Posted by Tammie Umbel, CEO Shea Terra on 5/20/2018
In 2017 I was contacted by one of my vendors who was looking for a company to private label black seed oil for them. Black seed oil was the first product I launched in 2000 alongside shea butter, so I know black seed oil relatively well. They were looking for an oil that had a minimum of .95% thymoquinone, or TQ as one company calls it. This company had been advertising having several times the amount of TQ in their product than any other brand. Of course that should always send off a red light with anyone. They also claimed to test every batch of their oil by a third party lab.
The first thing I did was contact our black seed producer in Egypt. I asked for lab results showing the amount of thymoquinone in our black seed oil. He sent the report from a German lab showing .45% thymoquinone in our Egyptian black seed oil. Hmm, thought I. The reason I started selling black seed oil specifically from Egypt years ago was because there were several scientific tests showing Egyptian black seed oil was higher in active constituents over black seed oils cultivated in other places in the world. How was it possible that my black seed oil had less thymoquinone than oil grown in Turkey?
I then scoured the claimant’s website for clues. They claim that it is their mastery of the cork screw that has resulted in a superior oil that produces a higher thymoquinone. They state that Turkish black seed oil is higher quality than Egyptian, but just to keep up with competition they thought it was a good idea to offer Egyptian black seed oil, too. So I contacted them and asked if they could substantiate their claims. In fact, I said that if it could be proven that their oil had five times more thymoquinone than mine that I would send customers to them. I meant what I said. If I was assured that they had more “TQ” then I would send people inquiring about high “TQ” levels to them. I was sent over some test results. I was astonished to see the test results showed over 2% of “TQ”. Now this was really amazing. I asked for the Egyptian oil results and was told by the man that he was getting ready to get on an airplane and I would get it when he got to a computer. Of course, it didn’t work out that way.
After asking once again for the Egyptian oil results I was finally sent a report that stated .16% thymoquinone. I asked the man why his result shows only .16% when his label claims that his Egyptian black seed oil had .6%. He said he would send me the results showing the .6%. That day never came. More on that later.
The results came on a paper with the name and phone number of the lab. I gave them a ring. A man answered. I asked if they did testing for this company, and he confirmed that they did. I said I was confused over the level of thymoquinone in their oil. He said that he was not going to discuss what kind of “arrangement” he had with this company, but that if I wanted my oil tested all I had to do is to tell him the range I expected to find in my oil, and they would put this on a certificate for me with my company name on it. I was in shock. We went in circles over this issue for several minutes, and each time he repeated the same thing. I said, well you are going to test the oil aren’t you? He didn’t give me a direct answer, but I was to send him my oil and he would give me the range I was looking for.
This seemed like clear fraud to me, so I called a friend that produces nutrition bars. He also spent time in Egypt producing black seed oil. He told me that there are only a handful of honest labs in the nation, and that what I had experienced was very common place. He explained to me how it works. There will be a man at a lab. It is generally a two man operation. They have a few tests in a small lab. You tell them what you want for lab results, and they will give them to you. He gave me the name of a few trustworthy labs, who also just happened to be European owned. I called several, very large ones, mind you, and none of them had the ability to test for thymoquinone levels except for one. In fact, one told me it would cost $10,000 because they would have to buy the equipment. I found a very professional lab who was very responsive.
I went to a local chain and bought the claimants oil right off the shelf. I was surprised to read that the claims were even more unbelievable than before. Thymoquinone is found in the essential oil of the black seed. When black seeds are pressed they produce about 2% essential oil which remains in the cold pressed oil. Thymoquinone makes up .25% or a quarter percent of the 2% of the essential oil, so one would expect to find on average .4 to .45% thymoquinone in their black seed oil. Because .95% would not be more than five times the amount found in other companies’ black seed oil, this company now upped the ante to an amazing 2.6%. The claim then (and still does) read .95% to 2.6%. I sent this bottle of black seed oil to the lab and waited seven days to get the results.
Just as expected the amount of thymoquinone in this oil was .45%. I asked how the levels could be so significantly different from the results they got, so the lab did four more versions of their tests and each time came back with the same results. I asked how come the other lab got a significantly higher result. They said that they had used HPLC to retrieve the results, and I should ask the lab what method they used. So I contacted the first lab and received a one word answer HPLC. Obviously he was now suspicious of me.
Next, I contacted the claimant once again and asked for the Egyptian results he promised to send me showing .6% thymoquinone. By then I had listed on my website to be wary of companies making claims of high TQ levels, because I had the oil tested and found the claims were fraudulent. He immediately responded to me and said how disappointed he was in me. He said that he shared those results with me in good faith. He had seen the claim I made on my website. I told him I said that I would share MY test results with everyone, not the ones that he had sent me, as I had had his oil sent to the lab. He then sent me an inflammatory email (which I still have), telling me to stop harassing him and his lab. He said he would sue me for slander, and he ended the email with FEAR GOD, FEAR GOD, FEAR GOD about twenty times. I told him that he couldn’t sue me for slander because as he will note I did not use his company’s name, but if he would like me to I would. I also gave him the opportunity to take off the claims before I sent the results to the FDA and the FTC. I have not yet sent in a complaint, and he has refused to take off the claims. I talked to an old friend of mine who also owns a black seed oil company, and she said that this is very typical for him. He will make a claim and run it into the ground until he is forced to change it. At least now I have spoken to several black seed oil companies to let them know about this fraud so that they can compete fairly.
The moral of the story is sadly when it comes to money one has to be very careful about who one can trust. There are so many fraudulent claims in America. It is truly shocking. These companies could not get away with fraudulent claims like this in Europe and parts of Asia who require strict testing of products and product claims. Whenever a company makes a claim that is significant in relations to other companies, always beware. Do your diligent homework in forcing that company to substantiate their claims. You work hard for your money and deserve to be treated with respect. And if you are thinking wouldn’t fraudulent products be pulled from store shelves? Sorry, I have to say no. I sent test results to two very large retailers selling this product and requested that they take a bottle off their shelf and send it to a lab themselves. It only cost $150 to run the tests. They thanked me for the information and several months later are still selling this product with fraudulent claims. What they care about isn’t you. It’s your money.