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The Threat of Lead in Spices? Say It Isn't So.

The Threat of Lead in Spices? Say It Isn't So.

Over the weekend, I came in contact with a journalist, Susan James, from ABC who was doing a story about lead poisoning in children caused from Sindoor (a red powder used topically) and Indian spices, such as turmeric. Her article was prompted by a newly released study from the journal, Pediatrics. I encourage everyone to read it, especially if you cook Indian food on a regular basis. As we continue on our journey of mass production and globalization, questionable quality control in products is a fact that we simply have to face. Before you decide to dump Indian meals from your menu, consider this information a push in the right direction. The beauty of Indian cooking is that it is wholesome, healthy, and best when prepared fresh. So here are the ways this story pushes me in the direction I have been wanting to go anyway:

-Eat less processed food: Grind your own spices. By eating pre-ground spices, we are eating something that has been processed. So why not grind whole spices at home? It is much, much easier than it sounds. All you have to do is put whole version of cumin or coriander in a mortar and grind with a pestle. If you prefer to push a button, use your coffee grinder to grind spices instead. (Note, heavy users may want to buy a second grinder to keep the flavors of coffee and spices separate.) If you don’t want to grind them every time you cook, grind a bunch and store in a cool, dry, dark place. Not only will you have more control over your food and health, it is likely going to taste better than a powder that has been sitting in some warehouse for ages.

-Buy local. While I don’t want to recommend any brands yet (since I haven’t had the time to properly test them) but why not look into buying spices grown closer to where you live? I have to admit, this may help those of us in the US, but readers in India will need to be more diligent since the study was based on spices grown in India. Buying locally grown products decreases your carbon foot-print since the spices don’t need to be transported thousands of miles. It also helps support your local community of farmers. Since spices may not thrive in your local community, buying from domestically grown producers is still a step in the right direction. I will post more on this in the future, especially since I am in no way making a blanket case against imported products.

-Buy organic. Spices that are organically grown here in the US are likely more regulated. It may cost you a slight bit more, but in the end, is not a huge cost differential. Certified organic products are tested to ensure food is produced without pesticides, genetically modified organisms and other chemicals. While there is controversy on what is certified as organic (for example, organic certification in China is not the same as in the US), the more you educate yourself about what you are eating, the more you can ensure that you are eating healthy.

My mom commented on the regular occurrence of rocks in lentils that had been imported from India in the 80s, but due to consumer outrage (and entire shipments being turned back by the FDA), the quality of the lentils has improved tremendously. I still search for rocks in my lentils before triple washing them, and barely find any impurities. My hope is that better regulation will ensure that the spices from India are indeed as healthy as they can be.

When I was initially alerted about the lead topic, I felt as if I had been set back in my quest to cook healthy indian food, but the knowledge I’ve gained has only fueled my momentum!


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