Spice Definitions and Glossary

Go to Spice Glossary

ASTA defines spices as “any dried plant product used primarily for seasoning purposes”. Included are tropical aromatics (pepper, cinnamon, cloves, etc.), leafy herbs (basil, oregano, marjoram, etc.), spice seeds (sesame, poppy, mustard, etc.) and dehydrated vegetables (onions, garlic, etc.). Blends such as curry, chili powders, poultry seasoning, etc. are part of the spice shelf, too.

The FDA defines spices similarly, except that they do not include the dehydrated vegetables in the label definition of “spices”. Any form of dehydrated vegetable product must be labeled separately. Such color contributing spices as paprika, turmeric and saffron must either be labeled separately or as “spice coloring”. The Department of Agriculture (meat and poultry products labeling) has nearly the same requirements as the FDA, except that colorant spices and mustard must always be listed separately while onion powder and garlic powder may be listed as “flavors”. All other forms of dehydrated vegetables must be listed separately by name.

Spice or Herb?

Historically, “spices” referred to the tropical aromatics only, while “herbs” (urbs, not herb’s) meant specifically the leaves and seeds of certain temperate-zone plants. While those distinctions are still used, “spice” has come also to mean the whole family of dried plant seasonings, including spices, herbs, blends and dehydrated vegetables.