I would check with your township supervisors. Also, perhaps you can get someone with a camcorder to film them shooting birds and post it to social media. More than likely, these people may have a Facebook page.

      2. Thank you Dee. I did get some video, but I was too far away..You could hear the gunshots and mostly me freaking out..My landlord says they have a right since we are in the country..I have not had any luck at stopping this. I will continue pursuing this..justice for all sentient beings..Thank you so much for your suggestions

      3. Are they actually killing birds? you need to verify this is so with a carcass. Perhaps you could swallow a bit of your anger and go for a diplomatic approach? Maybe ask them if gunfire is the only way to protect their olives? Apple orchards use bird netting over trees to keep the birds from being able to land and peck. If the growers are unable to do this, perhaps–if you verify they are actually killing birds–you can ask them to simply shoot the guns into the air to frighten the birds away. This may not help with the noise situation (and yes, if they are not within town limits, it is generally legal to fire guns at will). You could check with the local game warden and find whether these birds qualify as vermin (which means it is legal to shoot them) or whether they qualify as game (which means it is legal only certain times of the year). If nothing else, you may garner them a visit and aggravation from the game commission while their activities are investigated.

        But it seems to me they may just be trying to frighten birds away. If they are killing them in the air, that will not teach birds to not view their trees as food. If they are killing the ones actually in their trees, that would damage the trees or fruit as well. Check to make sure they are actually killing birds or just being a very loud scarecrow. In any case, getting angry and dancing on tables is not going to do anything but make them defensive and drive you insane with frustration. Seek a diplomatic negotiation. If they aren’t actually harming birds, maybe you can negotiate a different firing time when it would not be as much of an issue for you and your other neighbors.

      4. Thank you for the great advice. Your suggestions are appreciated and I will see if I can resolve this matter soon.

  2. Ok, I am a due hard for most things organic and nonGMO, but a spice company revolutionaries my cooking years ago. I don’t think I can switch. Have you heard of Penzey’s? Their spices are incredible. So much more pungent than even Organics in the store, and they are a family owned company, as far as I know, with no additives. I suppose there are still pesticides. Their customer service is awesome…I will have to call and have a chat with them!

      1. Bonnie, I too am a diehard Penzeys customer. Please do share what info you get out of them! I hope it is good! 🙂

    1. Penzeys is incredible I just got my catalog a few days ago. Some of the best spice blends around. I just haven’t found any better. Who knew they could beat Watkins in my book, LOL 🙂

    2. I, too prefer using only Penzeys spices. They have some shops locally here and it’s almost like a vacation visiting there to smell all the different herbs and spices. So much more fresh and pungent than any other brands I’ve ever tried. I know they don’t promote being organic or anything, but it would be difficult to let them go. If anyone gets any more information on their practices plus update the rest of us!

    3. Bonnie,
      I agree Penzey’s does have some really cool spices, but they don’t have organic, and they are a large corporation. They are from here by me in WI. Because of the lack of decent organic spices in my area, I started my own business. Happy Mouth Organics. I sell organic spices, oils, teas, and even sugars. I hope to soon be able to sell on my website, I’m working on it as we speak.

      1. I just called Penzeys. I have been purchasing ALL my herbs and spices from them for years. Sad to say they cannot guarantee non-GMO ingredients and their farmers may use chemical additives. On the up side, they do not use anti-caking agents nor do they irradiate (I was told it was too expensive to do so and not that it was hazardous and refrained for that reason).

        Sadly, I will start to look elsewhere. Even Simply Organic (a division of Frontier) uses suspect ingredients like corn syrup solids and maltodextrin.

      2. Joan R,
        Thanks so much for checking with Penzeys!! This is why I only sell spices certified organic by Quality Assurance International. They have a much higher standard than the USDA.

  3. My husband is highly allergic to spices and tries hard to avoid them in his food. In restaurants it’s almost impossible and a great night can go bad very quickly with just a few flicks of a dried basil or oregano shaker. I think this article is a great reason why. I wish corp America would just leave our food alone and give us the good stuff instead of lining their pockets.

    Thank you THANK YOU Thank you for exposing the truth!

  4. What do you know about spices bought in Europe? Last time we were there my husband purchased TONS of our favorites. More likely they’d be healthier than spices bought here?

    1. If it is Knorr there is MSG in it – that upsets the stomach, gives you headaches, red burning cheeks and diarrhoea. Unfortunately there is MSG in many products 🙁

  5. So, are the bulk spices we buy from bulk stores like Bulk Barn safe? You didn’t make any comment about that when you said “buy bulk” for freshness…

  6. I usually buy all the asian spices at the Indian store, thinking they would be better…guess not! Thanks for the info!

    1. Try it again – you need to put the code “foodbabe” all one word into the coupon box at check out.

      1. You wrote the magic word, ‘coupon.’ On my mind for some time is the plethora of coupons we’re deluged by…. newspaper inserts, websites, in-store shopping guides, etc. No, it doesn’t apply to yours!
        But, I want to put a ‘bug in your ear’ about the nature of them as a topic to run with as I can’t think of anyone better for bringing it off.
        Notice how many are for packaged foods including those with GMO and other unhealthy content. It’s just another way to sucker people into the bad food trap, sugar addiction, gut issues, et al.
        Using them is not really a bargain. Save 20¢ on each enough times and it will cost really big bucks on medical bills at some point in the future.
        Of course those manufacturers of the foods we should be buying would serve themselves well if some icon could be added to their coupons that would get embedded into the public’s mindset for further impact on the nation’s awareness. Repetition does have the result of forming a habit that could become a good addiction.
        Please think about it……..

      2. I just got it , Thank you Vani ! please do more selfie pic’s….lol 😉
        Check this out , me laptop took a big poop on me , so I’m rockin W95 desktop….lol groovy huh ?? 😉 Hey Vani , you and hubby dear have a groovy new year !!! 😉

      3. FOODBABE works for discount, but Dan said you have to buy $75. worth, not $50. which is a lot for first time buyers who want to try first. :-/

  7. You said that organic spices cannot contain anti-aging agents, but when I was trying to find a good organic chili powder, I normally purchase Frontier, but noticed silicone dioxide in the ingredients. Is that safe to consume? If not, do you know of a good one to buy?

  8. I’ve been using Red Ape cinnamon for over a year now. I love cinnamon, but was WOW’d the first time I opened the bag and smelled this stuff. I go through a LOT of cinnamon as I put it on everything! I buy the 1lb bag ever other month from a co-op. I will never use another brand of cinnamon.

    1. Oh man that’s a lot of cinnamon- I really suggest you look into the cassia vs. Ceylon issue! If you don’t have liver or detox problems, you might not need to worry about it, but just in case, you should look it up. I learned about it recently, and I do have liver probs and I eat a lot of cinnamon.

      1. Thanks for the heads up! I saw that my co-op carries Ceylon cinnamon in 1lb bags, so I will be ordering that next time. I love cinnamon, but also consume it to help regulate blood sugar. I do not have liver problems, but I do eat an awful lot of cinnamon and put it on and in much of my food.

      2. I have looked into the issue. The majority of studies that show the benefits of cinnamon, actually use cassia. Here’s a great recap of the controversy by the Wall Street Journal. The worry comes in if you are trying to eat several teaspoons in one sitting, which I don’t do, nor do I recommend. A small amount has a great benefit, but with any herb or spice, it’s important not to go overboard.

      3. To get the health benefits, you should be consuming the same amount that you should NOT be, because of the health consequences – around 1 teaspoon a day. The article you linked to states this: “From a safety point of view, Ceylon cinnamon is better.”

        Moderation, yes, of course, but to your reader who is already eating 6 pounds of cinnamon a year, it would have been responsible for you to bring this to her attention.

  9. I was shocked to see organic spices from China at whole foods. And simply organic/frontier they don’t mention country of origin on their spices. What’s your opinion on spices imported as organic from other countries?

    1. Unfortunately, a lot of spices are grown in that part of the world. FYI – Red Ape comes from Indonesia.

    2. I’m confused – what’s wrong with organic spices from China. They are still organic, aren’t they?! Or are they really not?

    3. Interesting – I never did trust conventional food products from China. However, I only purchase two organic products made in China because there is no other alternative for that product. But overall, I’m not that surprised and kind of expected those negative results anyway.

  10. What is the best turmeric and red cayenne pepper…I take a half teaspoon of those daily with my cinnamon

      1. Do you know if spices Trader Joe’s contain these nasty ingredients. TJ seems to be pretty careful with having extensive organic offerings, although in looking through our spice cabinet I don’t see any TJ spices listed as organic! Thanks for your help!

  11. If you are looking for ceylon cinnamon that is organic and comes from a trusted source. Try Renegade health -Kevin Gianni. I have been following him for years and have always been satisfied.

  12. Do you know anything about Penzey’s? I have used theirs almost exclusively for years because they are so much tastier than other market-available brands.

    1. From what I understand Penzey’s is not organic – spices are often dried in the sun without washing, so you definitely want to avoid non-organic spices because of the pesticides that can be found in concentrated form.

      1. Dried in the sun is the best way to kill all pathogens.
        This is well documented.
        I buy second hand books and antiques and the only way to sterilize them is with the Sun.
        For fast drying though they might not sundry them but use other methods
        God knows what!
        There are new technologies out there that dehydrate anything within a few minutes!
        No matter how much organic are the herbs, they are dead after this process.
        I hope it is very expensive to buy the equipment and they do not use it

    1. Great idea Susan! I was starting to do that as I was cleaning out my cabinet. It’s so funny that I have been thinking about the effectiveness/cleanliness of my spices. I started to use some of my old cinnamon to diffuse in water. Something weird I noticed was that the cinnamon was clumping together in a gel-like substance…it really makes me wonder about what is really in it. ?! Another use for poor cinnamon would be making cinnamon applesauce ornaments. Heh! Who knows…maybe the bad stuff holds together better. 🙂 I’ve now been using doTERRA essential oils for my cinnamon and many other spices…they are great and potent without any unknown fillers.

  13. You might want to also mention that it’s preferable to purchase domestic spices. Recent news reports show that imported spices often contain animal feces, insect parts, disease-causing bacteria, and other foreign contaminants, and over 12% are infected with salmonella.

  14. I think the Red Ape Cinnamon site crashed. Maybe you sent too much business their way. I was trying to order and it will not work. :9

  15. I can’t get the website to I load. I keep getting 500-Internal Server Error. I assume maybe the website has too much traffic? Anybody else getting this message?

    1. Edith – The website is currently down (too much traffic – oops!)… they are working to resolve it and will send out a facebook blast about it 🙂

  16. This email came just in time. I am cleaning out my mother’s pantry this week, and New Spices are high on the list! You rock, Food Babe! You are definitely on my list of emails that I am thankful for this holiday season.

      1. Vani, Could you please -please- please -recommend what material mortar and pestle, we should be using to grind up or spices and herbs??!!? They have ceramic, marble, cast iron, stainless steel, granite, volcanic lava rock, etc… being that there are so many different times and it types of material, I know some are less toxic than others. Some are more healthier than others. Can you recommend one over the other? I know that granite is probably not a good option, but I see them everywhere! Could you please tell us what type material you use? Thank you so much!! Be well, Leslie

  17. Thank you for posting about our spices Red Ape Cinnamon. Now, I’m thinking maybe there are other organic spices that we should use. Do you have a preferable online market for other spices? Thank you for sharing.

  18. Thank you for posting about our spices & Red Ape Cinnamon. Now, I’m thinking maybe there are other organic spices that we should use. Do you have a preferable online market for other spices? Thank you for sharing.

  19. Thank you for sharing. I have been buying Frontier for a while and I appreciate the endorsement.

    1. Found at Whole Foods, so I don’t have to order online, I can pick it up at the store.

  20. I am working on using more natural and organic foods.. We aren’t completely there as a family but getting much better. I found a company called Wildtree that is certified organic. They have tons of seasonings and blends that are amazing. I loved them so much that I started selling them. I was shocked when I realized there was junk in my spices too.

  21. Thanks for the info on spices and rice . I was wondering if you could also give brand names, or sources for non GMO brown beans, and brand names for Frozen veggies that can be bought on line or in grocery stores. I try to cook from scratch as much as possible. However in the winter time I use more frozen veggies and fruits Keep up the good work and Thank You Again.

  22. I thought Cassia cinnamon had something in it that was harmful like a blood thinner?
    Ceylon Cinnamon does not have this issue!

  23. Thanks for the article. I never thought about spices having pesticides in it. Thanks for letting us in Canada know where to buy organic spices. I will be switching
    Mary Lynn

  24. I would have thought you’d recommend “Ceylon cinnamon” -TRUE cinnamon, instead of cassia. Sort of disappointed.

    1. I’m disappointed too, but even more so that my comment from this morning was removed! It’s in my email generated from this site, so I pasted it below. It’s quite telling that my comment was deleted for introducing some pertinent facts, when it wasn’t in violation of comment policies. I get that this blog is Food Babes livelihood and that she has obligations to the sponsor, but cinnamon is a powerful food-as-medicine product and the responsibility she has on that front should come first.

      “Red Ape sounds like a cool company for sure, but the type of cinnamon they sell is cassia, which isn’t the best type for your body. Cassia has some health benefits, but it can also be harmful to your liver, while Ceylon cinnamon is better for you and not harmful. Here’s just one internet source on that: I’m shocked that this wasn’t addressed. I get all my Ceylon cinnamon and other spices and dried herbs from Penzey’s also.”

      1. James – I did not remove your comment… but thanks for sharing your opinion again!

    2. Everything I’ve been reading/researching has said it’s very important to use Ceylon Cinnamon…that Cassia Cinnamon can be very dangerous, maybe even fatal & they haven’t determined on how much/or little could be dangerous/fatal…You get massive benefits from Ceylon without the potentially dangerous/fatal consequences of Cassia…my point of view is, why take the chance if there are much better options?? I bought Ceylon & you can definitely smell/taste the difference!! it is very good!!! I highly recommend it!! as with everything, make sure you buy from a reputable place!!

  25. Hey fellow Food Babe fans I really like this article I am trying to buy cinnamon that is bioavailable (problem solved thx to you Food Babe) but can you recommend a site that has bioavailable chromium piccolinate ? I am trying to treat my moms’ diabetes with holistic medicine and need to buy several vitamins and I do not trust GNC on this and I dont want to waste $ thanks friends

  26. Hi FoodBabe! I am looking for an equivalent red chili powder to Swad and also curry powder/tandoori chicken BBQ mixes similar to the ones made by Shan. Just learned some recipes from the Indian mother in law and eager to explore healthy versions to keep my taste buds excited ;). Any ideas or do you have recipes you can share for home made spice blends using Frontier or Simply Organic? Also, any idea which specific red pepper is used in Indian cooking?

  27. Hmmm i used this product before reading about the differences between cassia and “real” cinnamon. There are claims that cassia, even organic, may contain unsafe levels of the toxin coumarin. It wasn’t easy but I have found organic real cinnamon. Its flavor is quite different from the cassia we are all used to, but it is lovely. And healthier for us? What do you think?

  28. I’ve learned alot from your website. I’d just like to say, tho, that on a limited income I cannot afford to get all things organic…we do not live anywhere near a Whole Foods, nor do we have access to a farmer’s market except in suppos summer – fall here. When I go to a grocery store, I have to go by price…we are big lovers of seafood, cannot afford it. My husband won’t eat anything like hummus or quinoa; and I certainly cannot addord to pay more than 3.00 for a spice – what are people like us to do?

  29. Hey Foodbabe, other than the bit on free radicals from radiation which makes sense intellectually, are there any other sources you can cite on the claim that these irradiated spices are more than simply damaged or with less efficacy due to this radiation exposure? Thanks

  30. Hi Food Babe,
    Love love all of your investigations. My husband, 7.5 month old son and I all eat organic, plant based, non processed food. My husband eats organic, humanely raised pastured meat maybe 2x a week (and my son mainly eats breastmilk…)
    Anyway I am a sterilization scientist and a microbiologist and I just wanted to point out that “funigated” is not the same thing as “irradiated”. Fumigated means sprayed with chemicals. Irradiated means exposed to a radioactive source to kill bacteria (and unfortunately destroy sine of the benefits of food). Lots of things are irradiated: some conventional fruit (to kill fruit fly larva), some of the US mail (to kill anthrax), contact solution, etc.
    I’m not saying it’s good, I avoid irradiated food as well, but it is not the same thing as fumigated. I could have read wrong, maybe you meant spices are funigated AND irritated (long day) but I just wanted to weigh in!

  31. Food Babe,
    Thank you for your good work. What are your thoughts on mixing a Table spoon of various spices in hot water and drinking as tea… ?
    I’ve tried a mix of cardamon, coriander, cumin, turmeric and fennel as suggested by very health conscious friends. Any thoughts or research you reviewed on this would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again,

  32. We use Frontier and Simply Organic spices in our recipes too… thanks for the Red Ape info, will check it out. Outside of grinding your own nutmeg, Frontier’s is fabulous.

    Cocoa too – is similar to spices in terms of processing – Cocoa Camino’s is our choice, your brownies will never taste the same again LOL 1tbsp oil mixed with 3 tbsp cocoa = 1 oz sq melted chocolate in a recipe.

  33. I can not believe what a difference this organic cinnamon has made. I have always added cinnamon to my morning coffee. It smooths out the coffee and add yummy flavor but I also did it to help fight inflamation from my Fibro condition. I had no idea that my non organic cinnamon really wasn’t helping with the inflamtion not until I tried the Red Ape Cinnamon. After adding it to my morning coffee the difference in my inflamation was so huge. I immediately could feel the swelling go down in my body. After two days I was doing the happy dance! That’s it I’m swapping out all of my spices for organic right away! The difference was huge!!!!

  34. FB,
    A few days ago, when you posted this thread on Facebook, you made the claim that McCormick spices are irradiated. I commented that this wasn’t true and asked if you could verify the info you hand shared with the masses. Soon after I was blocked from commenting on you Facebook posts, and the said Facebook post is now not there….is this you standard protocol you implement when someones comments differ from yours? I found it pretty weak. I’d still love to see your source saying McCormick is irradiated….

  35. Food Babe….you are a blessing to people like us that CAN handle the truth. I want to know everything about what my family and I am consuming. Thank you sooooooo much for sharing this information with us.

  36. I would like to know if you use or if anyone else uses Old Bay season which is used to season seafood? And if you dont use it could you please inform me as to what season you do use. I am working on switching my seasoning cabinet over to all organic seasonings. I also would like to know what kind of hot sauce do you use, if you use it, if not could you recommend a good brand. I currently use Tabasco pepper sauce by McIlhenny Co, Franks Red Hot. And what is your opinion on Sriracha Hot Chili sauce

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