Action News Vol 3 no 3 Winter 1995
Adulteration of Paprika in Hungary
The following article appeared in Analysis Europa in
The Hungarian Government is desperately trying to restore consumer confidence in one of the country's most famous products - ground paprika - after large quantities of the popular spice were found to be contaminated with lead oxide.
The scandal stunned all Hungarians and was quickly followed by the arrest of individuals believed to have Mafia links. Government officials believe that, with the help of food analysis, they have the problem fully under control. Professor Erno Pungor, of The Institute for General and Analytical Chemistry in Budapest, says "There has been much embarrassment over the issue."
"The Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture found that 5.8 per cent of a batch of 3,432 random samples had been adulterated with Pb3O4. Not only did it enhance the colour of the paprika but it also added to the weight, increasing the profit to unscrupulous dealers."
Unfortunately, the discovery came too late for some. Several people have died through consuming the contaminated paprika and dozens have been taken ill. Nevertheless professor Pungor praised the rapid response of his Government once it became clear there was a problem.
"The Government strictly controls the export of paprika and believes that no contaminated spice has been exported to EU countries or elsewhere." In recent weeks the same controls that apply to export have been applied internally and it is hoped that all contaminated supplies will be identified and destroyed.
Paprika has always been a much sought after spice - it is used generously in Hungarian goulash - but there is an unpleasant history of adulteration with red lead.
Other tricks include the use of white pepper, curcuma, barium sulphate and even brick powder.
Since 1917 the control and marketing of paprika has been in the hands of the state but some people link the emergence of contamination problems with the advent of more free market policies.
Some of the latest analytical techniques are being used including AAS and inductively coupled plasma spectroscopy. The methods provide a quick and accurate means of distinguishing between normal pigment red 1 and pigment red 3, which are added legally to improve the colour, and illegal additives.
A spokesman for one of London's finest Hungarian restaurants, The Gay Hussar said proudly: "We know our supplier and are 100 per cent confident that our paprika is perfect."
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Updated 16 November 2012