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HMRC internal manual

VAT Food

Items benefiting from the relief: what is food?: food supplements (dietary supplements): herbal supplements

Many herbal substances with real or imagined therapeutic qualities may be supplied as food supplements. Many of these supplements are derived from plants which, while not claiming specific medicinal qualities, do not have any generally accepted mainstream culinary use, such as ginseng or evening primrose. Products derived from such plants are standard-rated whatever form they take (capsule, powder or natural dried form).

Other supplements are made from ingredients which would normally be seen as food, but are included in the form of extracts, concentrates and so on which would not be eaten as part of a general diet. The liability of these products will depend on the form in which they are supplied: if supplied in the culinary form, they are zero-rated; if in a form not generally used for culinary purposes, they are standard-rated.

For example, garlic and loose garlic powder are both generally accepted culinary ingredients, and are zero-rated as food; while garlic powder or extract in a capsule sold as a nutritional supplement is not food, and is standard-rated.

In the case of Nature’s Balance Ltd (LON/93/2953A) the tribunal found that a dietary supplement product consisting of edible micro-algae compressed into tablet form was not food, even though the natural dried product might be accepted as food. In making this decision, the tribunal referred to the standard-rating of garlic capsules and obviously found the distinction logical. In its decision, the tribunal neatly described the nature of a dietary supplement as no doubt good for you but not themselves food.