Skip to content

An Alarming Amount of This Popular Herb Is Tampered With, New Study Finds

Be wary of what else your store-bought herb and spices may contain, UK research warns.
Fresh herbs

Perhaps, with good reason, it's time to question the contents of your store-bought herbs that flavor your favorite dishes. According to a new study out of the U.K., sage is adulterated 58% of the time.

The new research was conducted by the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) at Queen's University Belfast, which tested 19 samples of sage taken from U.K. food suppliers in August and September 2020. While no major supermarkets had tainted batches of sage, online retailers and smaller grocery stores were found to sell contaminated versions of the popular herb. More specifically, these herbs actually featured some sage, but also olive leaves and other tree leaves. (Related: 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.)

While focused on the U.K., this study raises concerns about potentially having adulterated herbs in our food supply here in the U.S. Sage has not been at the forefront of adulteration domestically, and there are U.S. Food & Drug Administration guidelines for it, but concerns have been raised in the past regarding other herbs, such as turmeric containing lead. And the FDA recently recalled parsley from some grocery store chains due to Salmonella concerns, with High Quality Organics, a U.S. company, as the main culprit.

What's more, overseas samples should raise an eyebrow, especially as herb and spice companies like McCormick & Company and Marmara Foods, among others, sell in both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. (No brands were named in the IGFS study, though.)

This isn't the first instance of herb adulteration the IGFS has identified. In 2015, it discovered that one in four samples of oregano were found to be doctored with other substances. This rocked the herb industry, and progress was made in purifying the grocery store favorite. A follow-up study in 2020 confirmed that only one of 20 oregano samples were impacted.

The hope is now that sage suppliers around the world can clean up their act as well. In the meantime, you can make sure that the herbs you're using are completely pure the easy way: By growing them yourself!

For more of the latest food safety news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter.

Robert Wolkenbrod
Robert Wolkenbrod is a freelance writer for Eat This, Not That! Read more