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HMRC internal manual

VAT Food

Excepted items: Herbs and spices

The term herb is applied to plants with leaves, seeds or flowering used for food or medicine, or in some way for their scent or flavour. Spices are strongly flavoured or aromatic substances of vegetable origin, obtained from tropical plants commonly used as condiments or for other purposes on account of their fragrance and preservative qualities.

It is not very common to find plants growing on a commercial scale in the UK for their spices, as the climate is not right for many of the varieties to thrive. Some are found in hot houses, where they are grown mainly for ornamental purposes.

For VAT purposes, herbs are not regarded as food in their own right, so for the zero rate to apply the herb must have a recognised culinary use. Information supplied by the British Herb Trade Association shows that plants supplied for culinary use are reared under different conditions from those grown as ornamental or hedging plants.

Liability Those species of herbs that are generally accepted as being for culinary use are zero-rated, irrespective of how they are held out for sale. There are many other species that do have a recognised culinary use, even though they may not be supplied predominantly as culinary herbs. These may be zero-rated provided the specialised growing conditions listed in

Notice701/38 Seeds and plants are met.

These conditions for zero-rating became operative from 1st May 1993. An exhaustive list of zero-rated species can be found in Notice 701/38.

Herbs supplied for medicinal purposesHerbs supplied for medicinal rather than culinary use are not eligible for zero-rating as

food, and remain standard-rated even if they have been raised under the same conditions as culinary herbs. This includes plants used in the preparation of food supplements, such as evening primrose and ginseng.

For Chinese herbal and pseudo-medicinal teas, see paragraph VFOOD1640.

Mulling spices and culinary blends Sachets of dried herbs and/or spices for cooking, such as bouquet garni and apple pie sugars and spices, are zero-rated. Sachets containing herbs and / or spices that are held out for sale as mulled wine mixtures, whisky todd mixtures, spiced cider mixtures and so on, are also zero-rated.

Khat (catha edulis) This herbal stimulant is also known as chat or Abyssinian, or African or Arabian tea. In the light of evidence suggesting that khat is being increasingly used as a stimulant drug, it is now not regarded as a food product and is properly standard-rated with effect from 1st February 1998.