In her acclaimed 1995 series, “Cooking With Master Chefs,” Julia Child stressed the joys of herbs and spices. To her, the beauty of American cuisine was that it has few boundaries, allowing you to create a style all your own. Clearly, you listened! Today Americans spend almost $1 billion per year on spices and $300 million on herbs!
That’s great! These flavorings can boost your love of veggies and leaner cuisines (Indian, Thai, Japanese, etc.), and there are many health benefits from spices. For example: According to Cleveland Clinic’s dietitian Anna Taylor, in addition to making a stir-fry sing, ginger might reduce inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, ease nausea and reduce muscle pain.
But hiding in your spice rack might be something you don’t want: lead. A new 10-year study found that more than 50 percent of the 1,500 imported spice samples from 41 countries had detectable lead, and more than 30 percent had concentrations greater than 2 parts per million (ppm), the amount considered safe for food. Spices from Georgia (the country), Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Morocco generally had the highest concentrations. Especially risky: The Georgian spice kviteli kvavili (yellow flower), turmeric, hot pepper, chili powder and paprika.
Fortunately, you can protect yourself and still enjoy the flavorings. Avoid purchasing spices in unlabeled bags or from scoop-it-out containers. Select ones produced by reputable U.S.-based companies. Use fresh spices and herbs when you can — identified with place of origin. And consider organic to help you dodge other toxins.