[ uh-duhl-tuh-rey-shuhn ]
/ əˌdʌl təˈreɪ ʃən /
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the act or process of adulterating.
the state of being adulterated.
something adulterated.
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Origin of adulteration

1500–10; <Latin adulterātiōn- (stem of adulterātiō); see adulterate, -ion
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


What does adulteration mean?

Adulteration is the act of making something impure or altering its original form by adding materials or elements that aren’t usually part of it, especially inferior ones.

It can also refer to a thing that has been altered in such a way, or the state that that thing is in after having been altered.

Adulteration is commonly used in the context of food preparation and manufacturing in reference to the contamination of food products with additives that make them impure in some way. There are laws against adulteration, especially when the ingredients added may be harmful to people’s health.

Adulteration is the noun form of the verb adulterate, meaning to make something impure by adding inferior materials or elements. Something that has been altered in such a way can be described as adulterated.

Example: They’re starting to crack down on the widespread adulteration of milk and dairy products by testing them for additives.

Where does adulteration come from?

The first records of adulteration come from the early 1500s. It ultimately derives from the Latin verb adulterāre, meaning “to corrupt.” It could also mean “to commit adultery” (“to cheat on one’s spouse”) and the word adultery comes from the same root.

Adulteration is most commonly used in the context of food products, but it can be applied to any situation in which inferior ingredients are added, such as to medicines, cosmetics, and fuel. In a lot of cases, products are adulterated by adding materials to make them look better (like the addition of chalk powder to flour to make it look whiter) or by adding filler so that less of the product can be sold at the same price (as in the addition of brick powder to chili powder). Many forms of adulteration can be dangerous, especially because they involve things we put into our body (food and medicine) or on our skin (cosmetics). For that reason, the ingredients of things are often regulated by governments to make sure that harmful adulteration isn’t taking place. Adulteration is always used negatively because it can be harmful and it’s generally associated with cutting costs to make more money.

Adulteration can also be applied to abstract or intangible things thought to have been contaminated or made impure in some way, as in This amendment is an adulteration of our constitution.

Did you know ...

What are some other forms related to adulteration?

What are some synonyms for adulteration?

What are some words that share a root or word element with adulteration? 


What are some words that often get used in discussing adulteration?

How is adulteration used in real life?

Adulteration is always used negatively to imply that something has been made impure or worse in some way. It’s most commonly used in the context of food and products that could make us sick if they have impurities in them.



Try using adulteration!

Which of the following words is LEAST likely to describe something that has undergone adulteration?

A. contaminated
B. tarnished
C. pure
D. tainted

How to use adulteration in a sentence

Medical definitions for adulteration

[ ə-dŭl′tə-rāshən ]

The alteration, especially the debasement, of a substance by deliberately adding something not ordinarily a part of it.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.