Be a kitchen detective

Check out your kitchen shelf and find out what's what. Some of the things out there could be adulterated.

July 13, 2010 07:04 pm | Updated November 28, 2021 08:52 pm IST

What's that? Al that's red is not chilli powder. Photo : K.K. Mustafah

What's that? Al that's red is not chilli powder. Photo : K.K. Mustafah

An evening out with your family is fun and it is tempting to eat the delicious smelling, attractive food from the streets. Your parents and teachers would have warned you about the hazards of eating street food.

According to National Institute of Nutrition, in India some 4, 00,000 children below five years age die each year due to diarrhoea. Poor hygiene and unsafe drinking water routinely cause illnesses among the poorer classes.

Danger lurks in the packaged food we find on kitchen shelves. Profiteers routinely adulterate food items like milk, dal, ghee, honey and so on. In recent years, food adulteration has evolved into a very profitable business, causing serious health hazards. Some can even cause cancer.

You can understand the seriousness of this offence by the outbreaks of epidemics. In 1998 an epidemic of dropsy occurred in New Delhi due to the consumption of contaminated mustard oil. The symptoms of the disease were water retention in the limbs, skin ailments, limb tenderness, and diarrhoea, enlargement of the liver, eye disorders and even heart failure. Couple of years back a big artificial milk scam was uncovered in the capital once again.

Food adulteration is a crime and if proven the offence is punishable under the law provided under the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act, 1955. In spite of legal checks, we still find the problem widespread, because it is easy to bribe officials and get away with punishable crime. The Government of India has also enacted an integrated food law called the Food Safety and Standards Act in August 2006 and a Food Safety Authority is being established to match global standards. Some common adulterants

Milk : Cow/buffalo milk can be adulterated with cottonseed oil. Or urea and liquid detergent are used to create synthetic milk. Starch is also used commonly to contaminate milk. These adulterants can be detected in the lab.

Vegetable oils are generally mixed with castor oil.

Tur dal : Metanil yellow, a non-permitted colour is a common adulterant in food items like laddu, tur dal and turmeric. Metanil is easily available and not expensive. It makes the dal shiny.

Kesari dal is banned due to the presence of a toxin that causes paralysis of the lower limbs and stunted growth when consumed for prolonged periods. It is cheaper and used to adulterate tur dal and dal flour or besan . It is pointed and wedge shaped and can be identified only with very careful examination.

Ghee : Ghee essence is used in vanaspati or cheaper oils and passed off as pure ghee especially in summers when the heat keeps it in a liquid state. This type of ghee will not solidify like normal ghee. It may also not have that grainy texture of pure ghee.

Sugar : With chalk powder and white sand.

Tea powder : With used tea leaves.

Honey is generally adulterated with invert sugar or jaggery.

Wheat flour : With excessive sand and dirt, even animal excreta.

Chilli powder : Red brick powder, grit, sand, dirt, non-permitted colours and saw dust.

Asafoetida : Soap stone and other earthy matter is used for adulteration.

Cumin seeds : Grass seeds are camouflaged and coloured with charcoal dust

Turmeric : Lead chromate is used to give turmeric its natural colour. It is very harmful.

Coriander powder : With dung powder.

Dried papaya seeds are mixed with black pepper seeds. When put in water dried papaya seeds will float on the surface.

Puffed rice gets its bright white colour thanks to the ultramarine blue intended for clothes.

Food labs can detect these adulterations. In fact you too can carry out some of the chemical tests to detect adulteration as you move to higher classes.

Get to work, Sherlock Holmes:

Ground spices like coriander and chilli are adulterated with red bran and saw dust. Sprinkle on water surface. Powdered bran and sawdust will float . Sand and other dirt will settle at the bottom.

Put some ghee in the deep freeze. The ghee will solidify but the oil remains liquid.

Soak some coriander powder in water. Dung will float and can be easily detected by its foul smell.

Rub the cumin seeds on your palms. If your palm turn black it means grass seeds have been coated with black colour.

To check if pepper is adulterated put it in water. Dried papaya seeds will float.

Shake a little powdered asafoetida in water. Soap stone or other earthy matter will settle at the bottom.

Always check the 'Best before ...' date of packaged food when shopping.

You can be alert too and double check dates when you accompany them for grocery shopping.

Check the spices for Agmark or the ISI mark — these are certification of purity of the product.

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