Black pepper, one of the world’s most used spices, is prone to adulteration.

Why Does it happen?

Complex supply chains

The supply chains of black pepper tend to be long and complex. Black pepper passed through a lot of traders/processors before ending up in the consumer. The adulteration opportunities can occur at any stage of the supply chain.

Economically motivated adulteration

The price of black pepper tends to fluctuate. The fluctuation can cause traders to stockpile their black pepper and wait for an opportunity to sell at a higher price. This can cause a lack of supply of black pepper, then causing the price to surge. The high price and shortage of black pepper can be the motivation for adulteration.

Also, the price of black pepper tends to differ depending on the origin & the grade. A trader might do a blend or relabel poor-quality pepper as premium pepper to make more profit.

The availability of cheap substitutes is also a cause of adulteration. Most of the substitute is the by-product of something, which is dirt cheap and almost tasteless. Most of those substitutes will be ground and mixed with black pepper powder.

Adulterant in Black Pepper

Papaya seeds

The dried papaya seed resembles black pepper. Surprisingly, it also tastes like black pepper with some wasabi but lacks the peppery flavor.

It can either blend in with whole black pepper, or ground and mix with black pepper powder.

Papaya seeds can be allergic to some people. It is also harmful to the digestive system on a high dosage.

Spot papaya seed (whole black pepper): Payaya seed has low density, it floats on water whereas black pepper will sink to the bottom. Also, the papaya seed is oval in shape whereas the black pepper is rounded.

How to spot papaya (black pepper powder): ground papaya seed has a dark color whereas pure black pepper powder brown color.

Mineral Oil

Mineral oil coating on black pepper is used as a fungicide, polishing agent, and to put on more weight. It is made of burnt diesel, paraffin oil, white petroleum, and other un-digestible and insoluble petroleum products.

Mineral oil is harmful even in small quantities. It is carcinogenic, it can cause cancer.

How to spot mineral oil on black pepper: Mineral oil may emit a kerosene-like smell. Put the black pepper in the water and stir to see if there is an oily film.

Light berries

Light berries are the berry that matures but failed to develop the seed inside. Some of them are totally seedless. They are low-grade pepper, they lack the pungent flavor.

How to spot light-berries :

  1. it will float on the surface when placed in an alcohol solution.
  2. it can easily be crushed with fingers without much pressure.


Sawdust is a common adulterant in spice. It may cause digestive problems.

How to spot sawdust in black pepper powder: Sawdust will float on the surface when the powder is poured into water, whereas the black pepper powder will sink.


Spent is the pepper waste after pressing the essential oils that lack the characteristic sharpness, taste, and smell, as well as waste from cleaning the pepper (branches, empty and rotting pea, stalk, stems, etc.).

How to spot spent: If the black pepper powder has an earthy-black or uniform dark gray color, then spent is added.

Flour/starch/ground husk

They are blended into the black pepper powder. Although they are considered to be safe, they can potentially alter the color of black pepper powder to be brighter, so a darker dye may be used to balance the color.

Rice flour tends to be the most common adulterant in black and white pepper powder as it is cheap, safe, hardly detected, and does not alter the taste of the ground pepper. But, it may alter the color of the pepper powder, usually mixed with black pepper powder to produce white pepper powder.

How to spot Flour/starch/ground husk: They all have a high content of carbohydrates, so Benedict’s test may be used. Also, iodine can be used to test the presence of starch.


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