Spices are defined as an "aromatic vegetable substance used to flavor food". Spices may be derived from any part of a plant: bark, bulbs, buds, flowers, fruit leaves, roots, seeds and plant tops.
Little has changed in the spice industry over the years, despite its age. Spices are picked by hand, dehydrated, placed in burlap bags and shipped to their destinations whole and dried. Most spice dehydration is done in the field, known in the trade as sun drying. Spices may also be air dried in hot tunnels. Drying reduces moisture content, hence weight, making them less costly to ship.
A lot of the processing that goes into preparing spices for resale focuses on the cleaning and decontamination of the spices. Spices pass through metal detectors and de-stoners to clean them and remove debris that may be clinging to them. They are then sifted through many layers of screens to remove any small contaminants or insects. This process is only the first stage.
Spices are often microbiologically processed. There are three microbiological processes that spice houses use: Steam distillation, ethylene oxide gas, and radiation. These processes generally rid the spices of almost all bacteria, yeast, molds, insects and other living matter. Due to these aggressive cleaning processes, the problem of insect infestation in dehydrated spices is virtually nonexistent. Since drying and cleaning equipment are used exclusively for spice productions, cross usage of the equipment for other products is not a concern.
SPICES FROM ISRAEL
Israel is a major supplier of onion, garlic, bay leaves, parsley and paprika.
In order to reduce caking or moisture, anti-caking additives are often added to help keep a spice dry. Typically, a silica gel (sodium silicate), is used. Silica gel is tahor. However, calcium stearate, magnesium stearate and/or potassium stearate may also be used. Stearates are often derived from tame’ fats. At the same time, stearic acid can be derived from vegetables. This poses a significant problem. Anti-caking agents are generally found in powdered spices, however, one must be careful at all times to determine whether the spices they are using contain stearates, and if they do whether those stearates are tame’ or tahor. Thankfully, most pure spices list anti-caking agents in their ingredient declaration.
Not all powders in the spice section are pure spices. Curry powder, for example, is a spice blend. Curry powder can have hundreds of variations. Interestingly, even liquid flavors such as vinegar, sherry and brandy can be added to a powdered spice blend, and the blend will retain its powdery nature with the addition of anti-caking agents (see above). Furthermore, flavor dehydrates such as dehydrated chicken, meat and cheese powders can be added. These added flavoring agents are generally not tahor, and they can be added under the generic banner of "natural flavors." Because of the number of issues surrounding spice blends, it is best to avoid them.