The grammar of herbs and spices

Buying spices in the supermarket always feels harder than it should be. I know they’re alphabetically ordered, so I look for basil between allspice and cinnamon, but fail to find it. Then I look down and see basil on a completely different shelf. I vaguely wonder why it’s on a different shelf, but I rationalise it away: “Maybe it’s a different brand or something.”

Or I’m looking for nutmeg. Again, I know they’re alphabetically ordered so I look for it between mixed herbs and oregano. But it isn’t there. But it is on a completely different shelf. And it’s the same brand. What’s going on?

What I finally, finally worked out last week is this: supermarkets make a distinction between herbs and spices. Or, rather, the companies supplying herbs and spices to supermarkets make that distinction. Brands like Schwartz and Barts seem to share a colour-coded system: green for fresh/herbs and orange for warm/spice.

I will admit I have a tendency to ignore visual cues in favour of text. So maybe my Lynx browser of a brain has missed something that’s long been obvious to other people. But for me, last week’s revelation ended literally years of wondering why those little jars are organised in such a stupid, counter-intuitive way.


Did you realise this before I pointed it out? Be honest.


I admit I have always known this (herbs leafy, spices other), but at the same time it's always bugged me that they do this separating out of Herbs & Spices. Annoyingly, even though I know the difference, I still frequently look in the wrong section, or hope that if I cannot find a herb in the herb section, that I might find it in the Spices section and vice versa. The way it is currently done is definitely counter-intuitive and it would be much easier if Herbs and Spices were under one banner alphabetically.   (p.s. I so wanted to answer dyslexic to the question below!)

I would find it easier too if they were all just alphabetised - and not separated by brand either, so you could see the Schwartz oregano next to the Co-op own-brand oregano and instantly compare prices without looking from shelf to shelf. Also, sometimes you have no clue whether the thing you're looking for is a herb or a spice, you just know a new recipe requires it and you'd like to try it, whatever it is.