5 Most Common Adulterated Foods in India

What is food adulteration?

Motivated by economic profitability or malicious intent, adding or mixing substandard or harmful substances to food items that may have adverse effect on health is known as food adulteration. Most common of adulterated foods in India include:

  • Milk – India is world’s largest producer and consumer of milk and related products. Unfortunately, it has become notoriously infamous for being the country to produce synthetic/artificial milk. Driven by increased urbanisation, high demand and unethical profit motives, adulteration and contamination of milk has become a serious problem. Contaminants range from water to chemicals such as caustic soda, white paint, refined oil, urea, starch, glucose and formalin. Detergent is often detected due to lack of hygiene in handling and packaging. Either way the health risks of the resulting mixture is very high. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently issued an advisory to the Government of India. It states that if milk and related products adulteration was not checked immediately, then by 2025, 87 per cent of its citizens may suffer from serious diseases like cancer.
  • Milk products – Just as gloomy is the situation with milk products such as paneer, ghee, yoghurt, butter and cream. Paneer is a staple for vegetarians in the country. In the market, it is often replaced with synthetic paneer which is made from mixture of maida, palm oil, baking powder, detergent, bicarbonate soda, skimmed milk and sulphuric acid. Similarly, synthetic butter, yoghurt and cream replacements are manufactured from combination of chemical and oils. The ‘real’ ghee has been replaced by butter oil. A wide variety of Indian sweets available are made from adulterated milk and milk products posing risk human health.
  • Tea/Coffee: Tea and coffee are the most consumed beverages in India. If your idea of a perfect evening is enjoying a hot cup of tea, then you need to know that adulteration of tea has taken place since the early 1800s. To enhance the aroma and taste, the tea leaves are mixed with artificial food colour, flavours and synthetic dye such as tartrazine, indigo, gypsum, graphite, Prussian blue. Coffee is ubiquitous food product of considerable economic value. It is often mixed with cheaper materials like clay powder, corn powder, chicory, woody tissues etc to increase profitability.
  • Honey: In ancient times, honey was considered to be ‘elixir of life’. However, in 2020 this definition for commercially available honey does not hold much ground.  In the year 2010 and 2016, CSE and Consumer Voice respectively conducted tests on popular honey brands available in India. On both instances, they detected rampant use of adulterants and antibiotics. Artificial honey is manufactured in illegal factories using sugar, corn or rice syrup to cater to rising demand. Artificial honey is devoid of trace minerals presents in natural honey and therefore does worse than good to human health. Additionally, at an alarming rate honeybees are being given antibiotics to keep them disease free. Besides, farmers often spray chemical pesticides on crops and flora in order to protect their yield. The Bees while foraging on nectar consume the deadly spray. Bee’s exposure to antibiotics and pesticides ultimately adulterates honey.
  • ‘Masala’ Powders: Spices and herbs are labour-intensive to produce, which keeps their prices high compared to other crops. Indian kitchen uses a variety of spices such as cardamom, clove, nutmeg, peppercorns and cumin.  Growing demand, production challenges and high prices make spices particularly tempting targets for food adulterators. To enhance the aroma, colour and texture of spices, different types of cheap chemicals are used. For instance, ‘Sudan 1’ a red dye also a known carcinogen, is used to cater red colour to chilli powders. Similarly, adulterant like lead chromate is used to impart bright yellow colour to turmeric. Also, to increase the weight of the spice packaging cheap fillers are used. For example, a packaged garam masala may contain saw dust or powdered bran while a pack of saffron may contain coloured maize thread.

With fair understanding about most common adulterated foods, in next blog, I will deep dive into various aspects of honey.


1. https://www.firstpost.com/india/appetising-in-taste-adulterated-in-content-your-paneer-may-be-gourmets-delight-but-it-might-just-be-spurious-5423131.html#:~:text=A%20report%20by%20the%20food,cheese%20to%20increase%20its%20quantity.

2. https://www.dailypioneer.com/2020/state-editions/district-admin-seizes-huge-quantity-of-adulterated-paneer.html

3. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/coimbatore/712kg-adulterated-tea-seized-from-palakkad-rd-godown/articleshow/71414135.cms

4. https://www.whatshot.in/pune/punes-famous-yewale-tea-c-19653

5. https://tea.fandom.com/wiki/Adulteration_of_tea6. https://www.cnbctv18.com/economy/how-safe-is-food-in-india-fssai-says-one-thing-data-says-another-4300401.htm

An alternate products portal

The central inspiration is to make available “alternate wellness products” to a large section of society. Mostly these products are manufactured in small women-self-help-groups, or my mom-pop shops, or small non-profits; even small companies; and some really large companies (such as Dabur, FabIndia, Patanjali Yog Peeth).

Giving access to markets in large cities in India to these small groups (and often with fantastic products) is the inspiration behind this portal. Ofcourse, we do not want to exclude larger brands, as they only help further the cause of large scale adoption and consumption of alternate products.

Nature of products
Ayurveda products by different brands; perishable and non-perishable organic foods; Bio-manures; Compost utilities; “difficult to find” books in various vernacular languages of India; “difficult to find” music from small and rural musicians and music companies; spiritual music and books;

Business Model
Either one can “source” and become the “supplier” of such products and run the portal; OR, one can enable suppliers to have their own shops setup in a common marketplace under one brand.

It is the latter that is the proposed business model for this portal.

We want to enable such organizations to use this portal to setup:

  1. their own online shops (www.alternateproducts.com/naturally-pahadi :: all products with categories under which “Naturally Pahadi” has products should get listed here)
  2. consolidate all products under categories in the larger portal brand (www.alternateproducts.com/drinks/rhododendron/naturally-pahadi/ :: this is a category based view, leading the buyer to click on the detail page of Rhododendron drink sold by “Naturally Pahadi”)

Promotion of the brand/portal would be the goal of this business; while the suppliers’ business will be to sell their products using this brand.

Writing articles around each of these products – collaboratively (by the community) – would be a central goal of this portal. The more organizations write, the more their products are found on Google, and the more they sell.

The portal will charge a commission on each sale; and assist buyers in ensuring that the Sellers have shipped the goods and completed the order.

Magento (commercial version) – seems to have this. If it is affordable – then buy and implement it. If it is too expensive, or features are unavailable, then there could be two routes. Build and enhance Drupal; OR build and enhance in Magento.

I imagine “SOLR generated product views” being used with Drupal 7, to “zip” the portal browsing experience, as has now been implemented at http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in by Vivek Puri). This ofcourse, if Drupal 7 is to be used; if Magento – then am not sure if this zipping is possible or no.

Extensive “Reporting” would be made available for “seller”, for their own-orders. Different set of Reporting would be available for “portal admins” to ensure that the Sellers are shipping their orders in time, etc.

Initially, we’ll use PayPal/CCAvenue for Merchant Banking.

Payments would have to be routed to Seller and a commission routed to Portal owners. As far as i know, this can be done only using AmazonFP. For this a company has to be registered in the US, to utilize this service. If so, a company can be registered easily in the US for this sole purpose.

Sales and Marketing
The biggest challenge will be to bring Sellers onto the portal. We will have online demos available, and bring non-profits to help setup shop on behalf of local suppliers. They would be the only ones who could have capacity to organize packaging and shipping of products.

If a prototype can be created and the concept demonstrated, this is a business aptly suited for funding by Aavishkar or Ennovent, and such similar “social  venture funds”. Rajneesh would be a great candidate for leading this portal as CEO, if we can get funding; and a great resource for helping acquire funding from these sources. Infact, with the sudden frenzy of E-Commerce companies suddenly getting funding the time for launching this product is ripe.