I. SPICE SPECIFICATIONS
A spice can be defined as the dried aromatic parts of natural plants, whose characteristics such as color and constitution may vary depending on year of harvest and place of harvest, among other factors. The quality of processed spices can also vary due to differences in separation and milling processes used. For these reasons it has been deemed necessary to establish quality standards or specifications for spices. Although there are no unified standards or specifications worldwide, nations that export spices often have their own quality standards to maintain their own reputations, while nations importing and consuming spices establish specifications for the purpose of consumer safety.
The quality standards most used as international guidelines are those of the American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) and the U.S. Federal Specifications:
Spices, ground and whole, and spice blends. The International Organization for Standardization established its own standards in 1969 for the quality of various spices, and there are also specifications for spices imported into and consumed in the United Kingdom and Canada. Many nations such as India and Malaysia, which are major spice-exporting nations, have their own exporting specifications in which, for example, the quality grade is classified according to the amount of extraneous matter, moisture content, etc. This chapter will discuss some major specifications for spices in both spice-consuming and spice-exporting nations.
B. Specifications in Spice-Consuming Nations
1. Specifications of the American Spice Trade Association
These are specifications for unprocessed spices imported into the United States, including edible herbs. The specifications were published first in 1969, followed by several revisions through 1975 . The ASTA specifications are now being used in many other nations, including Japan, as a kind of world standard. They refer specifically to the cleanliness of the spice product, placing limits on extraneous matter (e.g., insects, insect excrement, stones, stems, sticks, etc.). Imported spices not meeting these specifications should be reconditioned at the port of entry, whereas domestic spices can be reconditioned before they are processed to be used in a consumable product.
Amounts of rodent and other animal excrement are specified by weight in the ASTA guidelines. Spices in which a certain number of insects are found alive are required to be reconditioned (e.g., fumigated). Mites and psocids, whose numbers are confirmed by a flotation test that causes these insects to float in a heated organic solvent, must not exceed the standard. Spices are not acceptable “if mold is present as expressed by percent by weight of the total number of subsamples in excess of the specified values” or “if the total sample quantity exceeds the specified values expressed as percent by weight of insect bored or otherwise defiled seeds, leaves or roots.” Also, light berry content of black pepper, though not considered extraneous matter, should not exceed 4% by weight.
The standard for extraneous matter is specified for 33 kinds of spice on the basis of actual past results. In addition to these general standards, sampling procedures and testing methods for extraneous matter are also specified. The number of samples drawn must be equal to the square root of the containers in the lot; the sample size should be one pound for high-density items and a well-filled two-pound paper bag for low-density items. Testing methods such as shifting and hand-picking for extraneous matter and light berry determination are described for black and white pepper. For nutmeg, there are the detailed guidelines for inspecting for molds and insects, which may invade through broken surfaces and cause mold contamination.
Spice Qualities and Specifications