How to Measure the Quality of Spices: Maintaining Color Control with Spectrophotometers

In preparation for holiday cooking, I decided now was a good time to organize my spices, and I have to admit that my spice cabinet was a bit of a disaster. I quickly realized that the task was long overdue as I began to compare my duplicates (and yes, even triplicates), to decipher which to keep and which to throw out. As I was sorting I noticed a direct correlation between spice color and my perception of freshness and decided to investigate what color control really means to the quality of spices. The truth is, color control is a primary factor in quality analysis, which is used during the production of spices around the world. Process monitoring of color control is highly dependent on the use of spectrophotometers to ensure quality and safety in spice products.

spice color control
Consumer choice regarding spices is usually affected by color perception and buyers rely on color to determine the appeal and freshness of the product.
Image source: Flickr user Ben Ramirez

Spices and Color

Spices come from a variety of sources and can vary dramatically in color. In fact, many uses of spices are not only to enhance the flavor of dishes, but the color as well. That is why color control in the processing and development stages of spices is crucial to the overall product result. Typically, pigments in raw spice products increase with maturity, so color control monitoring can indicate when the base product is perfectly ripened and ready to process.

Spices also vary in color between their solid state, and various degrees of crushing and/or grinding to create coarse or fine powders and even paste. Color measurement instrumentation must be able to account for variations in texture color in order to accurately quantify color. Color control monitoring during these various stages of processing is essential for creating the desired aesthetic appeal and final product outcome.

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spice textures color control
The color of spices varies throughout the differing processing phases and accurate color measurement must be able to adapt to variations in texture color.
Image Source: Flickr’ user peddhapati

Color Control Regulations

Many spices rely on color control as a symbol of product quality. The ASTA (American Spice Trade Association) has even compiled a list of standardizations for spice analysis using color control methods. For example, the color control of the highly popular spice, paprika, uses ASTA “Color Units” as an international standard for measuring extractable color and is determined by spectrophotometric method.  The “Color Unit” score is then used to indicate product quality and set the price accordingly.

Color control monitoring with spectrophotometers also plays an important role in meeting standards for product purity and safety. Contamination of spices can pose a significant problem, and many government agencies, such as the USDA (Untied States Department of Agriculture), the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), have developed specific inspection requirements for safety compliance. In response to recent Salmonella contamination recalls, the ASTA has also created five key recommendation guidelines for the detection of pathogens in spices:

  1. Minimize the risk for introduction of filth throughout the supply chain
  2. Prevent environmental contamination, cross-contamination, and post-processing contamination during processing and storage
  3. Use validated microbial reduction techniques
  4. Perform post-treatment testing to verify a safe product
  5. Test to verify a clean and wholesome manufacturing environment
powdered spices color control
Strict regulations have been created to ensure that spices are free of contamination and harmful substances.
Image Source: Flickr user sara marlowe

Using spectrophotometers for color control

Although spices come in a variety of colors, textures, and consistencies, they often share enough similar attributes to be measured using one specific style of instrumentation. When measuring color control in spices, samples are usually opaque in nature and most accurately measured using directional 45°/0° reflectance geometry. HunterLab offers a variety of spectrophotometers designed for accurate measurement of color control in spices, including the ColorFlex EZ, Agera, and the MiniScan EZ 4500. These instruments are simple to use and provide accurate data, providing users with the capability to measure up to government standards and quality expectations. HunterLab is a trusted name in the industry and is utilized by major brands around the world. Contact HunterLab today, and let us put our experience and expertise to the test to find the right solution for your color control needs today.


    Good day,

    kindly send me prices of a spectrophotometer that can be used for a medium scale color control monitoring.

    Best Regards

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