Before you sprinkle paprika into a recipe for dinner tonight, you may want to be sure there aren’t any unwelcome visitors living in the jar.
Jody M. Green, an entomologist at the Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County, told the site, “The pepper family appears to contain the nutritional requirements necessary for multiple generations of stored product beetles to successfully sustain life.” Um, OK, ew.
That’s not to say you won’t find insects in other spices, including turmeric, coriander, cumin, fennel, and dry ginger, but they’re “particularly fond of products derived from dried sweet peppers/chiles/red pepper products like red pepper flakes, paprika, chili powder, and cayenne,” Green said.
The bugs most commonly found in spices (especially paprika and cayenne) are cigarette and drugstore beetles. Both are derived from the same family and have a reddish-brown color and a size similar to that of a sesame seed. Green notes that both the cigarette beetle and drugstore beetle—which also flock to dried tobacco and pharmaceuticals, hence the names—can fly, so you may hear the bugs hitting surfaces in the kitchen if they escape the paprika or other spice.
What may be even grosser than finding tiny beetles in your spices is finding what looks like tiny worms. “These particular pests are beetles, so they undergo complete metamorphosis. So they have an egg, larva, pupa, and adult stage,” he explained. The worms found in the spices are reportedly mostly in larva form; the cream-colored larvae have three pairs of legs, an orange head, dense hairs, and “chewing mouthparts.”
Green says that although your spices may be “infested after harvest” before arriving to the U.S., the bugs are more likely to have contaminated the spices during the treatment process: “Adult beetles are active fliers and can get into storage facilities via gaps, open doors, unscreened windows, infested vehicles, bulk bins and containers.
With adequate food source and temperature-controlled environment, insects can thrive, breed and feed.”
Now that you’re thoroughly disgusted, there are some steps you can take to at least end insects’ “lifecycle to ensure they don’t continue breeding.” Green recommends, for one, inspecting the spice jar at the store—looking for damaged packaging, and checking for larvae and beetles inside.
You can also put your spices in the freezer for four days at a temperature of zero degrees Fahrenheit before sticking them in your spice rack.
Oh, and, of course, be sure to clean up
spills in your kitchen as they happen. Good luck, and enjoy inspecting your spices from here on out!