Updated September 2022
Salt and spices regularly test high in both heavy metals (especially if from foreign countries; see this scientific study) and microplastics. Food is required to have third party testing to check heavy metal levels, but companies are not required to share, and some are deliberately misleading. So it’s good to ask salt companies to share their Certificate of Analysis (COA)/ heavy metals analysis. Ideally they would get testing for each batch, because levels can vary between batches, but I’m not sure if any do that. Otherwise, COA are more like snapshots in time, but, we can hope that brands who have low test results are sourcing from places that perhaps have consistently low levels. It’s also a good sign when they share testing.
Beware of companies that use fluffy, feel good language to beat around the bush and downplay lead concerns instead of sharing their testing. Organic and other certifications do NOT make things less likely to have lead.
About microplastics in salt: Most sea salt has been found to contain micro-plastics. Testing for micro-plastics is not required at all but a few brands do it.
#mytoppicks: Best Salt Brands
The following are salts that were reported (from documents received from the companies, some of which are reported in this link) to have low lead levels. Remember that levels can vary from batch to batch, and we don’t know about micro-plastics levels for these unless specified.
- Selina Naturally Celtic Sea Salt. The Makai Pure kind tested non detect for lead (but always ask for the level of detection/ LOD!). Their LOD is <0.001ppm which is the same as 1 ppb. You can see the rest of their test results for other salts under question #4 and #10 on their FAQ. No microplastics were discovered in Makai Pure or Fine Ground Celtic. 3 MPs were found in 1KG of Light Grey Celtic. We eat approximately 2 KGs of salt per year, so in a year the risk is 6 MPs per year for Light Grey Celtic®. Amazon Associates link to buy the Makai Pure kind (which is what I’m buying): https://amzn.to/3xYKn1Q
- Ava Jane’s Kitchen/ Colima: Their COA is 100ppb or less for lead but the company has said that further testing result was 2ppb. Note that Colima has been tested free of micro plastics.
- Nordur 10 ppb
- Vancouver Island Sea Salt replied immediately with a third party doc as well as a summary sheet of their own. They test once a year and this was done in May 2022. 0.012ppm (12ppb). They don’t test for microplastics but say that they source from clean waters and use microfiltration for the seawater, and often use glass packaging.
- Jacobsen Salt Co Oregon Sea Salt: 20 ppb Available at their site or Amazon affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3IQbn7J. They test for microplastics too. Update is they say: “Our last test on our Oregon Sea Salts from May 15, 2020. There was no lead detected to an LOQ of 20 ppb.” Which I believe means there might be lead, but less than 20ppb. I’ll post more details about more of their products at the very bottom of this page. I consider them a top choice because they also test for microplastics. Note that they also have an Italian salt and a Himalayan salt that have higher test results so make sure you get the ones sourced from Oregon sea salt. My husband loves their flavored Oregon Sea Salts! His fave is the Pinot Noir. Amazon Associates link to buy: https://amzn.to/3nuhy8J. Another site that may be cheaper because of free shipping is 177 Milk Street.com.
- Fusion Matcha Salt: 20 ppb
- Cyprus Black Mediterranean Sea Salt (from SaltWorks): <30 ppb. Update- permanently discontinued.
- Bali Pyramid Balinese Salt: 30 ppb
- SALTVERK Icelandic Salt: 30 ppb (document was from 2016 even though it was requested in 2022). salttraders.com or https://www.saltverk.com/ or amazon affiliates link: https://amzn.to/3KIlLjg
- Crucial FOUR Icelandic Sea Salt. 30 ppb in 2016, according to a third party COA.
- Bolivian Rose Andes Mountains Mineral Salt (from SaltWorks): Updated January 2022: The lead is somewhere under 1,000 ppb. A number gotten in the past said 72 ppb. If you are looking for low cost this may be the best bet. amazon affiliates link: https://amzn.to/3qXmjdv
- Original Himalayan Crystal Salt: <100 ppb Mediterra Mediterranean Sea Salt (from SaltWorks): <100 ppb amazon affiliates link: https://amzn.to/3IypDSm
- “The Health Ranger” pink Himalayan salt is less than 120 ppb. I’d prefer lower but figured I’d mention this option.
Salts to avoid: Celtic/French (although Selina is an exception), Italian, and most European salt will likely be higher in lead. Redmond’s Real Salt gave differing and misleading info. Himalayan can vary in levels, and some are high. Morton Table/Pickling Salt is: <2,000
Note about making choices: This is the case for all posts, but just to be clear, everything is a personal choice. It’s also a good idea to ask companies for their latest COA documents yourself.
Don’t Freak Out Too Much…
This isn’t about worrying that salt will cause lead poisoning. Some people choose to avoid lead because it’s toxic in minute amounts. And just because some people consume or are exposed to lead and test ND, certainly does not mean that whatever they ate was safe and it doesn’t affect anyone. Some people choose to avoid lead because it’s extremely toxic, not because we are afraid of lead poisoning or because it’s all or nothing. It’s important to consider taking a close look at products we use a lot, and some people use quite a bit of salt every day. However, it’s also important to remember that we do need some sodium in our diets, so we can’t worry too much about it. Also kind of have to take the coa’s with a grain of salt 😂 in some ways, because like I mentioned, lead levels can vary. I make the best effort I can even when there are #noperfectoptions
While I do think it’s good to have an idea about lead in foods and avoid eating a lot of foods likely to have high levels, there are a few reasons not to get overly paranoid and keep things in perspective.
1. There are guideline limits per day by the FDA to keep your blood blood levels low; I believe it’s 3mcg per day for pregnant/breastfeeding/children and 12mcg per day for others. I am still really uncomfortable with adding unnecessary lead. But, it is impossible to avoid some lead in food. The reason you don’t see lead poisoning from things like salt is probably because it doesn’t it probably isn’t used in big enough quantities to put people over these limits.
2. Dr. Gregor from NutritionFacts cited studies showing that if you took in food with your lead exposure, it can block up to 90% of the absorption. The lead we get from food can be buffered tremendously just by being in food. In regards to salt and spices, this is again another reason we don’t hear of lead poisoning from these sources. Vitamins do have lead too, so it is recommended to take them with a meal. Another reason environmental lead exposure (like in water or paint dust) is so nefarious is because it’s NOT in food. The food buffering is discussed here.
3. There is also a publication that talks about the ability of the body to purge lead up to a certain degree. I will try to find that and link it here but essentially, the body can take in something like 3mcg per kg of body weight per day before it stops passing it through and starts to retain it. Participants in the study were given lead in food and then the lead was measured as it exited. Essentially up to that threshold, the body was able to rid the lead. Once you crossed that threshold, retention occurred. If you do the math, it’s quite a lot. So that’s why I said, it’s good to be aware of lead in food but not necessarily get paranoid about it.
For all of the above, do remember that children absorb more than adults do, so it is good to be more prudent about lead in baby and children’s food, as well as other lead exposures. Also for all the reasons listed, that is why the consistent exposures like in a home with lead paint impact BLL so much – the assault is non stop so the body can’t get ahead of the ability to metabolize. And also because the lead is not in food and it is often getting into the body consistently throughout the day while the stomach is empty as well. Which is worst-case because you absorb most of what goes in. This is one reason why it’s super important to make sure that children in homes that have lead risk are fed at least every two hours. Their little stomachs empty so often, you want to ensure that there is some food in their bellies to make sure that any lead is going in has a buffer of food to reduce absorption.
Turmeric is almost always contaminated with lead, either from the growing conditions (usually from India) or from transportation of the equipment it’s processed on (so even US made turmeric can have higher lead). Because lead is heavy it it sometimes even added deliberately to increase profit.
Turmeric actually poses a real risk for causing lead poisoning. There was even a case where children (twins boy and girl) were poisoned by playing with the red and yellow powders used for bindi dots.
Scientific articles about the issue of health effects caused by lead in turmeric:
And an article about brands that were recalled for high lead levels in turmeric.
Anything powdered and ground and packaged is risky because of the equipment. Black pepper, basil, are always generally high no matter what brand. I’ve heard Cinnamon is usually lower in lead (but there have been issues with products found not to be genuine cinnamon. Also in the food industry council list of prop 65 foods that there was quite a bit of cinnamon in there). Most garlic powder comes from China and I’ve read about issues with arsenic, and also growing in manure and such.
Another reason to replace your old spice jars is because the lids were found to have lead. I’m not sure how much of an exposure risk it is, but something to note.
Only foods that get most of their contamination from processing (rather than “naturally occurring” which is still a misnomer but is referring to the soil used for growing) requires a Prop 65 warning about lead. That’s why chocolate has a warning. Spices probably should too but the industry may not have caught up with that yet. Cocoa is actually a crop that doesn’t absorb heavy metals very well; Contamination is almost 100% from manufacturing.
Consumer Reports published an article about spice brands and reported that “almost a third had heavy metal levels high enough to raise health concerns.” I think it’s important to note, they all contain some level of metals (potentially high). The article doesn’t even mention what amounts they are talking abound. As their report gets re-shared with misleading titles by other outlets, I’m worried that lots of people are getting the wrong impression that the “better” ones are lead free, when they aren’t even necessarily low lead.
For dried spices for sale in the US, 3 ppm (3000 ppb) lead is what all suppliers are required to be under. That is insanely high. To put it in perspective, water toxicity (AAP level) is 1 ppb. so even extrapolating for quantity, you don’t want to see these things higher than 50 ppb – including salt. A teaspoon of pepper (2g) at 3ppm (3,000 ppb) is 6 ug of lead. That’s massive! If you ate a tablespoon at 130 ppb you would be over the Prop 65 limit (which is a weak limit). A TBSP might sound like a lot, but for spices like turmeric that people use in larger amounts and/or daily, it’s not that unusual and this would be too high.
There is a Facebook group called “Contaminated spices and other foods, sold in US stores and worldwide” looking into these issues. As of November 2021, I have incorporated all pertinent info from the guide pages of that site into this blog.
#mytoppicks for Better Spice Options
Consider buying fresh, whole turmeric root (it looks like ginger root) and grating it yourself. Hawaii is a good source for organic turmeric. You can also cut, dehydrate, and blend in a spice grinder. Consumer Reports Guide to Growing, Drying, and Storing Herbs and Spices.
I haven’t tried this but I’ve read you can just use a grater: Peel tumeric. Use cheese grater to fine-grate Tumeric. Spread on a plate and let air dry or place under stove warmer lights to dry faster. Use a spoon to grind on said plate.
It is possible to grow or buy cayenne, garlic, onions, basil and dehydrate, or buy whole dried and grind in a coffee grinder (a separate one than the one you use for coffee). If you buy garlic, look for US grown. Nutmeg you can buy the whole nut and use a grater.
Specific Products for Which I’ve Seen data for heavy metals:
-Electric Institute garlic supplement: 5 ppb lead.
-Red Ape Cinnamon 290 ppb
-Red Ape Turmeric 290 ppb
-American Turmeric Co. This turmeric is grown in the US, in Georgia. They test their turmeric; it’s <0.015 ppm (less than 15 ppb) lead. However, their nickel and zinc may be high; other COAs from other companies haven’t included those so I don’t have a point of reference to compare. They recently became organic. Something is mentioned about vitamin C used as a preservative; I haven’t looked into it.
https://www.americanturmeric.com/online-store Here is their COA:
-Health ranger organic liquid gold turmeric: Every batch is tested and is 25 ppb or less. It’s also tested for glyphosate.
-Paleo Valley makes turmeric capsules 36 ppb. I personally didn’t like how they claim they are lead free, but that is a low amount.
-Mountain Rose Organics tests per batch of turmeric; the most recent I’ve seen was 253 ppb in March 2021 and 143 ppb in June 2019. Other times it has been 79 ppb. You might want to ask for a recent coa since it seems to be rising. They are also Fair Trade Certified. Their cinnamon was .287 mcg per .7 gram in March 2021. Someone else calculated this to be 600 ppb.
Mountain Rose Organics says that for the rest of their spices they say their heavy metal specifications are as follows in parts per million (ppm) (move decimal three places to the right to convert to ppb, it gets much higher that way). The COA documents that they share are in-house rather than third party.
Arsenic < 3ppm
Cadmium < 3ppm
Lead < 3ppm
Mercury <2 ppm
Total metal amount <10 ppm
-Starwest Botanicals turmeric- 130 ppb
-Pure Synergy turmeric- 500 ppb
-Other brands that may be safer for turmeric (but I’d ask for COA before you buy): Pure encapsulations, Enzymedica, Gaia, Megafood, Smarter Nutrition.
-Anthonys Goods – They advertise on Amazon as “lead free” but showed an analysis that said its under 3 ppm (3000 ppb) which is what the threshold is for any supplier. He said that’s how the agency who tests provides him the results, meaning it’s possibly lower but they weren’t testing to that level of detail.
–NOW Foods claims to stay under Prop 65 levels.
Brands Who Wouldn’t Share Heavy Metals Data or Don’t Have it
-Simply Organic – Won’t release info, just says they are within the law.
-Frontier co-op – Will not share heavy metals info for any spices.
-Starwest Botanicals – (for products other than turmeric) it might depend on which representative you talk to, but some have said no. The one COA I did see from them simply said “less than 3 ppm” (that would be 3000 ppb). Also it appears some of their products do have a prop 65 warning.
-The Spice Lab – Although they provide testing levels of salt, they wouldn’t tell about the turmeric. They say it’s lead free, but companies often use this phrase because they don’t understand the measurement of lead and think it’s just trace amounts.
-Truvani – says they test but won’t share their heavy metals info for any products.
-McFadden Family Vineyards – “we don’t do heavy metal testing”
-Spice Supreme – I’m not sure if they share any data, but here’s a past article about a lawsuit regarding high levels, probably in relation to Prop 65.
-Bulk Herb Store -They aren’t sure if they test below 3,000 ppb.
-Ceylon Cinnamon Shop- Won’t share anymore
Brands That are Over Prop 65 Levels
-Some of Navitas Organics products, like Maca, Cacao, Turmeric, Mulberries, Goji Berries, and Blends, fall under California’s Proposition 65 labeling requirements.
-Cinnamon from Azure Standard came with a lead warning.
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More about Jacobsen salt, copied from their site: “Lead: Our Fine Italian Sea Salt is from Trapani, Italy and is harvested in centuries old tradition. As such, there are trace amounts of lead detected, 100 ppb in testing to an LOQ of 20 ppb. Our most recent laboratory analysis was performed by OMIC USA Inc. on February 5, 2021.
Our Pink Himalayan Salt is mined from ancient ocean beds and has a higher mineral content than any other salt we offer. Testing from our suppliers shows this salt to have a lead count average of less than 500ppb. If you are concerned about lead levels, we suggest using our Kosher Sea Salt as a substitute.
Microplastics: Sadly, microplastics are present in our oceans. The filtered sea water we use is tested semi-annually by Polyhedron Laboratories. The last test was performed on June 1, 2021 and no microplastics were detected. All of our incoming sea water is filtered through a 0.5 micron filter (equivalent to 0.0005mm).
Potential Radioactive Isotopes: In the wake of the devastating Fukushima nuclear disaster we have had concerns of the lasting impact on our oceans. We sent samples of our salt to the Center for Health Protection, Radiation Protection Services of the Oregon Health Authority. A low level gamma spectrometry analysis reported no radioactive isotopes were present to an LOQ of 5 becquerels per kilogram.
Most recent testing for radiation was performed in October 2020.”
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