Your herbs and spices might contain arsenic, cadmium, and lead


CR tested 126 products from McCormick, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and other popular brands. Almost a third had heavy metal levels high enough to raise health concerns.

Open a drawer or cabinet in any kitchen in the U.S., and you’re likely to find several jars of dried herbs and spices.

Jessica Clark, a mother of two from Lincoln, Neb., says she uses them so often that she buys in bulk and mixes her own blends. Erica Burger of Carmel, Ind., says she became “hooked” on a 21-spice mixture—so much so that she now uses it in all sorts of dishes. “This is so flavorful, I use less salt in general,” she says. And Joey Davis, who grew up in San Diego, “where Mexican food is on every corner,” and whose Jamaican wife “puts habanero in everything, including cucumber salad,” says that in his home, “you can’t imagine any dish without spices and herbs.”

For many of us, herbs and spices play a large role in our cooking and in our family’s lives. A recipe may call for just a pinch or three of cumin, cayenne, and garlic powder, but what would your grandmother’s arroz con pollo be without them? And what about your secret Simon & Garfunkel fish rub—you know, the one with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme?

Yes, those seasonings really can add spice to our lives, filling our kitchens with tempting aromas and creating memories of people and places linked to special meals. But along with the flavor and memories, herbs and spices could add something less savory to your diet: potentially dangerous heavy metals.

That’s according to Consumer Reports’ tests of 15 types of dried herbs and spices used in a variety of cuisines. We looked at 126 individual products from national and private-label brands, such as Great Value (Walmart), La Flor, McCormick, Penzeys, Spice Islands, and Trader Joe’s. Read more about how CR tested herbs and spices (PDF). 

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CR. 9 November 2021