Herb hoax: is your oregano fake?

New research, as part of our Stop Food Fraud campaign, has revealed a quarter of samples of dried oregano tested contained other ingredients.

The snapshot study, published exclusively by Which?, found that 19 of the 78 samples of dried oregano looked at contained ingredients other than oregano. Added ingredients, most commonly olive and myrtle leaves, were found to make up 30% to as much as 70% of the product.

Samples were bought from a range of shops in the UK and Ireland and from online retailers. The test, which identifies compounds by their atomic composition, was conducted by Professor Elliott, Director of the Institute for Global Food Security and author of the report into food fraud commissioned by the Government following the horsemeat scandal. The results from this study are now being shared with the Food Standards Agency.

This is the latest in a long line of food frauds revealed by Which?. Last year we found that 40% of the lamb takeaways we tested contained other meat and one in six of the fish we bought from chip shops turned out not to be what we’d ordered.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:

“It’s impossible for any shopper to tell, without the help of scientists, what herbs they’re actually buying.

“Retailers, producers and enforcement officers must step up checks to stamp out food fraud.”

Director of Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University, Professor Chris Elliot, said:

“Based on intelligence received we decided to determine if there are issues with the authenticity of oregano supplied in the UK and Ireland. Clearly we have identified a major problem and it may well reflect issues with other herbs and spices that enter the British Isles through complex supply chains. Much better controls are needed to protect the consumer from purchasing heavily contaminated products.”

Notes to editors:

  1. Can you tell the difference? Attached are four images. Oregano, Cistus, Olive and Myrtle leaves.
    2. We want the government, Food Standards Agency and local authorities to tackle food fraud. Consumers can support the campaign here:http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/meat-takeaways-horsemeat
    3. The oregano testing used a process called mass spectrometry which identifies compounds by their atomic composition and was conducted by Professor Elliott at the Institute for Global Food Security, Queen’s University, Belfast.

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