Spices are among the foods most likely to be tampered with. 

By Elisabeth Sherman
Updated May 24, 2017
garlic powder
Credit: © FotografiaBasica / Getty Images

Garlic powder is the latest victim of food fraud, according to one of the most respected experts in the subject.

Professor Christopher Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's University Belfast, is questioning how garlic sales continue to rise after a stretch of cold weather in China, which provides 75 percent of the world’s garlic supply, partially destroyed the crops.

Elliot is suspicious that manufacturers are diluting their garlic power with talcum powder or chalk. While chalk is non-toxic, Johnson & Johnson was hit with several lawsuits last year contending that their baby powder, which contains talc, causes cancer.

Chinese garlic has been the subject of intense scrutiny before: Henry Bell, of the Australian Garlic Industry Association, once accused producers of using “raw human sewage to fertilize their crops.”

Elliot has a strong track record when it comes to unearthing food fraud: In 2016, his research revealed that some oregano sold in the U.K. contained olive and myrtle leaves. Faulty oregano was on the more innocuous side of European food fraud though. Back in 2013, the continent faced scandal when foods advertised as beef were revealed to actually contain unregulated horse meat. The same year, Taco Bell and several other fast food chains were accused of replacing their ground beef with horse.

According to the International Food Information Service, between 2014 and 2015, Interpol seized 2,500 tons of counterfeit food. Food fraud costs the global good industry more than $10 billion every year.

At this point, Elliot’s comments are only speculation, but he has good reason to believe something might be amiss with this product in particular. Professor John Spink, director of the Michigan State University Food Fraud Initiative says that although his team hasn’t yet heard of any recent food fraud incidents involving garlic powder, he tells me that “Any type of spice that’s ground or blended has a high fraud risk in general.”

Spink warns that the most at-risk products for food fraud are alcohol, spices, honey, ground meats, and dietary supplements because they can be easily mixed, blended, or ground up with other products that might dilute their substance in difficult-to-notice ways, making them weaker or less pure versions of the original.

While it's always best to wary, Elliot has yet to reveal any evidence to back up his suspicious. In the meantime, it's probably still safe to reach for the garlic powder when you're cooking dinner.