Forget oregano – sage is the new herb fraud hotspot

A few years ago, oregano adulteration hit the headlines as a major area of herb fraud. Now, it looks like sage has inherited that tarnished crown.

Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) have found that more than a quarter of sage samples were found to be “heavily adulterated” with other materials – some by as much as 58 per cent.

The team, led by Prof Chris Elliott of QUB’s Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) and which previously published a key study on oregano adulteration, tested 19 samples of sage taken from “major online retailers,” including “all the well-known UK supermarkets; and smaller, independent shops such as ethnic grocery stores.”

The scientists tested the samples using a combination of spectroscopy and chemometric modelling.

On the plus side? None of the brands sold by the big UK supermarket chains was found to be fraudulent. However it was a different story for the smaller stores and online retailers, where samples were found to have been bulked out with other leaves, including olive leaves.

“While the leaves detected are not believed to be harmful, food fraud always carries the potential for food-safety and public-health hazards,” said QUB in a statement.

Another positive finding was that oregano adulteration was reduced five-fold from the earlier 2015 study, with just one case out of 20 samples tested. Prof Elliott said that “clearly shows that when supply chains are checked it reduces the incidence of fraud substantially.”

Earlier studies have shown that adulterated oregano also tends to have more pesticides and insecticides than genuine samples.

The results of the latest study have been shared for potential follow-up with the Food Industry Intelligence Network, the National Food Crime Unit, and the Scottish Food Crime and Incidents Unit, says QUB.

“I am sad to confirm that once again we have identified a major problem linked to the supply chains associated with supplies of herbs and spices to the UK consumer,” said Prof Elliott. “The potential to cheat in these supply chains has been recognised as a global issue.”


Image by Radfotosonn from Pixabay

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