Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Seasonings are the silent heroes of many dishes. They bring flavour, add colour and even raise the dishes overall healthiness. But, is there really a point in buying them organic when you only need 1 tsp at a time? Should we stick with regular supermarket brands or try to buy organic?
The process of getting to seasonings get to shelves
A crucial process before seasonings are bottled and shipped to supermarkets, is that by government law, they are required to be sterilised. This is done in 1 of 3 ways e.g. fumigation, irradiation, or steaming.
This process uses ethylene oxide gas (an inorganic chemical compound) which freely diffuses and saturates the seasonings. Advantages of this process is that it doesn’t dramatically affect the taste or aroma of seasoning and it is the cheapest method used for sterilisation, meaning that it saves customers a lot of money. Disadvantages of this sterilisation process is that it is likely to leave residues and exposes the products to carcinogenic gas.
Products treated with this method are not required by law to be labelled so as a customer, you would be unaware about the use of this technique in the manufacturing process.
This process is less harsh than fumigation however still uses gamma rays (radiation) to penetrate through the seasonings. Advantages of this process are that it extends the shelf life of seasonings and doesn’t leave much chemical residue like the fumigation technique. However, a disadvantage is that some of the free radicals present reduces the flavour and nutrient benefits of the seasonings (e.g. damages vitamins & enzymes) and produces greater environmental cost and contamination.
Products treated with this method require labelling, so manufacturers usually prefer to fumigate seasonings to avoid compliance of disclosure.
This process uses dry stream (very hot water) to destroy bacteria. All seasoning labelled as organic are sterilised using this process. Advantages of this sterilisation process are that it doesn’t expose the product to any chemicals or radiation, just water at high temperature which retains the flavour and protects the texture and colour of the seasoning. However, for some spices such as chilli, it can cause discolouration.
What should I take from all of this?
"The key to a good meal is simplicity & the right ingredients" - Buddy Valastro
Irradiation and fumigation are common techniques because they are inexpensive and economical to employ, and the cheap seasonings on supermarket shelves are likely to have been processed through one of these routes. Though there are advantages and disadvantages of both of these techniques, unfortunately, manufacturers don’t usually disclose how they sterilised their seasonings. This makes it difficult for customers to make an informed decision about the brands that they purchase their spices from.
Luckily, one of the conditions for a product to hold the organic tag is the requirement of no radiation or any harmful chemical use in the manufacturing/sterilisation process. As a result, seasonings that are organic are the only totally guaranteed option that has been sterilised through the steaming technique. For customers who prefer seasonings that are uncompromised in regard to flavour and is better for the environment, buying organic may the right choice for you.
What should I do?
What you buy online or in store ultimately has to fit within your budget
So, determining if organic spices are worth the few extra £ is completely up to you. If you weigh the benefits and negatives and decide to buy organic seasoning, try to purchase them from a reputable source if possible. At Spice Up, we sell a selection of herbs, spices & blends that are organic and Fairtrade. You can check these out in the ‘Seasonings’ tab. Other retailers such as Amazon also have a selection of organic seasoning, whole or ground that you can try.