Multi-Element Evaluation in Black Pepper (Piper nigrum L.) According to the Processing

Black pepper is one of the most consumed spices worldwide and the evaluation of trace elements content is essential to promote consumer safety. In this study, concentrations of the elements As, Cd, Co, Cu, Fe, Mn, Mo, Ni, Pb, Se, V and Zn was determined in samples of black peppercorn (n = 25) and ground black pepper (n = 25) to verify how processing affects element concentrations. The elements were determined by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and flame atomic absorption spectrometry. A principal component analysis showed that Fe, Pb and V was influenced by the processing and ground black pepper samples showed higher levels for these elements than black peppercorn. Although specific legislation for spices is not available in Brazil, results indicated that Pb concentrations in two brands of the processed samples under investigation exceeded the maximum level established by Brazilian and European legislation for vegetables and fruits. These results point to the necessity to control the processing of the black pepper, especially the grinding step.