"After water, tea and its many herbal variations represent the world's most popular beverage by far. Literally billions of cups are consumed every day, more than all the coffee, pop and every other drink combined," says Gamble, who begins studies at Harvard in September. "What's in those little bags of tea and herbal tea products is a matter of interest to billions of people."
"It's important to list every ingredient in a product because some people need to be very careful about what they consume," says Kirpekar, who enters Columbia in the fall. "Allergy symptoms might be just watery eyes but some people can get more seriously sick and they'd never know the reason was in their comforting hot drink. We were surprised to find many herbal teas in particular with unlisted ingredients."
"It's a mystery why ingredients are unlisted," adds Young, who can make the rare boast at 15 of having co-authored a peer-reviewed academic paper. "It might just be a weed picked up during harvesting or the residue of a plant used in one product gets passed to the next product in a processing facility."
"Maybe unlisted ingredients like chamomile or parsley are added to provide flavour or color to herbal teas, serving the same purpose as garlic or onion in cooking. Perhaps manufacturers want to sell full looking bags and pad them with filler."
"All of that, though, is speculation; proper answers require a completely different type of investigation."
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