Food Adulteration: Examples, Types, Effects and Detection Techniques

An adulterant is any substance that is added to food in order to reduce the quality while increasing the quantity. Food adulteration is the process of adding an adulterant to a food product. Food adulterants are defined as foreign, inferior, and frequently inferior chemical substances that are harmful or undesirable in food.  The addition of adulterant may be intentional or accidental. But little amounts of non-nutritive ingredients are intentionally added to foods to enhance its appearance, texture, or storage capabilities. The main purpose of adding these adulterants on purpose is to increase profits at the expense of the general public’s or consumer’s health.

The addition of these adulterants reduces the nutritional value of food and also contaminates which is unfit for consumption. All of the food items we normally consume, such as dairy products, cereals, legumes, grains, meat, vegetables, fruits, oils, and drinks, may include these adulterants.

 Examples of food adulterations

Some of the examples of food adulteration are listed below:

  • Mixing of pulses with stones and sand.
  • Mixing of milk with water.
  • Mixing oil with chemical byproducts or less expensive oils.
  • Packing low-quality food products with fresh and high-quality ones.
Food Adulteration

Why is Food Adulteration Done?

In developing nations, it is common for food to be contaminated or to have additional ingredients added. Milk may be made more abundant by diluting it with water, and its solid content is frequently increased by adding starch powder.

The main reason for adulterating food product are mentioned below:

  1. Adulteration of food is a practice used in business to increase profit through less expensive techniques.
  2. Lack of knowledge of proper food consumption.
  3. Adulteration makes food heavier, contributes to higher profits, and increases sales more cheaply.
  4. Increased food demand for a rapidly growing population.
  5. The effectiveness with which government efforts to control it.

Types of food adulteration

  • Intentional Adulteration: When ingredients that resemble the food’s components are added to raise the food’s weight and maximize mixing of pebbles, stones, marbles, sand, mud, filth, chalk powder, contaminated water, etc.
  • Incidental Adulteration: Accidental food adulteration happens as a result of carelessness. For e.g. residues of pesticides in grains, larvae growth, presence of droppings of rodents, etc.
  • Metallic adulteration: Metal adulteration is the adding of metallic substances like lead or mercury to food. It may happen intentionally and arsenic from pesticide, lead from water, effluent from chemical industries, tin from cans.
Food productAdulterantHarmful effect
HoneyMolasses, dextrose, sugar and corn syrupsStomach disorders
Jam, Juice and CandiesNon-permitted dyes including metanil yellow and other artificial food dyes.Highly carcinogenic
Milk and milk productWater and starch powderstomach disorder
GrainsDust, Pebbles, Stones, Straw, weed seeds, damaged grain, etc.Liver disorders, Toxicity in the body, etc.
Ice CreamPepper oil, ethyl acetate, butyraldehyde, nitrate and washing powderDreadful diseases that affect organs including lungs, kidneys, and heart.
Turmeric, dals and pulsesMetanil yellow, kesari dalHighly carcinogenic, stomach disorder
Mustard seed and mustard oilArgemone seed, papaya seedEpidemic dropsy, severe glaucoma
Coffee powderTamarind seed, chicory powderDiarrhea, stomach disorder, giddiness, severe joint pains
Tea Artificial coloring agents Liver disorder
Edible oilMinerals oils, karanja oil,castor oil and coloring agentsGallbladder cancer,allergies,paralysis, cardiac arrest.

Harmful effect of food adulteration

  • Increases the impurity in food: Food that has been adulterated has more impurities, making it unfit for human consumption. Long-term consumption of contaminated food will affect our health in both the short and long terms.Impure food is unsafe to consume so it is better to produce stuff as far as possible or to get stuff from organic centers or directly from the farmers.
  • Lack of nutritional value: Food that has been adulterated is of poor quality and has very little nutrition. Also, some contaminated food has a taste all its own. We are compromising our health and flavor when we buy and eat contaminated food.
  • When lead chromate is mixed with spices like turmeric powder, it can cause anemia, paralysis, brain damage, and abortions.
  • Water and alcoholic beverages may contain cobalt, which can harm the heart. Furthermore, tin, copper, and zinc might result in colic, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Non-approved colour or permitted food colour like metal yellow, exceeding the permissible limit in colored food can cause allergies, hyperactivity, liver damage, infertility, anemia, cancer and birth abnormalities.

Techniques for Food Authentication 

The process of ensuring that a product is in conformity with its label description is known as food authenticity.

Molecular techniques, genomics – proteomics

One of the most common methods of authentication is the use of molecular analysis to distinguish real (authentic) food products from imitations. Most species detection and identification techniques for food authenticity involve nucleotide- and protein-based techniques. The Polymerase Chain Reaction’s (PCR) extremely selective amplification of DNA fragments is the foundation of DNA-based approaches for food authentication. Genomics and proteomics are usually applied to identify false description and mislabeling of foods. For e.g., detection of horse meat and pork in food labeled as beef, botanical origin of foods (olive oil, wine, tomato products, tea, and cocoa), species origin authentication (meat, milk, fish).

Chromatographic techniques

Chromatographic analysis allows for the quick and accurate separation of components that are chemically identical in intricate food matrices. Chromatographic methods must overcome a number of obstacles presented by food matrices in order to authenticate food. Peptides, lipids, carbohydrates, amino acids, fatty acids, organic acids, nucleic acids, phytochemicals, and other tiny molecules (additives, such as colorants, fragrances, preservatives, and other foreign compounds) are among the many different substances that make up food substrates. The adulteration of high-quality products with cheap or inferior components, such as honey, wines, vegetable and olive oils, spirits, coffee, milk, cheeses, saffron, nuts, and mushrooms, is an example of how chromatographic techniques are used to identify the authenticity of foods.

Vibrational & fluorescence spectroscopy

 Vibrational spectroscopy in particular is a quick and affordable approach for determining the authenticity of food as well as its quality. The rapid development of methods that use multivariate (MVA) analysis to near infrared (NIR) and mid infrared (MIR) data to assess food matrices has been made possible by novel instrumental techniques combined with chemometric methodologies. Food adulteration by milk powder, adulteration of honey by syrups (high fructose corn, maltose, or jaggery syrup), adulteration of olive oil by vegetable oils or lampante/pomace olive oils, mixing of ground black pepper with buckwheat and millet, adulteration of culinary spices by Sudan I dye, and meat adulteration are typical examples of spectroscopic methodologies used for food authentication. There have been reports of the authenticity of milk, olive oils, honeys, wines, spirits, spices and other culinary items, as well as saffron and lentil seeds.

Elemental techniques

Elemental techniques is widely used to evaluate the authenticity of food. The term “elemental profile” refers to macro-elements like sodium, calcium, and potassium, trace elements like copper, zinc, and selenium, rare earth elements like lanthanum, cerium, and samarium, or other elements that only occur at extremely low abundances (such as iridium and gold). The differentiation of the country of origin of wine, honey, olive oil, coffee, cheese, fruits and vegetables, spices, and food additives are other instances of elemental fingerprinting study of food authenticity.


Compounds including amino acids, fatty acids, and carbohydrates are found in food. One of the best ways to get “high-throughput” spectroscopic and structural data on a variety of chemical compounds is through the use of NMR. It makes it possible to accurately determine the complicated compositional matrices of foods. NMR analysis has been used to determine adulteration, including the addition of cane or corn sugar to maple syrup, the adulteration of red wine with anthocyanins, and artificial tastes marketed as natural. Wines, coffee, olive oils, honey, fish, spirits, vinegar, and saffron are among the foods that may be differentiated by their metabolic profiles using NMR.

Sensory analysis

Consumers now place a greater emphasis on the need for items to be excellent in organoleptic quality in addition to being secure and nutritious. Sensory analysis has become important in many foods sector. The qualities of appearance, aroma, flavor, and texture play a significant role in assessing the quality and authenticity of food items.


Sarmila K C

Welcome to The Science Notes! I'm Sarmila K C, a science writer with a background in Food Technology. My mission is to simplify complex scientific topics and make them accessible to everyone. I cover the various topics of science and explain them with clear, accurate information.

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