Rabbi Dovid Cohen
Administrative Rabbinical Coordinator of the cRc
Most individual spices do not require hashgachah, but many spice blends consist of more than just a few spices mixed together; therefore, the general rule is that spice blends require certification or at least a good spec-sheet which clarifies the ingredients used in creating the blend. The following are some examples of blends which are popular in India and elsewhere in the Far East:1
- Berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend which does not have a set formula but appears to commonly contain only innocuous ingredients.
- Chinese Five Spice does not refer to a specific blend of spices but rather to a blend of one spice from each of the 5 types of taste,2 and could potentially contain more than just spices.
- Garam Masala may have non-spices such as vinegar added in and is not Group 1.
- Gumbo File (pronounced Gumbo Fee-Lay) is actually just ground sassafras leaves3 which are used for spicing Gumbo soup. Gumbo File is Group 1 (but Gumbo soup is surely not).
- Herbs de Provence appears to be a simple spice blend which is Group 1, if it is made from dried herbs as opposed to fresh ones (which may be infested with bugs).
- Mulling Spices is another blend which has no specific recipe but is rather different herbs, fruit essences and other ingredients which are blended to create a juice-spicer. It is not Group 1.
- Panch Phoron, a.k.a. Bengali Five Spice, is always made from the seeds of nigella, mustard, fenugreek, fennel and cumin (although there are occasional minor variations) and is Group 1.
- Ras el Hanout does not refer to a specific blend of spices but rather to a mixture of any/all good spices which the merchant has in stock. The fact that there is no firm “recipe” for this blend means that it must bear kosher certification.
- Tandoori Masala is a spice blend which is typically made of innocuous ingredients, but some recipes4 call for food coloring; therefore this blend requires hashgachah.
1 A good source of information on spices and spice blends is the Encyclopedia of Spices which can be found at https://theepicentre.com/spices/. A good amount of the information presented in this document is from that website.
2 I.e. sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami.
3 Sassafras Albidum.
4 See for example http://www.indianfoodforever.com/masala/tandoori-masala.html and http://indianfood.about.com/od/masalarecipes/r/tandoorimasala.htm.