Turmeric – Does Your Supply Pass the Test?

turmeric in waterTurmeric is one of my favourite and most used spice or herb for a health issue, such as painful joints or for general health support.  It’s benefits are so broad, that I am careful about listing too much of them at once when talking to someone who is new to natural health care.  The fact that it works so well for so many issues and is cheap, can make some people skeptical.

In the last several years, turmeric has been discovered by the western alternative health world and as a consequence, its use has skyrocketed.  Of course, in the Indian, Chinese and Asian cultures, it is one of the most important spices.

However, it can be adulterated easily by unscrupulous venders.  An obvious one, of course is to stretch the supply and add weight with fillers or dangerous colour enhancers.  You can see the problem if you use turmeric more for health rather than for cooking.  You think you are getting curcumin rich turmeric…but is it?

Even with turmeric powder intact of its curcumin, contaminants may be ground wood dust, lead chromate, cadium and often metanil yellow to colour the chalk or wood filler.   In October, 2013 the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) tested the Pran brand imported from Bangladesh and found it contaminated with lead.  More than 90% of spices are imported to the US and Europe from various sources.

Samples tested in one US city found various contaminants  with about a third contaminated with salmonella. A problem with any spice or herb found in the supermarket is that the country of origin is not required on the label.

In 2009 a recall was initiated on the supplement Fortodol (aka Leppin Miradinan).  An unscrupulous Mexican supplement manufacturer whose product was also sold in California, contaminated the raw turmeric supplies he used with Nimesulide, a powerful anti-inflammatory drug that has caused liver damage and is since banned in all European, Scandinavian countries and the US.

 I wish I knew of a good Indian supplier of high quality, pure turmeric  – it certainly would be cheaper.  But frankly, I find it increasingly difficult to trust suppliers from Pakistan, Bangladesh ,  India (exports 60% of world trade) or China, not because I assume all are unscrupulous but because it is a known problem that neither hygienic nor safety and health concerns are high on the priority list.  I am sure there are good ethical suppliers, but how do you know?  The cheap bags and jars of spices are not worth the risk to me since I use it almost daily, not just now and again for a curry.  Purity standards do exist in those countries, but sadly, bribes are the order of the day.

True turmeric is a vibrant deep yellow with orange undertones to almost a yellowish pumpkin orange. Although it stains bright yellow, the powder itself is never bright yellow.

I buy certified organic from a health food shop. It’s been tested for curcumin content and impurities.  If you purchase supplement form, use the same criteria:  look for certification of purity and curcumin content and ask where they are produced before purchasing.

Here is a simple  water test for chalk, wood powder or other adulterants that may float:

  • Pour a little warm water in a clear glass.
  • Drop on the surface about a half teaspoon WITHOUT stirring.
  • Allow to sit undisturbed for about 20 minutes.

After about 10 min you should see a sediment at the bottom of the glass and slightly cloudy but yellow water.  After another 15 min or so, it will be very clear yellow as you can see in the photo.  If the water remains rather cloudy, then most likely chalk has been added as a filler and if anything is floating on the top then it is probably wood dust or other impurities.

The hydrochloric acid test:

  • Mix a small amount of turmeric with an equal amount of water.
  • Add a few drops of concentrated hydrochloric acid (from Amazon or local pharmacy). Effervescence (fizzing action) will indicate the presence of chalk or yellow soapstone powder.

The acid test for metanil yellow:

  • Mix half a teaspoon with 4 teaspoons of water.
  • Add a few drops of a strong household vinegar such as distilled concentrated (white) vinegar.  If it shows pink, purple or violet, metanil yellow is present.

Variation with hydrochloric acid:

  • Proceed as above but add a few drops of hydrochloric acid.  If it instantly turns pink, but disappears on dilution with more water, it is pure turmeric.  If the colour persists, metanil yellow is present.

Metanil yellow is a carcinogen if used over a prolonged period of time. Reports include testicular, bladder and kidney cancers. Metanil yellow, also known as Acid Yellow is commonly used in India though not approved (nor enforced much) for human consumption. It is normally used for industrial dies and paints. Illegally used in imported noodles, crackers and snacks, it gives a bright yellow to the product. Designated with the European E number E105 it is forbidden for use in Europe and North America.

I know of no tests for lead chromate other than visually.  The brighter yellow it is, the risk is higher that it has been adulterated with it.  True turmeric is a vibrant deep yellow with orange undertones to almost a yellowish pumpkin orange.  While researching for this article, I have found information that samples tested in Bangladesh of the whole boiled and dried turmeric rhizome contained even higher amounts than the dried powder.  This particular form may be more popular in India as I have never seen it in health food shops, but it may be in Indian/Asian food shops.

None of these tests, however prove how much curcumin is in the turmeric.  In unadulterated turmeric it can range from 1% to 5% and slightly more percent.  Reputable suppliers are willing to offer a certified lab report on the amount of curcumin.

So there you have it.  Now go and test your turmeric!


More related articles:

Dosage and Method: Turmeric    Spice: Turmeric – Beyond Curry

Turmeric – Take It With Food and Why

Is Raw Turmeric Better Than Powdered?    Junk Journalism: Turmeric and Co.

Turmeric Golden Milk – A Life Changing Nourishing Drink

Inflammation & Turmeric: Just Symptomatic Relief?

Turmeric, Curcumin – Aren’t they the same?


Selected references:

Impact of Globalization on Production and Export of Turmeric in India – An Economic Analysis

How to Expose Food Adulteration    One of the better of several references on adulteration.


Lead in Turmeric – Brighter riskier

20 comments… add one
  • Linda 04/02/2017, 03:25

    I’m glad to find this information because I’ve been adding 2 tsp of turmeric to my morning protein shakes every morning for about a year. I will reduce that to 1/2 tsp and add freshly ground pepper.

    • admin 04/02/2017, 09:39

      You are welcome, Linda and I am glad it was helpful, but please do not underestimate the importance of some source of non-inflammatory oil too. It is the same with fat soluble vitamins such as Vit A which also needs a fat source in order to be made bio-available for the body to metabolize. For example, people making carrot and apple smoothies without adding just a very small amount of oil, with not be getting the Vit A. It is similar with turmeric. The black pepper certainly boosts all nutrients in any food immensely (because of the action of the piperine and the liver function) but one needs some fat/oil to first make it (the curcumin in turmeric) bio-available. Also remember that small doses frequently during the day are much better than one large dose at a time. I explain all that and more in detail in my Ultimate Turmeric Guide.

      Have you read my http://epicureandigest.com/2017/01/02/junk-journalism-turmeric-and-co/ article? Your comment reminded me of the reason I wrote it. Most likely you read somewhere about the benefits of turmeric added to shakes, smoothies etc.

      Now you know…I am sure you will notice the difference!

  • Loreena 22/10/2016, 19:29

    I am 67 years young and have suffered with hypothyroidism for over ten years and have had joint pain and a laundry list of problems with my meds. I am currently on Nature Thyroid 65 MG. I hate taking pills but every DR says it is necessary. I have recently started taking Simply Organic turmeric spice, 1 tsp. with fresh ground pepper, organic cinnamon, coconut oil and coconut milk as a tea. I also have 1 teaspoon in my scrambled eggs with a half an avocado in the morning. This has made a big difference in how I feel in the morning and my joint pain is all but gone. I feel almost human when I wake up and only just started using the spice several days ago. Your information has helped me determine whether to take as supplement or use as a spice in everyday foods. I have chosen the later because I like to do things that are most natural for my body. Thank you for all your information.

    • admin 28/10/2016, 00:35

      I am so happy for you, Loreena. It looks like you’ve got it perfected how you take it. I love it in scrambled eggs too. Thank you, too for your kind words. You really made my day. If my blog helps just one person, it is all worth it!

  • irene dixie williams 03/08/2016, 00:19

    All I see above is about the Turmeric/Curcumin powder. But I picked up some pills….they are 450mg. so..is this an okay amount?? I do have coconut oil pads I take once a day…and I’m fine with taking it at supper. So, is this okay????I have not seen just HOW much is a “small amount twice a day is”. You can’t break up the pills??? So, is this amount okay to take once a day at supper????

    • admin 04/08/2016, 01:03

      Hello Irene,
      The article is about Turmeric/Curcuma powder. Curcumin is just one constituent in Turmeric/Curcuma. You mention pills but not if they are whole turmeric or curcumin. In the article Dosage and Method: Turmeric, I explain why I don’t recommend the pure curcumin capsules.

      If it is turmeric powder that you have compressed into a pill, that is 450mg, then this equates to .45g, or slightly less than half a gram. Indeed a very small amount.

      Taking it only once daily with a meal would be a rather low maintenance dose and less than a third of the suggested 1.5g daily, divided over 2-3 times daily (.5g + .5g + .5g = 1.5g.).

      I have no idea why you are taking it, but if you have inflammation of the joints (for example), then you would be better off upping the dose to twice daily and increasing more until you feel improvement.

      What I was referring to as ‘better a small amount twice a day’ is what I mentioned in the second paragraph (Dosage and Method: Turmeric see HOW MUCH). One slightly rounded teaspoon (roughly 1.5g) split up over 2 doses would be roughly a half teaspoon. This is just a general guideline, it is not rocket science so a little more or a little less is no problem. Turmeric is a food supplement.

      PS: I haven’t a clue what you mean by coconut oil pads 🙂

  • Donna 19/04/2016, 13:54

    I just start to add turmeric to my supplement diet for health (joint &arthritis) issues. Thank you for the information it will be very helpful when choosing and taking turmeric as a heath supplement.

    • admin 19/04/2016, 16:12

      Thank YOU for your kind words. All the best wishes to you!

  • Anna Marshall 02/11/2015, 13:07

    I have used Turmeric in cooking for ages.have just recently started taking it my self.was interested to read that it should ONLY be used in conjunction with a fruit oil.what is the research available on that please?

    • admin 26/11/2016, 00:51

      Hello Annam,
      So sorry I missed your post! The reasoning behind using a fruit oil is because it doesn’t make sense to use notoriously inflammatory oils with turmeric which is an anti-inflammatory. The nutritional science behind which oils are inflammatory and which are well known. Here is a good site that explains the problem well and also about free radicals and oxidation (which leads to inflammation). I hope this helps!

  • shelbyann rollason 18/10/2015, 20:19

    I need help and I have no were eles to go I have psoriasis exzema arthritic all over my body they said is gone to far on me but im not ready to give in or up yet do you know anything that can help me or do you know anyone who can help me im at my witts ends . im not ready to die yet please can you help me my son told me about turmeric and I bought some today for other perpose my whole body is covered in the other so you see I need help

    • admin 26/11/2016, 00:53

      So sorry Shelbyann, but your comment somehow landed in the spam filter…which I rarely check. How are you doing?

  • Janet 28/09/2015, 19:32

    I just did the water test with 2 samples. Whole Foods Market’s bulk Organic ground Turmeric failed. There was quite a bit of dust floating on the top. Central Market’s Organic Turmeric in a clear jar almost passed. But there was a tiny pinch of dust floating on that one, too.

  • Kiran 21/09/2015, 19:55

    Hi, I came across this while checking to see how to test for lead. I get my supplies from India. My mother collects the turmeric, dried, and gets them milled in front of her eyes. My turmeric passed all the tests, and infact, for 8 years, it stayed fresh, without any bug generating within. Adulterated turmeric ends up generating bugs in a closed jar, in few months. Thanks to her trusted supplier, we are getting good turmeric.

    One way we can ensure to have good turmeric is to grow it ourselves. It is easy to grow. And one plant will have few bulbs. I do that for regular consumption in food. Raw, or dried. Get a raw one from any indian store, put it in water, let it sprout and then plant it in soil. It will grow and multiply itself over seasons.

  • Ginger 20/05/2015, 20:38

    My Simply Organic supply passes the water test. I’m a fairly new student of spices and herbs and their life changing and sustaining benefits. I appreciate the information you share.

    • admin 30/05/2015, 21:20

      I have been travelling and not always with an internet connection. Sorry I missed your comment. Thanks for your kind words…it means a lot to me!

  • paul 08/02/2015, 01:16

    Hello would like to put one half teaspoon of pure tumeric-cinnamon-ginger-honey-coconut oil-lemon- in a sixteen ounce smoothie with yogurt and a handful of brocolli and blue berries. Along with a teaspoon of top protein green powder. Does this seem to excess once a day. Also does the tumeric have to be heated. ty paul

    • admin 08/02/2015, 02:22

      Hello Paul,

      Sounds like a great smoothie, however two things are important for optimal absorption: Oil/fat (which you have covered with the coconut oil) and black pepper (for the piperine content – this is an activator). Please read the Dosage and Method Turmeric for more detailed information.

      In my opinion and based on research regarding poor absorption and typical short term effect of turmeric, I recommend as a basis two doses a day of 1/4 tsp as a minimum for maintenance. Turmeric is best taken in smaller doses throughout the day because of its short term effect…but it MUST be taken with a good oil source (fruit oils such as coconut or olive) and black pepper because of the piperine content. This info you wil find at the above link.

      There are discussions that turmeric heated in either milk, oat milk etc is better or not but this is still undecided and there are many who have good results without it being ‘cooked’ as in a paste form as well as those who do. The jury is still decidedly out on this. I remain open on this until I am convinced of otherwise. I, however, love my Golden Milk at night as my final dose.

      One half a teaspoon daily is certainly not excessive, Paul. Therapeutic doses range between 1.5 g. (a slightly heaping teaspoon) to 3 and even 6 g. daily. It is a food supplement in end effect. In India, it is thought that depending on area that the average consumption of turmeric is more than 3 g. daily. I hope this helps!

      • Johanas 02/06/2015, 01:21

        Very informative article, well presented and concise. One discrepancy though, a teaspoon is about 5 grams not 1.5. Just a heads up.

        • admin 02/06/2015, 12:13

          Thanks for your comment, however 1 slightly rounded teaspoon is indeed 1.5 grams…which, because there are so many discrepancies all over the net as to how much is in a teaspoon, level, slightly rounded, or heaped, I used a digital scale specifically for small amounts. The problem is that many people use different ideas of what a teaspoon is…being a cook, it refers to a level teaspoon. And teaspoons vary throughout the world.
          Using milliliters (which as you may know is used only for liquids, though incorrectly used in N. America for solids as well), a teaspoon is indeed 5 mls. and a tablespoon 15 mls. but this is often not convertable to grams when measuring solids. A level teaspoon of turmeric weighs more than a level teaspoon of powdered sugar for example. Grams for by weight (solids) and, milliliters for liquids (you may know this, however I am adding this for the benefit of other readers).


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