Over the last couple of decades consumers have noticed the growing presence of baobab fruits among the selection at the greengrocers’, algae vermicelli in restaurant menus as well as cappuccinos made of milk treated with UV light for added vitamin D content. These uncommon varieties of food have attracted worldwide attention. Nutritionists across the globe never miss an opportunity to profess the advantages of introducing these foods to our diets, whilst influencers and entrepreneurs are riding on the wave of this global enthusiasm, that is helping them to succeed in their marketing goals.
At the very forefront of this trend is the term novel food, which is not to be mistaken with its apparent synonyms novelty food, or with functional food. Novel food specifically refers to both innovative food produced using new technologies, and to food traditionally not consumed within the EU to any significant degree prior to May 1997. This date marks the year when the EU began to enforce regulations regarding provisions on novel food (EC Regulation No 258/97). Among this broad category one may find agricultural products from developing countries, such as quinoa seeds, alternative solutions to conventional livestock such as edible insects, and new food-producing processes like omega3-fortified bread.
As for the false cognate novelty food, this refers to high-caloric food such as waffle tacos, cronut sandwiches or double-cheese crust pizzas. Meanwhile, functional food refers to whole, enriched or enhanced food that provides health benefits beyond the provision of essential nutrients. When functional foods are chemically charged with beneficial substances, they share similarities with novel food, like the case of cholesterol-free eggs. Nevertheless, the two typologies do not completely overlap; indeed, not all novel food boasts benefits for human health, nor all functional food is necessarily perceived as new within EU countries; for example, almonds and oat flakes are listed among functional foods but they have been widely known and consumed in the EU for centuries.
Novel foods tend to be perceived as coming from distant cultures and therefore taking on an unknown quality, for this reason, another way to address them is as exotic foods. Their newness is etymologically present in the Latin root of the term which is a Middle-English loanword from Anglo-French novelté. Due to its unconventionality, the labelling of novel foods must abide by guidelines set out by EU regulations. Furthermore, it is anticipated that more provisions are to be introduced due to the increasing popularity of previously unknown novel foods in the last couple of years.
In order to avoid confusion, the label must mention the exact name of the food and, in some cases, certain additional information for the consumer. This often includes instructions such as how to prepare and consume such food, as well as safety information for vulnerable groups like children and elderly people. In an attempt to facilitate consumers’ awareness and consumption, the European Novel Food Catalogue functions as an informal tool listing products that are subject to the novel food regulation. Information is based on history of consumption of these products within the EU member states and, among the various types of foods, Betula Pendula and Salvia Hispanica can be found. These nomenclatures stand for silver birch and chia seeds which are currently used not only in food business but also in beauty treatments for their increased anti-oxidant content and for their anti-ageing effects.
For those curious about trying novel foods, the following recipe contains a number of them, which should wet your appetite for both knowledge and taste!
Chia pudding (serves 2)
40 gr chia seeds
1 teaspoon moringa powder
1 teaspoon flax seeds
200 ml almond milk (or other type of plant milk)
1 teaspoon agave syrup (optional)
6 thin apple slices and pomegranate grains for garnishing
1. In a blender mix together all the ingredients execpt for the chia seeds.
2. Put everything in a bowl and add chia seeds; then whisk to combine.
3. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or at least 6 hours). The chia pudding should be thick and creamy. You can add apple slices and pomegrante grains for garnishing the top.
Note! If you prefer your chia pudding at room temperature, you may leave it outside the fridge for at least 8 hours. For a hot chia pudding, you can stir the whisked ingredients in a pot for no more than 5 minutes.
Merriam Webster English Dictionary. Retrieved, October 2018 https://www.merriam-webster.com/
Regulation (EU) 2015/2283. Retrieved, October 2018 https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32015R2283
Regulation (EC) No 258/97. Retrieved, June 2018 https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:31997R0258
Novel Food Catalogue. Retrieved, Octoer 2018 http://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/novel_food/catalogue/search/public/index.cfm#
European Union. Health and Food Safety. (2016). Novel Foood. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Retrieved, October 2018 https://www.evira.fi/globalassets/elintarvikkeet/valmistus-ja-myynti/uuselintarvikkeet/dgsante_novel-food_en_v6.pdf
Written by Serena Santonocito – Student at Partenope University of Naples (Italy)