Have you ever picked up a box at the grocery store, started reading the ingredient label, and come upon the word spices? I’d be shocked if you haven’t. Well, what does that word mean?

According to US Federal Regulations, a spice is:

  • any aromatic vegetable substance in the whole, broken, or ground form
  • except substances which have been traditionally regarded as foods, such as onions, garlic and celery
  • whose significant function in food is seasoning rather than nutritional
  • that is true to name
  • and from which no portion of any volatile oil or other flavoring principle has been removed

It goes on to list the following:

Allspice, Anise, Basil, Bay leaves, Caraway seed, Cardamon, Celery seed, Chervil, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander, Cumin seed, Dill seed, Fennel seed, Fenugreek, Ginger, Horseradish, Mace, Marjoram, Mustard flour, Nutmeg, Oregano, Paprika, Parsley, Pepper, black; Pepper, white; Pepper, red; Rosemary, Saffron, Sage, Savory, Star aniseed, Tarragon, Thyme, Turmeric.

And makes a clarifying note:

Paprika, turmeric, and saffron or other spices which are also colors, shall be declared as “spice and coloring” unless declared by their common or usual name.

Keep in mind that this only includes what most people would categorize as a spice. No extracts, or flavorings, and spice blends must identify non-spice ingredients.

Now you might notice that this list is not all inclusive. What about exotic flavorings like ajwain, galangal, or epazote? In these cases the FDA gives guidance on what counts and doesn’t count using the list of generally recognized as safe (GRAS) spices.

All in all, you might not know exactly which flavorings are included in the category of spices, but the regulations are pretty strict in the definition. Nothing is typically included that most people wouldn’t reasonably consider a spice.

Image by: Marie Grob


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This is really interesting! I figured this was just the industries way of protecting their recipes, and hoped it was nothing more malicious than that!

Protecting recipes and it also gives a little more leeway with printing packaging. If flavor/spices are the only thing that changes in a product, a new run of packaging material and labels wouldn’t be necessary since nutritional information hasn’t changed.

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