BAPP bulletin outlines adulteration of black seed, a rising star among medicinal botanicals

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - Rouzes
©Getty Images - Rouzes

Related tags black seed oil black cumin oil Nigella sativa Adulteration

A new Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program bulletin lays out how Nigella seed products are adulterated with similar looking seeds and how the oil is sometimes cut with lower cost seed oils.

The new BAPP bulletin​, written by natural products chemistry expert Nilüfer Orhan, PhD, is the 26th such bulletin published by the program and the 75th peer-reviewed publication overall.  BAPP is headed by the Amercian Botanical Council (ABC) along with the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and the National Centerfor Natural Products Research at the Univeristy of MIssissippi.

Ancient medicinal botanical

Nigella (Nigella sativa​) is commonly referred to as ‘black seed’ or ‘black cumin.’ It has a long history of use as an herbal medicine ingredient, especially in the Middle East.  According to BAPP, the ingredient has been used to treat inflammation and respiratroy complaints as well as other conditions since antiquity.  Archaeological evidence of the botanical’s usage can be found in ancient Egypt, and mentions of the curative properties of black seed can be found in the Old Testament as well as in the Sahih al-Bukhari, one of Islam’s sacred texts.

The botanical is traded both in the form of whole seeds, as pressed oils, as well as capsules and gummies containing the seed powders or oils. The BAPP bulletin notes that the whole seeds can be adulterated with addition of other, lower cost seeds of similar apperance and size, especially those of N. damascena.  

The seed oil may be aduterated with a host of other plant oils.  These include palm, corn, sunflower, soybean and canola oils.  The bulletin notes that black seed oil is 10 to 30 times more expensive than these commonly available oils, providing an ample motivation for economic adulteration.

“Nigella is a relatively little-known but increasingly popular botanical in the Western medicinal herb and dietary supplement industry. As more human clinical studies are published to support its health benefits, particularly in the areas of glycemic control, improvement of lipid profiles, and reduction of biomarkers of inflammation, nigella seed oil appears to be destined to become a more important ingredient in the coming years,” ​said Stefan Gafner, PhD, chief science officer of ABC and technical director of BAPP.

Sales increasing

The BAPP bulletin notes that trade in the botanical has steadily increased in the United States.  While it has yet to break into the listings of mainstream channel  bestsellers in the annual ABC Herb Market Report, it has risen to 18th place in the natural channel, with $6.5 million in sales in 2019.

Gafner said as the trade in the botanical increases, it has become apparent that diluted oils are in the market. In some cases, other plant oils, with no black seed content whatsoever, are being passed off as the real thing, he added.

“Multiple analytical methods (TLC, IR, GC, etc.) to authenticate nigella seeds and NSO have been published and a few pharmacopeial monographs exist which provide basic methods of identification and quality assessment. It is obvious that there is a need for more comprehensive ​N. sativa seed and seed oil monographs that will establish quality standards to provide better tools to reduce the adulteration of nigella products in the culinary and dietary supplement market. Companies and individuals involved in the purchase, trade, or quality control of nigella seed oil ingredients should be aware of the quality requirements and of existing adulteration issues,”​ the BAPP bulletin concludes.

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