Here’s what you need to know—plus some suggestions to work around the risk of heavy metals.
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

It's no secret that some spices can have serious health benefits (and turn a flavorless meal into something to write home about). We love the anti-inflammatory power of turmeric and the blast of flavor that a sprinkle of chili powder or garlic powder offers—but a new investigation from Consumer Reports is making us think twice about the  spices we use each day.

Consumer Reports tested bottles of 126 dried herbs and spices for the presence of arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury and salmonella. The assorted spices included multiple brands of basil, black pepper, chili powder, coriander, cumin, curry powder, garlic powder, ginger, oregano, paprika, saffron, sesame seed, thyme, turmeric and white pepper. While none of the bottles tested positive for mercury or salmonella, several bottles had concerning levels of heavy metals.

Those findings may especially concern those who cook for young children. As our sister publication Parents reports, any amount of cadmium, lead or arsenic is toxic to childrens' brains. While it's not feasible to eat a completely contaminant-free diet, those cooking for children may want to stick to the spices on this list that were free of heavy metals (more on that later).

The investigation found that no one brand was immune from containing heavy metals—the brands tested included popular brands such as Spice Islands, Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Badia, Walmart, Costco, Tone's and McCormick, among others. Organic spices also tended to test positive at the same rate as typical herbs and spices.

The spices could land in four categories, ranging from "no concern" to "high concern." All of the thyme and oregano tested was worthy of at least "some concern" based on the Consumer Reports thresholds. Basil and ginger only had one brand in the "no concern" category—in both cases, the brand Simply Organic got the green light from investigators. (You can view the full list here.)

The good news is that cooks can sub in fresh ingredients for those four dried spices—just pick up an herb plant from your local store to replace some of that thyme, oregano or basil flavor in your next herbaceous recipe. And you can typically find fresh ginger in the produce section at the grocery store. (You could even make a project out of drying those herbs yourself!)

Certain herbs and spices are critical to enjoying your favorite foods—think about the delicious pinch of oregano in your carnitas rub or the coriander in your favorite masala spice blend. Just aim for spice brands that scored well during Consumer Reports' investigation, like Simply Organic and Penzeys, to stay on the safer side.