Special issue: Traditional foods: from culture, ecology and diversity, to human health and potential for exploitation.


This special issue of the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture publishes a set of contributions presented at the International conference ‘Traditional Food International (TFI-2012). Traditional foods: from culture, ecology, diversity, to human health and potential for exploitation’ which was held in Cesena, Italy, on 4–5 October 2012, and at the conjoined ‘Street Food Seminar: an international forum on street food aspects and perspectives’ held on 5 October 2012. The two events were organized to coincide with the final meeting of the BaSeFood project. BaSeFood (sustainable exploitation of bioactive compounds from the Black sea area traditional foods; http://www.basefood-fp7.eu) was a European FP7 project that focused on studying traditional foods of the Black Sea region, with a particular interest in their composition of bioactive substances from plants (phytochemicals) and their potential to provide health benefits. Already in the project’s background, however, it was acknowledged that the consideration of a vast array of traditional food characteristics and consumer issues was needed, besides studying bioactive compounds by means of analytical and biological assays. The final project’s dissemination event was therefore taken as an occasion to present the project’s results in a wider context – that of a forum – where the state of the art of traditional food knowledge and definitions was set, and different approaches and disciplines for the study of all aspects of traditional foods were presented. Traditional foods are increasingly attracting the interest of consumers and manufacturers. Recently, an effort has been made for an objective definition of ‘traditional foods’, aimed at setting a scientific and regulatory approach to their study and management. From a semantic point of view, however, tradition is a complex of uses, habits and ways of life that are maintained in time, often through oral transmission. Dealing with traditional foods from a scientific point of view is therefore a challenge: it is dealing with a subject related not only to nutrition and health, but also to environmental, human ecology and cultural issues. All these aspects were covered to some degree at the Traditional Foods International conference, which was broadly organized into the following sections: traditional food systems, general aspects and definitions; analytical characterization of foods and raw materials; nutritional and health-promoting effects; processing, including effects on retention of specific components; socio-economic and consumer issues. Internationally renowned invited speakers contributed to each session with plenary lectures; other oral contributions were provided by the coordinator and work-package leaders from the BaSeFood project, and the coordinators of previous EU-funded projects dealing with different aspects of traditional foods. Eighteen invited speakers contributed to the oral sessions. The Street Food Seminar was a specific session, aimed at highlighting the role of these types of foods and the links between traditional and street foods. In addition, it provided a connection between the TFI-2012 scientific sessions and the Cesena Street Food Fair. Different aspects of street foods were covered by very engaging presentations from six invited speakers. Overall, over 100 posters from more than 250 contributing authors were presented. This special issue of the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture contains a selection of presented papers, from both invited lectures and posters, representing the whole range of topics dealt with at the congress. In their plenary lecture, Johns et al.1 present a review of the general perspectives of traditional food systems in the local and global economy, considering the constraints of such stable but rather closed systems, and the nutritional drawbacks of transitional economies in developing countries. They analyse the perspectives for local smallholders, also considering opportunities connected to agrobiodiversity preservation and marketing. This general paper is followed by others focused on the examination of specific aspects of the nature of traditional foods by means of the analysis of data collected during surveys or by means of comprehensive reviews. D’Antuono2 presents the synthesis of on-field surveys in the Black Sea area and Italy, leading to the critical description of over 800 traditional foods. Issues of food function in the local context of the selected areas, diversity, evolutionary convergence, standardization and chain perspectives are discussed. The relations between experience and credence characters of traditional food perception are also discussed, suggesting that the stabilization of traditional foods in modern systems requires a substantial recovery of self-awareness of consumers. Amilien and Hegnes3 present a comprehensive review of the literature and surveys carried out in Norway, indicating that time and knowhow are the two main concepts underlying tradition which, therefore, is not a fixed concept but is balanced by preservation, moderation and innovation. Giraud et al.,4 in the introduction to their paper, present a comprehensive review of the main facets of traditional food definitions and concepts, with a special focus on specific findings in the Balkan countries. Finally, Calloni5 approaches street foods from a socio-philosophical point of view, illustrating the role and evolution of street foods from their origin as a means to feed the poor, to their present dynamic role in modern societies, not neglecting the still present spatial variation of their value and perspectives, and the relations with traditional local foods. Dilis et al.6 introduce the link between traditional foods and the very recent phenomenon of nutrition claims from a European perspective. After reviewing the definitions and previous work on traditional foods, they present the potential nutritional claims that can be attached to selected Black Sea area traditional foods on the basis of their nutritional analytical data. The article by Cotillon et al.7 is concerned with crucial food industry issues such as food quality and safety, and innovation, and how these can be best addressed by the food industry in the context of traditional European food production systems.