Paprika Powder – The Spice with That Certain Something

Report from a day in the lab

Hanna Marks


Mild, medium or hot – the different grades of hotness offers something for everyone. It’s no wonder, then, that paprika powder is one of the most popular spices in Germany; it is used in a wide variety of dishes, including meat, raw sausages, sauces, cheeses and marinades. Not only does paprika powder spice up culinary dishes; the results of our pesticide analyses were also quite spicy: 19 (95 %) of the 20 analyzed samples from 2018 und 2019 contained quantities of one or more substances in excess of the legally permitted maximum levels. Especially noteworthy were the growth regulator chlormequat chloride and chlorate (see Info Box).


Illustration 1: Paprika powder to suit every taste

Illustration 1: Paprika powder to suit every taste


The Spice

After the discovery of the Americas the pepper plant was brought back to Europe and has spread quickly ever since. In Hungary, however, the land many people associate with paprika, the cultivation and use of this pepper began as late as the mid-19th century. Today the pepper plant is cultivated world-wide. The degree of hotness in the different types of peppers depends on the ratio of partition membranes and seeds contained in the paprika powder:

  • Delicatessen pepper: fine aroma, mild
  • Mild-noble pepper: mild, sweet, flavorful
  • Semi-sweet pepper: slightly spicy, flavorful
  • Rose pepper: spicy, flavorful
  • Hot pepper: flavorful, burning hot [1]


In addition to the capsaicinoids (the spicy substances), paprika powder also contains, among others, color giving carotinoids and the vitamins A, C, B1, B12, D, E and K. The paprika spice is used, for example, in raw sausages, meat, fish, vegetable and rice dishes, brown soups and sauces, preserves, cheese spreads, salads, marinades, dips and egg dishes. When cooking with paprika powder, it should be added at the end, to prevent it from becoming bitter in taste [2].


Paprika powder is made from ripe, dried, 5–15 cm long, oblong-conical shaped peppers. These differ from the typical bell peppers found in the supermarket. The results from our analyses of bell peppers can be found in our annual report: „Residues and Contaminants in Fresh Vegetables from Conventional Culture, 2018“.


Analytical Results

Between June 2018 and October 2019 CVUA Stuttgart analyzed 20 samples of paprika powder for the presence of residues and contaminants as part of our official food monitoring program. Nineteen (95 %) of the samples contained a total of 40 substances in quantities exceeding the legally established maximum level. Only one organically produced sample from Spain was in compliance with the legal maximum.


No. of Samples
With Residues (%)
> MRL (%)
Substances > MRL*
17 (100 %)
17 (100 %)
Chlorate (17x); Chlormequat-chloride (17x); Ethephon; Mepiquat chloride
Chlorate, Biphenyl
Chlorate, Nicotine
20 (100 %)
19 (95 %)

*some samples contained more than one substance over the MRL
**both samples came from organic production
***no percentage calculated for sample sizes under 5


Info Box

Maximum Residue Levels

VO (EG) No.  396/2005 (short: VO 396/2005):

Maximum residue levels (MRLs) are not toxicological endpoints or limit values. They are derived from residue investigations carried out under realistic conditions. The expected residues are then compared with toxicological limit values, in order to ensure that lifelong or a one-time intake of the substance does not pose a health risk. Maximum residue levels regulate trade, and are not permitted to be exceeded. Food containing residues above the MRL are not marketable; they may not be sold. Not every exceedance of an MRL poses a health risk, however. It is therefore important to make differentiated observations.


Reference: Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) brochure, plant protection substances – carefully checked, responsibly authorized, November 2009


Maximum Residue Levels for Processed Foods

There are generally no specific MRLs designated for processed foods, as is the case for paprika powder. The MRLs for fresh peppers must therefore be used for assessing the analytical results for paprika powder, including a processing factor. There are no legally binding processing factors, however. A drying factor of 10 was used for the assessment of paprika powder.


All of the samples exhibited multiple residues, that is, more than one pesticide substance in the sample. This can have several causes – the application of different substances during the growth phase, such as in a combination preparation; contamination occurring during storage or transport; or drifting. It is also possible that fresh peppers from different growers are used in the manufacturing of the paprika powder. Moreover, the failure to use good agricultural practices in the application of plant protection substances cannot always be ruled out [3].


Illustration 2: Multiple residues in paprika powder (CVUAS, June 2018 – Oct. 2019)

 Illustration 2: Multiple residues in paprika powder (CVUAS, June 2018 – October 2019)


Conspicuous and frequently detected substances

The five most frequently occurring pesticides in paprika powder are herbicides or growth regulators (Ill. 3). Chlorate and chlormequat chloride were especially notable regarding the exceedance of MRLs.


Chlorate was detected in all of the 20 samples, with 19 samples exceeding the legally established maximum level. The presence of chlorate residues in plant-based foods can have a variety of causes in addition to its application as an herbicide (see Info Box).


Info Box


Chlorates are effective as both herbicides and biocides. Since 2008, however, chlorate is no longer authorized for use as a pesticide* in the EU. Sodium chlorate may also no longer be used in biocide products.
The definition for „pesticide residues“ in Regulation (EC) No. 396/2005 also encompasses residues from pesticidal substances in food (including substances no longer authorized) that have pathways other than from the use of plant protectors (so-called dual-use substances), such as chlorate in food. Chlorate is thereby covered by the EU-wide valid default MRL of 0.01 mg/kg, in accordance with regulation (EC) No. 396/2005. In December 2017 in Germany maximum values were determined for the treatment of drinking water when the disinfection can’t be otherwise guaranteed: 70 µg/L chlorate for long-term application and 200 µg/L chlorate for a short-term dosage.**
The presence of chlorate in food can result not only from its use as a pesticide, but also from environmental pollution (contaminated rain- or irrigation water and soil), or as a residual of food production techniques, including methods used in farming, processing, preparation, or treatment. The application of biocides, from which chlorate can result, is another possible source of contamination. In general, chlorate can be formed as a by-product of the disinfection of drinking/industrial water with chlorine gas, hypochlorite, or chlorine dioxide.
Chlorate inhibits, reversibly, the intake of iodine into the thyroid gland and can cause unwanted health effects, especially in sensitive people such as children, pregnant women, or people with thyroid dysfunction. In addition to affecting thyroid function, chlorate can also damage the erythrocytes (formation of methaemoglobin, haemolysis).***

The member states are carrying out a monitoring program to determine the degree of food and drinking water contamination, in order to provide data for a toxicological evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Specific residue MRLs will then be established based on this information.


*10 November 2008 decision of the Commission regarding the non-inclusion of chlorate in Annex I of the RL 91/414/EWG of the Council and the repeal of authorization for pesticides containing this substance (ABl. L307/7 from 18.11.2008)

**Umweltbundesamt: Chlorate in drinking water (German)

***Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Recommendations of the BfR for health-based assessment of chlorate residues in food, from 12 May 2014, accessed on 6 Feb. 2019 (German)


The growth regulator chlormequat chloride was also detected, in 90 % of the samples; 17 of the 20 samples were over the legal MRL. Chlormequat chloride stems the growth of cereal stalks, thus promoting more stability. It also promotes flowering and fructification in various types of fruits and vegetables [4].


In the EU this substance is only authorized for use in the cultivation of cereals, not for fruit and vegetables. The exceedances of the MRL for chlormequat chloride only affected samples with unknown origins. Countries outside of the EU may have local authorization to use chlormequat chloride in fruit and vegetable cultivation; nevertheless, any foods imported into the EU must comply with European laws regarding maximum residue levels.


Mepiquat chloride is also a growth regulator. This substance was detected in 85 % of the samples, one of which exceeded the legally established maximum limit. Mepiquat chloride prevents, e.g. germination in onions, garlic and leeks. When combined with another growth regulator ethephon, it stems the growth of cereal stalks, thus increasing their stability. Ethephon is also used in fruit and vegetable cultivation to promote ripening by, e.g., splitting off from ethylene, to regulate the yield and, after the harvest, to speed up the ripening process [4]. One of the samples with unknown origin contained ethephon in amounts over the legal MRL.


Two further substances that were frequently detected in the analyzed paprika powder samples, that were nevertheless under the legal MRLs, were MCPA (in 90 % of the samples) and 2,4-D (in 80 %). Both of these substances are herbicides, and 2,4-D is also effective as a growth regulator.


Illustration 3: Frequency of detection for the most commonly found substances in paprika powder, as a percentage of the analyzed samples (CVUAS June 2018 – October 2019)

Illustration 3: Frequency of detection for the most commonly found substances in paprika powder, as a percentage of the analyzed samples (CVUAS June 2018 – October 2019)
A = Acaricide; F = Fungicide; H = Herbicide; I = Insecticide; M = Metabolite; S = Synergist; G = Growth regulator



With a violation rate of 95 % and a total of 40 MRL exceedances among the 20 samples, the residue situation in paprika powder is very unsatisfactory, even if the detected residue levels are under the toxicologically established reference values and therefore not of health concern. CVUA Stuttgart will continue to watch the situation and resume analyses in 2020.


Photo Credit

CVUA Stuttgart



[1] Würzmittel-Lexikon ein alphabetisches Nachschlagewerk von Abelmoschussamen bis Zwiebeln, Johannes Seidemann, Behr’s Verlag, 1993, unveränderter Nachdruck 1997

[2] Handbuch Aromen und Gewürze, Hall/Siewek/Gerhardt, Behr’s Verlag, 1. Akt.-Lfg. 2/00

[3] Bundesamt für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit: Hintergrundinformationen zu Mehrfachrückständen von Pflanzenschutzmitteln in und auf Lebensmitteln

[4] A World Compendium, The Pesticide Manual, BCPC, 15. Auflage, 2009


Translated by Catherine Leiblein.


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Report published on 19.02.2020 13:24:24