Spatulas are flat, wide, flexible cooking utensils used for mixing, spreading, and flipping food items. They can be made of plastic, rubber, wood, silicone or metal. Metal spatulas typically have a plastic or a wood handle to insulate them from heat.

The word spatula is derived from the Latin word for a flat piece of wood or splint. According to Wikipedia, ‘splint’ is a diminutive form of the Latin spatha (pronounced kind of like spaw-tuh or how a Bostonian might say ‘Sparta!’) which means a broadsword. Google translate however, tells me that ‘spatha’ means ‘spatula’.

Typing the word broadsword into the English side returns the Latin word compret. Either way, the word spatula has been used in the English language since at least 1525.


Confusion can arise though, because there are two distinct kitchen utensils that are both called spatulas. First you have the type which are broad headed, flexible and typically made of plastic, rubber, or silicone. These are used primarily for mixing and stirring. They are ideal for this purpose due to their ability to conform to the sides of the bowl. This kind of spatula is usually flat on on side and rounded on the other side.

Many different shaped spatulas exist on the market though. You can see some of them in the picture above and to the right. That is an Amazon link though just so you know. To be clear, I’m not promoting or trying to recommend any of these products, I’m simply using the link because the pictures look nice.

The second type of spatula usually isn’t quite as flexible as the previous kinds are. These are typically wider and thinner and used for flipping foods such as hamburger patties, eggs, or waffles. These types of spatulas are usually made out of metal or plastic and less commonly wood.

This is the kind of spatula you’d see a cook who’s manning the grill use. These range in size and design from fancy home use metal grilling spatulas to simple short handled stainless steel grill spatulas like you’d watch a chef at Benihana using.

Again, I have a picture of this type of spatula so you can compare it to the first type of spatula we spoke about. This is also an Amazon link so don’t feel that we are recommending any of these products, they just make good pictures.

One last piece of advice. If you’re using a plastic spatula intended for flipping food, don’t leave it over a hot pan. The heat will eventually melt most plastic spatulas unless they are specifically designed to withstand high heat. Otherwise, metal does a much better job.