Archive for the ‘Environment & science’ Category

Chemical Analysis of Steenbergs Organic Rose Water

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

We are often asked quite detailed technical questions about Steenbergs’ organic rose water.  In particular:

  • What type of water is used? Tap water
  • Is the water distilled water? Yes
  • Does the water contain pesticides or heavy metals? No
Steenbergs Organic Rose Water

Steenbergs Organic Rose Water

Firstly, the rose water is organic and distilled from organic rose petals picked and processed in the Rose Valley of Bulgaria.  It is certified as organic by Ceres, a German certification agency.  So it is grown and processed in an organic way, however that (as many customers keep telling me) does not preclude contamination from other surrounding farmland, so see below.

Secondly, on the water itself, the water used is standard potable water, i.e. it’s not borehole water or the like, but a “tap water” and this meets EU government guidelines on drinking water.

However, in the process, the water is distilled through a double water-vapour distillation process – the first is a standard distillation through a still, and the second runs the distillate a second time but this time through a cohabation column.  So in answer to the question, the water in the rose water is distilled.

This second distillation concentrates the flavour by roughly ten times, and is called “cohabation” – the rose oil tends to float on the top of the distillate so this second distillation dissolves more of this floral flavour into Steenbergs rose water.  For reference: 1.4kg of fresh rose petals yields 1kg of rose water.

Thirdly, as for the possibility for contamination of the water, our most recent tests of the organic rose water are as below and they contain no pesticides, agrochemicals and the levels of heavy metals are well within guidelines:

  Steenbergs Organic Rose Water UK Drinking Water Standards What standard used?
Pesticides Not detected 0.5 µg/l EU Directive 98/83/EC
Agrochemicals:
  Nitrates 0.4 mg/l 50 mg/l EU Directive 98/83/EC
  Nitrites <0.01 mg/l 0.50 mg/l EU Directive 98/83/EC
Plant treatments:
  Chlorates <2 µg/l <10 µg/l EU Recommendation 2015/682
  Perchlorates <0.5 µg/l <10 µg/l EU Recommendation 2015/682
Metals/heavy metals:
  Aluminium <2 µg/l <200 µg/l UK National Requirements
  Arsenic 1.40 µg/l <10 µg/l EU Directive 98/83/EC
  Cadmium 0.01 µg/l <5 µg/l EU Directive 98/83/EC
  Copper 0.09 mg/l <2 mg/l EU Directive 98/83/EC
  Iron 37.06 µg/l <200 µg/l UK National Requirements
  Lead 5.62 µg/l <10 µg/l EU Directive 98/83/EC
  Manganese 4.46 µg/l <50 µg/l UK National Requirements
  Molybdenum <0.03 µg/l No standard
  Nickel 4.05 µg/l <20 µg/l EU Directive 98/83/EC
  Selenium 0.48 µg/l <10 µg/l EU Directive 98/83/EC
  Zinc 191.14 µg/l No standard*

*there is a complex proposed standard that proposes 10.9 bioavailable plus Ambient Background Concentration (μg/l) dissolved that I really don’t understand, while Australia and Canada have limits of 3 – 5 mg/l (5000 µg/l).

North Yorkshire Nature Notes – May 2016

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

 

Flowering hawthorn and cow parsley on the verges by Upper Dunsforth

Flowering hawthorn and cow parsley on the verges by Upper Dunsforth

Spring sprung really late this year.  Today’s another bitterly cold day – overcast with a biting wind.

The wisteria in our garden never really came out, so even by the second May bank holiday, only a few fronds were dangling down.  A real disappointment – normally there’s a full wall of deep purple and a deep buzz from the insects busily hunting out nectar along its length.  But this year, nothing much before the leaves came out.  It’s a good test of the year, because usually the wisteria is at its peak or just over for the Aldborough May Day on the first weekend of May, but it was not even out then.

It is more a sign of a long winter than an especially cold one, but it dragged on without particularly ever warming up.

The swallows were, also, late, and I bet they dream of Southern African skies.  Only four were here by early May, but now the skies are full of their diving and darting.  They also have a joyful, insistent chatter as they sit on the TV aerial gossiping away.  The best time to see them is in the evening circling above the house or over the village green.  In amongst them, there are swifts scything their way through the sky.  It is the swallows that I really love, my favourite of our migrating birds.

There are two robin pairs in our garden.  Sometimes you see the red-breasted males scampering across the lawn, glaring at each other facing themselves down.  While I read my book in the back yard, one male robin watches me, challenging me as the intruder into his space.

By late May, North Yorkshire’s hedgerows are covered in the snow blossoms of flowering hawthorn, with road verges covered in the whites of cow parsley, sweet cicely and nettle flowers.  Buttercups brighten some verges in cloaks of yellow.  By Ornhams Hall, a neglected copse with a liberal smattering of rubbish has the unmistakable sweet aroma of crow garlic.

On the corner with the old Great North Road going towards Marton-cum-Grafton, there is a verge that’s coloured by bluebells and celandine.  I always ponder whether they were planted by a farmer’s wife to brighten up the boring verge or are a relic of an old copse that has given way to fields.  They’re much more natural looking than the ubiquitous splashes of daffodils on verges and roundabouts across the vale.

Springtime Reaches Aldborough

Sunday, April 10th, 2016
Dere Street, now Boroughbridge Road, With A Really Wide Verge

Boroughbridge Road Near Marton-cum-Grafton

10th April: today was the first day that really felt like spring in Aldborough – bright blue sky, no wind and a little warmth that seems to have enlivened everyone.

When I went out for my Sunday cycle and run, there were definitely more people out compared to the much poorer showing for most of the winter months.  Fellow cyclists, walkers, runners and cars – even about thirty cars squashed in the lane between Upper and Lower Dunsforth from the Yorkshire Searchers, a metal detecting club.

Birds seen: black birds, crows, dunnocks, linnets, magpie, sparrows (we’ve several living in our roof), woodpigeon, wrens  and the canary-yellow of a yellowhammer; no birds of prey, but have seen recently: kestrels, a red kite and a barn owl that tracked down the road by the hedgerow until it spotted and swooped onto a mouse or shrew, then flew off.  Sometimes, there are buzzards and a sparrowhawk.  Later, Sophie and I walked in the sunshine on the levées by the Ure, carpeted in golden flowers of lesser celandine and dandelion, and watched sand martins pirouetting in the sky above the river-bank by Ellenthorpe Hall.

Flood Defences By Ellenthorpe Hall

Celandine Flowers By River Ure By Aldborough

Spring must be here, finally; next, there will be swallows, but not yet.

Everywhere, you see rabbits nibbling at the grass verges or darting across country lanes.  A few weeks ago, a roe deer scampered out from copse between the A1M and the old Great North Road (now the A168), and sometimes there’s a flash of russet as a weasel scampers from one side of the road to the other.

With the lack of wind and because it was early, the soundscape was wonderful – the birdsong joyous along the hedgerows – with only the faintest hint of cars passing.  Even the long train of Yorkshire Searchers were quiet as they were stationery at the time.  A natural chorus of: chit-it chit-it, klep-toowit, oow-oooh, tiddle-iddle-lu-wi, trrrrrrrr, and who cooks for-you ohA lapwing heard, not seen, on Lower Dunsforth Common.

At the end of the day, May Day dancers practising on the Green.

Update on 17th April: I saw a couple of pioneer swallows whilst out cycling today.  The rest should come in the next few weeks.

Is there aluminium in bicarbonate of soda?

Friday, December 25th, 2015

Fairly frequently, we are asked “is Steenbergs bicarbonate of soda aluminium free?”

In short, yes it is aluminium-free, as well as gluten-free, and Steenbergs organic baking powder is vegan and phosphate-free, while the non-organic baking powder is vegan with corn flour and free of added aluminium.

It’s a weird one this, because bicarbonate of soda is aluminium free and always has been.  But a whole lot of discussion seems to have arisen around finding aluminium free baking sodas, and describing the sins of those products that don’t state whether they are aluminium free.

To an extent, people are correct to have concerns, because aluminium is suggested as being linked to neurological disorders because it is a neurotoxin. But initial data that had suggested links to Alzheimer’s have not been proven and the Alzheimer’s Society states “importantly, there is no evidence to suggest that aluminium exposure increases your risk of dementia”.  The best information I could find on aluminium from food and other consumer products is the FAQ at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).

As far as I can tell, the story started in America when Bob’s Red Mill Baking Soda began to market a mined bicarbonate of soda as being aluminium free (they don’t do this anymore and only show “aluminium-free” on their baking powder).  So a myth arose that anything that did not state “aluminium-free” on the label must de facto contain aluminium.  In fact, bicarbonate of soda simply does not contain aluminium, whether mined or chemically synthesised, and so long as it is 100% pure bicarbonate of soda never has done.

I hope that clarifies things.

Where it seems the concern arose was in a misunderstanding – baking powders can sometimes include aluminium-based chemicals, but these are different from baking soda (American term used specifically), i.e. baking soda was mistaken for baking powder.  So customers should look out for aluminium-free baking powder, but this never seems to be question that’s asked online.

We do test Steenbergs bicarbonate of soda and Steenbergs baking powder for presence of aluminium using laboratories.  And we, also, test within Steenbergs for gluten, even if we don’t make any declarations on this.  Both the bicarbonate of soda and baking powder came up negative for gluten (not detected at 5ppm, i.e. less than 5mg/kg) when I tested the current batches for this blog.

However, sometimes small amounts of aluminium seem to get into baking powder.  This must come in with the cornflour or other carrier in the baking powder because no aluminium chemicals have been used in the products – I have checked a few products out there and small amounts seem to sneak in (ranging up to 100ppm), plus I have spoken with manufacturers and they say the same.  (Note: some “aluminium free” baking powders state “no added aluminium” or that no sodium aluminium sulphate is included in the mix which arguably is different; in general there is no defined level for which something is “aluminium free”).

So neither Steenbergs baking powder nor bicarbonate of soda (a.k.a. baking soda) contain added aluminium and gluten and are vegan, plus our organic baking powder is, also, vegan, phosphate-free, GMO free, organic.

Audio Interview from CareerFarm: Building an organic spice business committed to fairtrade and the environment with Axel Steenberg

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

I recently did this phone interview with Jane Barrett of The Career Farm, which can be found at Jane’s Blog or listen below:

Autumnal Colours In North Yorkshire

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

I have always liked autumn.  The weather is cooler than summer, or at least in theory – this year’s been a washout.

But I also like harvest time and autumnal colours.  The corn is in from most fields around us, the apples are turning a russet colour and the elderberries are a deep black, hanging heavy in the hedgerows, having given us heady elder flowers at mid summer.  Brambles all dark and healthy.

Then in the garden, there is the late yellows of rudbeckia and the purples of sea hollies.

Elder berries ripening on elder hedgerow

Elder berries ripening on elder hedgerow

Apple ripening in our garden

Apple ripening in our garden

Autumnal yellows of rudbeckia petals

Autumnal yellows of rudbeckia petals

Purple colours of sea holly

Purple colours of sea holly

A Walk Along A Country Lane In North Yorkshire

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

Last night whilst Sophie was playing tennis with our son, Jamie, I went for a walk along the River Ure with our daughter, Poppy.  It was a beautiful evening with swallows and sand martins out in abundance and only a few others around.  The river flowed sedately past while a father and son fished at one of the fishing piers.  At Boroughbridge lock, a boat was passing through.  But I had forgotten forgot my camera.

So this morning after a bike ride, I retraced some of the walk.

Why?  Because it was amazing to realise within only a couple of miles of walking, we had passed almost all the main types of crops (barley, oats and wheat), as well as cows around and about.  But we never really think about it, because it’s all we’ve ever known.  Then  along the hedgerows, the elders were forming their berries and brambles were developing.

Wheat Field

Wheat Field

Close Up of Wheat

Close Up of Wheat

Barley Field In North Yorkshire

Barley Field In North Yorkshire

Close Up Of Barley

Close Up Of Barley

Field Of Oats

Field Of Oats

Close Up Of Oats

Close Up Of Oats

Potato Field With Cows in Distance

Potato Field With Cows in Distance

Elderberries Beginning To Develop

Elderberries Beginning To Develop

Declining Cork Farms – The Price of Progress?

Friday, July 24th, 2015
Cork Trees

A copse of cork trees in Alentejo

We have just returned from a fortnight in the baking heat of Alentejo.  The temperature ranged around 35oC, reaching 40oC on a couple of melting afternoons.  But the pool was our saviour.

Everywhere we looked there were cork trees, growing individually, in small groups or large plantations.  Their ancient-looking, gnarled branches seemed like witch’s fingers pointing crookedly to the blue skies.

Many of their stems were a deep red-brown colour, similar to the rusty coloured rich Alentejan soils.  This was where they have been skilfully cut to remove the corky layer of bark from their stems.  Harvesting is done every 9-10 years, so it’s roughly 1 in 9 that have this rich brown trunk.

Apparently, half of the world’s corks come from here.  It’s an industry started by Dom Pérignon, the monk Champagne maker, in the seventeenth century.  While Dom Pérignon is famed for wine-making, he also introduced the cork as the stopper of choice instead of wood.

Cork is perfect as it’s inert, sustainable and biodegradable.  It also makes a nice plup sound when pulled out.

Bark growing on cork tree

Bark growing on cork tree

Cork bark

Cork Drying In Yard

But now we replacing these with plastic stoppers or screw caps.  These are promoted because they have no different taste impact versus cork, plus for screw-caps convenience is given as a plus point.

However, I now can’t help feeling this is a mistake.

Cork is sustainable, renewable and biodegradable.  Cork supports unique ecosystems in the Alentejo, as well as supporting a rural economy.

Whereas plastic stoppers are just that plastic.  They are not “green” – neither recyclable nor sustainable nor renewable – and do not help rural economies.  Screw caps are recyclable in theory, but they certainly don’t help the Alentejo.

The consequence is that cork farms are being abandoned or cut down or not replanted after forest fires.

Progress?

I’m going to stop buying plastic tops and screw cap bottles, now.

Cork Trees in Alentejo

Cork Trees in Alentejo

Cinnamongate: is cinnamon safe to eat?

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

We regularly get asked questions about the safety of cinnamon, e.g. “is cinnamon safe to consume?” or “how much coumarin is there in Steenbergs cinnamon?”  There’s a lot of chatter about this issue in webworld and in blogs.

Cinnamon Quills_02

Cinnamon quills packed into boxes from Sri Lanka

Because of these queries, I thought it useful to investigate the situation and find out the levels of coumarin in some Steenbergs’ products.

In summary:

  • Cassia cinnamon and true cinnamon are very different spices but both are generally sold as “cinnamon”
  • Steenbergs labels and sells true cinnamon as “cinnamon” and cassia cinnamon as “cassia”
  • Cassia cinnamon contains high levels of coumarin, but true cinnamon almost no coumarin
  • Coumarin, so cassia cinnamon, should be ingested in limited amounts:

No more than 1 teaspoon of cassia cinnamon per day, based on EU recommendations for Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) of 0.1 mg of coumarin per kg bodyweight every day

  • Cinnamon (true cinnamon) is safe to eat in terms of coumarin and your health
  • Coumarin may cause liver damage in some susceptible people, but its effects usually appear to be  reversible and so overeating of cassia for short periods does not usually appear to be a problem

If you need further information, you should consult a doctor.  I have taken the data for this blog from official Government sources and current scientific papers, so it is up-to-date as of 19 July 2015.

MORE DETAIL

What is coumarin?
Coumarin is a naturally occurring volatile oil (benzo-α-pyrone), found in many plants, e.g. cassia, cinnamon, tonka beans, vanilla and woodruff.  It gives that pleasing and heady cinnamon aroma – a direct, sweet, fresh hay character.  It was first isolated in tonka beans in the 1820s and took its name from the old botanical name for tonka – Coumarouna which in turn came from the native French Guianan name for the tonka tree, kumarú.

Where is coumarin found?  As mentioned above, it is found in various spices.  However, the most important route of intake is via cassia or cassia cinnamon and this is the cinnamon that the various studies relate to.

This distinction is very important – true cinnamon (Cinnamon verum or Cinnamomum zeylanicum) contains much reduced levels of coumarin.  At Steenbergs, we only sell true cinnamon as cinnamon.  Also, we only use cinnamon as cinnamon in our blends, and if we use cassia it is labelled as cassia not cinnamon.  We do, also, sell cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia, a.k.a. Cinnamomum aromaticus or Cinnamon burmanii), but always label this as cassia and never as cinnamon.

You can tell the difference quite quickly – true cinnamon is a light tan and has a subtle woody aroma like box or sandalwood, with hints of cinnamon and citrus, whereas cassia cinnamon is a darker tan and has a more direct, blunter petrochemical aroma that is strongly “cinnamony” and reminiscent of German Christmas biscuits (Spekulatius or Zimtsterne) and Danish pastries.  As an aside, we are sometimes told Steenbergs cinnamon does not taste like cinnamon, but then find there has been confusion between cassia and cinnamon, because this is the more readily-found form of the spice.

The confusion arises because cassia cinnamon is quite legitimately, also, sold as cinnamon and is the cinnamon used in baking – hence, it’s other name “baker’s cinnamon”.

From a chemical view, cassia and cinnamon are noticeably different.  True cinnamon contains eugenol and benzyl-benzoate and no (or trace) coumarin.  In contrast, cassia cinnamon contains high amounts of coumarin.  Both cassia and cinnamon contain cinnamaldehyde.

In terms of levels of coumarin in powder versus quills, cassia quills have coumarin levels 75% lower than the powder.  For true cinnamon, quills have higher coumarin levels than powder, but both are still low.

Why is coumarin a concern? In high doses, coumarin can cause liver damage in small group of sensitive individuals.  However, only some individuals are susceptible to liver issues from coumarin, and those individuals would need to exceed the TDI for more than two weeks before liver issues might arise, then if they do occur the toxicity is reversible.  Maximum daily limits of coumarin have been set in the EU.

This issue originally arose with a report on cassia cinnamon in 2006 by the Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (“BfR”), the scientific agency charged with providing scientific evidence for consumer health protection in Germany.  This showed that consumption of foods containing cassia cinnamon can result in the TDI of coumarin being exceeded, because of the high levels of cassia cinnamon used in some recipes.  Consequently, there has been a knock-on impact for bakers of traditional European bakery goods, e.g. cinnamon rolls (Danish pastries/kanelsnegle) and cinnamon Christmas cookies (Zimtsterne) within Europe, and people who use cinnamon to reduce their sugar intake by sprinkling it onto their cereal.

EC Regulation 1334/2008 gives the following limits for coumarin, which specifically excludes spices and mixes of spices, herbs, teas and infusions:

Table 1: Limits for coumarin in particular food categories per EC Regulation 1334/2008


Compound food in which substance is restricted

Maximum level
mg/kg

Traditional and/or seasonal bakery ware containing a reference to cinnamon in the labelling

50

Breakfast cereals including muesli

20

Fine bakery ware, with the exception of traditional and seasonal bakery ware (above)

15

Desserts

5

The best technical information available is found at the BfR’s website.  There is an excellent FAQ that covers pretty much everything you need to know: http://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/349/faq-on-coumarin-in-cinnamon-and-other-foods.pdf, and their latest opinion includes the following on consumption of spices (see http://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/349/new-insights-into-coumarin-contained-in-cinnamon.pdf dated 2012)[1]:

“For cinnamon sticks and cinnamon powder as a spice for household use, no limit values have been defined, however.  If an average coumarin content in cassia cinnamon of 3000mg per kilogram of cinnamon is assumed, the TDI value can be exceeded by consumers who eat a great deal of cassia cinnamon.  For an adult with a body weight of 60kg, the TDI value is reached, if 2g of cassia cinnamon are consumed per day.  For an infant with a body weight of 15kg, this is the case if 0.5g of cassia cinnamon are consumed per day.  Overall exposure can be increased by other sources, for example coumarin-containing cosmetics.  Consumers who frequently and regularly eat cinnamon-containing foods should be aware of this.  The BfR still recommends that cassia cinnamon is consumed in moderation.  Consumers frequently using large quantities of cinnamon as a condiment should therefore opt for the low-coumarin Ceylon cinnamon.”

How much coumarin is there in Steenbergs spice products?  We have had some of our relevant spices tested for coumarin levels by Eurofins Analtytik GmbH, using high performance liquid chromatography.  The results are shown in the table below, together with results from peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Table 2: Coumarin content of cassia cinnamon, true cinnamon and spice blends


Name

Other names

Origin

Coumarin
mg kg-1

Coumarin
%

Cassia Baker’s cinnamon Vietnam

 2 900

0.3 

Cassia [2] Baker’s cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon, bastard cinnamon

4 167

0.4

Cassia [3] Indonesia, Vietnam

3 856

0.4

Cassia [4] Indonesia, Vietnam

2 239

0.2

Cassia [5] China, Indonesia, Vietnam

3 016

0.3

Cassia [6]

3 250

0.3

Cassia [7] Indonesia

4 020

0.4

Cinnamon True cinnamon Sri Lanka

 31

– 

Cinnamon [2] True cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon Sri Lanka

68

Cinnamon [3] Sri Lanka

nd

Cinnamon [4] Sri Lanka

25

Cinnamon [5] Sri Lanka

nd

Cinnamon [6]

44

Cinnamon [7] Sri Lanka

64

Mixed spice   UK

 670

 0.1

Fairtrade mixed spice   UK

 22

 –

Pumpkin pie   UK

 22

 –

Tonka beans   Brazil

 52 000

 5.2

In conclusion, cassia cinnamon has coumarin levels of 2239 – 4167 mg kg-1, almost 100 times greater than levels in true cinnamon with the range of 0 – 68 mg kg-1.  Steenbergs spice mixes have low coumarin levels at 22 – 670 mg kg-1.  where one of the blends included about one-quarter cassia cinnamon.  In contrast, tonka beans have very high levels of coumarin of 52000 mg kg-1.

What does this mean in relation to safety to eat?  The BfR has issued guidance on the TDI that a person can eat daily over a lifetime without appreciable health risk and this includes those sensitive to liver damage from coumarin[1].  The TDI is 0.1 mg of coumarin per kg bodyweight every day.  An adult of 60-70 kg (9½-11 stone) can, therefore, eat 6-7 mg of coumarin per day safely for the rest of their life.  Further, for a 20-30 kg (3-5 stone) child, the limit is 2-3 mg coumarin.  The European Food Safety Authority has calculated the same levels [8].  Even if this value is exceeded for a short while, this does not appear to pose any health risks per BfR and EFSA.

Translating this into teaspoons, an adult should not consume more than ½-1 teaspoon of cassia cinnamon a day and a child no more than ¼-½ teaspoon of cassia a day.

Another way of thinking about it is that an adult can eat 68-120g of cassia cinnamon biscuits a day (10-24 biscuits) and children 17-30g of cassia cinnamon biscuits a day (4-6 biscuits)[1][5].  For cinnamon Danishes or buns, this is roughly 4 for adults and 1 for children per day.

These levels are relevant through time, so a child who eats his/her coumarin limit twice in a week only reaches 29% of his/her TDI (assuming no other cassia cinnamon is ingested).

In contrast, an adult can consume 55-104 teaspoons of true cinnamon and children 24-45 teaspoons.  Therefore, the levels of consumption for true cinnamon are effectively unlimited in terms of coumarin.

What can bakers do about this?  Ideally, you should get your cassia’s coumarin content tested and determine the final coumarin content of your bakery products.  Also, whenever food authorities have tested for coumarin, quite a number of products seem to exceed the legal limits – probably because people are unaware of the regulations.

However, we have created a practical guide as below.  If we assume the safe limits for coumarin consumption are those listed in the EC Regulation EC 1334/2008, then maximum levels for use of cassia and true cinnamon can be calculated and practical limits determined for bakers and other manufacturers.

Table 3: Practical guide for maximum levels of cassia cinnamon or true cinnamon to meet EC regulations on coumarin for specific food categories


Food category

Max level of coumarin
mg/kg

Max level of cassia(i)
mg/kg

Approximate teaspoons of cassia per kg(ii)

Max level of true cinnamon(i)
mg/kg

Approximate tsp cinnamon per kg(ii)

Traditional and/or seasonal bakery

50

7.9

797.4

399

Breakfast cereals

20

3.2

1

319.0

159

Fine bakery ware

15

2.4

¾

239.2

120

Desserts

5

0.8

¼

79.7

40

Notes:
(i) Maximum levels have been determined as the average coumarin content plus 2.58 x standard deviation; this means maximum amounts will not exceed coumarin content in 99% of cases.
(ii) Based on level teaspoons for cassia of 2.8g and cinnamon 2.0g.

References

[1] BfR (2012), New insights into coumarin contained in cinnamon, BfR opinion No. 036/2012, 27 September 2012, Berlin, Germany (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[2] BfR (2006) Consumers, who eat a lot of cinnamon, currently have an overly high exposure to coumarin, BfR Health Assessment No. 043/2006, 16 June 2006, Berlin, Germany (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[3] Blahová, J., Svobodová, Z. (2012) Assessment of coumarin levels in ground cinnamon available in the Czech retail market, The Scientific World Journal, 2012: 2863851, 4 pp, Available online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3385612/ (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[4] Lungarini, S., Aurelia, F., Coni , E. (2008) Coumarin and cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon marketed in Italy: A natural chemical hazard? Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, Volume 25, Issue 11, 31 October 2008, 1297-1305, Available online but not free (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[5] Sproll, C., Ruge, W., Andlauer, C., Godelmann, R., Lachenmeier, D. W. (2008) HPLC analysis and safety assessment of coumarin in foods, Food Chemistry 109, 462-469, 27 December 2007 (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[6] VKM (2010) Risk assessment of courmarin intake in the Norwegian population – opinion of the panel on food additives, flavourings, processing aids, materials in contact with food and cosmetics of the Norwegian scientific committee for food safety (Rep. No. 09/405-2 final), Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety, 12 October 2010, Oslo, Norway, Available online at http://www.vkm.no/dav/271c242c20.pdf (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[7] Woehrlin, F., Fry, H., Abraham, K., Preiss-Weigert, A. (2010) Quantification of flavoring constituents in cinnamon: high variation of coumarin in cassia cark from the German retail market and in authentic samples from Indonesia, Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, 2010, 58 (19), pp 10568–10575, Available online (but not free) at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf102112p (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[8} efsa (2008) Coumarin in flavourings and other food ingredients with flavouring properties, Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials in Contact with Food (AFC), The EFSA Journal (2008) 793, 1-15, 8 July 2008, Available online at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/scdocs/doc/793.pdf (Accessed 12/5/2015)

What is Steenbergs’ carbon footprint?

Friday, June 5th, 2015

We seek to offset our carbon footprint so it is pretty small.

For 2014, Steenbergs has purchased carbon offsets for 72 tonnes of carbon dioxide (i), up from 17 tonnes in 2013.  This has increased, because we are now retiring even more of the greenhouse gases from our business.  This is in addition to using solar energy for 45% of our electricity usage and recycling as much of our waste as possible.

In previous footprints, we included direct greenhouse gases from energy consumed and business travel, together with those from the transport of goods to and from Steenbergs (ii).  In effect, this is the climate change impact resulting from what we do.

We actually reduced this direct carbon footprint by 25% between 2013 and 2014, down from 17 to 13 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2014.

However, in looking more closely at our products’ lifecycle from farm-to-landfill, we were excluding virtual carbon embedded within our packaging and ingredients.  So that’s the greenhouse gases arising from farming and the manufacture of glass jars, steel lids and tins, together with impacts resulting from the disposal or recycling of packaging by our customers.  But this embedded carbon (or traded carbon) should be brought into consideration, or an oil trader becomes very green when you ignore the oil (iii).

This would be fine if our suppliers offset their climate costs, but they don’t.

82% of the carbon footprint in Steenbergs’ products is indirect:

Breakdown of carbon impact from Steenbergs in 2014

Breakdown of carbon impact from Steenbergs in 2014

42 tonnes of carbon dioxide relates to packaging, compared to the 13 tonnes from our business.

As for farming, we had naively assumed that its carbon costs are analogous to the carbon captured in the plants themselves.  Mike Berners-Lee in How bad are bananas? gives zero as the carbon footprint of an apple plucked from a tree in your garden.

Initial research gives the impact may be 0.87 kg CO2 per kg of spices; this compares to 12kg and 19 kg CO2 per kg of beef and lamb.  Farming might add another 17 tonnes carbon dioxide (iv).  Because this relates to what we sell, we will need to dig deeper.

But using this, Steenbergs’ total footprint over the lifecycle of its products is 72 tonnes carbon dioxide every year, or 6 families’ worth of carbon.  This has been offset through ClimateCare, which neatly uses projects such as its LifeStraw project that combine Steenbergs’ concern for water with issues of climate change.

Putting this into context, spices and herbs contribute a tiny proportion of the carbon footprint of a meal.

For example, the spices in rogan josh are 0.1% of the total footprint versus 89% for the lamb, or 0.5% in tandoori chicken compared to 85% for the poultry.  The herbs in spaghetti bolognaise are less than 0.01% of its total carbon footprint.  And last month we calculated the carbon footprints of your cup of tea, coffee and hot chocolate.

Notes

(i)    For ease, carbon dioxide is lazily used for carbon dioxide equivalent, so it includes carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide gases.

(ii)   Steenbergs direct carbon footprint includes: electricity, business travel, water supply and sewerage, trade waste and recycled waste.  Steenbergs indirect carbon footprint comprises: freight for raw materials and packaging into Steenbergs and distribution of packed goods to our trade and consumer customers.

(iii)  See: Roger Harrabin (2015) CO2 cuts claims challenged by experts, BBC News, 19 March 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-31952888; or John Barrett , Glen Peters , Thomas Wiedmann , Kate Scott , Manfred Lenzen , Katy Roelich & Corinne Le Quéré (2013) Consumption-based GHG emission accounting: a UK case study, Climate Policy, 13:4, 451-470, DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2013.788858

(iv)   I am unclear whether these figures are for the lifecycle of spices and/or include carbon captured in the plants themselves.  47.5% of carbon is locked in plant material, equivalent to 1.7kg CO2 per kilo.  So I am confused…