A spatula is a broad, flat, flexible blade used to mix, spread and lift material[1] including foods, drugs, plaster and paints.

In medical applications, spatula may be also used synonymously with tongue depressor.[2]

It derives from the Latin word for a flat piece of wood or splint (a diminutive form of the Latin spatha, meaning broadsword), and hence can also refer to a tongue depressor. The words spade (digging tool) and spathe are similarly derived. The word spatula is known to have been used in English since 1525.[3]


Spatulas are usually used to scrape within the contours of a mixing bowl or to level off the top of a dry mixing cup. It is a tool with two flat edges on a flexible blade.

A spatula is usually short and about 8 inches long. A spatula also refers to a turner which is used to flip over pancakes and meat patties. It is used so that a person does not burn their hands flipping something on a hot surface.

In the kitchen

American English usage

In kitchen utensils, a spatula is any utensil fitting the above description. One variety is used to lift and flip food items during cooking, such as pancakes and fillets (known in British English as a fish slice). The blades on these are usually made of metal or plastic, with a wooden or plastic handle to insulate them from heat. A cookie shovel is a specialty spatula with a larger blade, made for scooping cookies off their pan or cooking sheet.

A frosting spatula is also known as palette knife and is usually made of metal or plastic.

Bowl and plate scrapers are sometimes called spatulas.[4][5]

British English usage

In British English a spatula is similar in shape to a palette knife, without holes, in a flexible or detachable blade. It is used in medical examinations, for holding down the tongue or taking cell samples.

Laboratory use

In laboratories, spatulas and microspatulas are small stainless steel utensils, used for scraping, transferring, or applying powders and paste like chemicals or treatments.[6] Many spatula brands are also resistant to acids, bases, heat, and solvents, which make them ideal for use with a wide range of compound.[7] A common type would be stainless steel spatulas, which are widely used because they are sturdy and affordable. They are resistant to deterioration from contact with boiling water, acids, bases, and most solvents. Some of them come with a polyvinyl chloride plastic handle or riveted hardwood for better handling. Polystyrene spatulas are made for researchers because they are disposable, preventing any potential contaminations which occurs often with reusable spatulas. They are also ideal for handling lyophilized products or performing lyophilization.


  1. American Heritage Dictionary. Retrieved 2014-11-18.
  2. "Spatula", Collins Dictionary of Medicine, Robert M. Youngson 2004, 2005
  3. "Etymology OnLine". Retrieved 2007-05-24.
  4. "Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary". Retrieved 2007-06-20.
  5. "". Retrieved 2010-03-14.
  6. Harrison, Garry. "Microspatula". Retrieved 10 August 2013. For example, they are excellent for scraping, applying methyl cellulose to a book spine to remove the old adhesive, delaminating the layers of board, and lifting delicate materials and helping them back into place, during the performance of repair treatments. They are made of stainless or tool steel and are available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.
  7. "Lab Spatulas for sampling".
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