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Condiments, spices and herbs

Condiments, spices and herbs

According to the FAO, spices can be defined as “vegetable products used for flavouring, seasoning and imparting aroma in foods”. Herbs, considered a subset of spices, are leafy spices, and some, like dill and coriander, can provide both spice seeds and leafy herbs.

Culinary herbs and spices are valued for flavouring food and could also provide other beneficial properties, such as antioxidative and bacteriostatic effects as well as certain pharmacological activities. Their supply chain is complex, long, and globalised.

European countries do not have a suitable climate to grow most spices. Europe is one of the world’s leading importing regions for herbs and spices from tropical and semi-tropical countries. It accounts for about one quarter of the world’s total imports of herbs and spices. In the case of herbs consumed in Europe, most of them are also produced in Europe.

European importers are looking for high-quality, sustainably-produced spices and herbs.

Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Spain and Hungary boast the largest outputs of spices (and few herbs) in Europe. The key herbs and spices produced in these countries are anise/badian/fennel, thyme (Poland), coriander seeds, chillies (Spain and Hungary) and capsicum/paprika. Domestic production in these countries appears to have declined in recent years.

Dried herb production mostly takes place in France, Italy and Greece. Parsley is the most popular dried herb, but European production also includes basil, bay leaves, celery leaves, chives, coriander, dill tips, chervil, fennel, juniper, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, savoury, tarragon and thyme.

The most important European ports for spices and herbs are Rotterdam (the Netherlands), Hamburg (Germany), Antwerp (Belgium), Felixstowe (the United Kingdom), Algeciras (Spain) and Marseille (France).

The largest hub for spices are the Netherlands, followed by Germany (re-exporter of black pepper from Brazil), Spain (for dried chillies and particular herbs used in processing) and France (Vanilla from Madagascar).

After the outbreak of COVID, sales of spices that support immune function, like ginger, curcuma and garlic, grew particularly rapidly and this growth is expected to continue in the next several years as spices are thought to contribute to healthy lifestyles. The growth for the category in Europe is forecast to remain lower than in other regions worldwide.

The European demand for spices is growing mostly due to interest in new tastes, particularly in East-Asian cuisine, and healthy living. Driven by the desire to have ‘clean labels’ to better meet the expectations of health conscious consumers, food business operators are keen on using natural ingredients instead of chemically defined additives.

Types of condiments, spices and herbs

The different types of condiments, spices and herbs products could be classified considering which part of the plant is:

Seeds and Fruits (allspice, vanilla, coriander, pepper, cardamom, nutmeg & mace)
Leaves and Stems (basil, bay leaves, mints, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme)

  • Flowers and Buds (clove, ylang ylang, saffron)
  • Roots and Rhizomes (turmeric, ginger, onion, garlic,horseradish)
  • Bark, Wood and Resins (cinnamon and cassia)

Regulatory Framework of condiments, spices and herbs

Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs

Regulation 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers

Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 microbiological criteria for foodstuffs

Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 food additives (sweeteners, colourants,…)

Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 contaminants in foodstuffs

Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 pesticides on food and feed of plant and animal origin

Countries’ regulations are in place in most of the EU countries.

Safety and Quality of the condiments, spices and herbs sector

Microbiological safety of this category is a challenge, given the global nature of the spice and dried aromatic herb industry, and the diverse ways in which spices and dried aromatic herbs are produced, processed and used. Microbial inactivation treatments are critical, but must be combined with other mitigations (validated microbial reduction treatments p.ex to control Salmonella spp) and controls as part of GHP, GMP and HACCP to ensure the safety of spices and dried aromatic herbs.

One of the main concerns in the Quality of Condiments, Spices and Herbs is Fraud.
Supply chains in the herb and spice industry tend to be long, complex and can pass through many countries. Such complexities present many opportunities for criminals to carry out Economically Motivated Adulteration (EMA) . The
stages of the supply chain can include grower, collector, primary processor, local traders, secondary processor, exporter, importer, trader, processor / packager, food manufacturer / retailer / wholesaler, and finally the consumer. At any stage of this supply chain, a number of fraud opportunities can occur including misrepresentation, adulteration and substitution.

In the 2021 EU wide coordinated control plan to establish the prevalence of fraudulent practices in the marketing of herbs and spices, finding that the overall rate of suspicious samples was 17%.

How Mérieux NutriSciences can support you

Mérieux NutriSciences, through its complete offer, supports the confectionery industry from raw materials to final product in order to ensure product conformity. Our analytical offer responds to the specificities of each matrix in relation to the regulations, hazards and consumer requests.

360 solutions and services by Mérieux NutriSciences

Biological Testing

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  • Mould and yeasts, Salmonella spp, Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus, Escherichia coli, E.coli STEC, Enterobacteriaceae, …
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Chemical testing

  • Composition

Nutritional analysis, Water content, Acid content, colourants, Minerals and heavy metals, Vitamins, Fat profile, cholesterol, amino acids, …

  • Contaminants

Heavy metals, Mycotoxins, Extraction solvents, Mineral oils- MOSH and MOAH, Dioxins and PCBs similars to dioxins, Radioactivity. Process contaminants:  Acrylamide, MCPD esters and glycidyl esters, furans and methylfurans, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), Ethyl carbamate, Heterocyclic amines, Hydroxymethylfurfural. Benzopyrene. Melamine and its analogues.

  • Residues

Pesticides / insecticides / herbicides / fungicides/Chlorates and Perchlorates. 

  • Allergens (milk, lactose, egg, gluten, sulphites, …)
  • Quality parameters 

Grading is usually based on the following criteria:

  • Altitude and region.
  • Number and classification of defects or imperfections.
  • Screen size – screen size is important to ensure uniform roasting which improves the quality of the final product.
  • Colour of the green coffee.
  • Density and water activity.
  • Roast appearance, which helps to discover quakers. Quakers are lighter and underdeveloped beans in comparison to the rest of the roasted beans.

Specialty coffee is also graded according to its cupping profile. Fragrance, flavour, aftertaste, balance, acidity, sweetness, uniformity and cleanliness are important when cupping.

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Physical testing

Foreign particles, product Defects, pests

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