Types of food processing: the NOVA Food Classification System


✔ A food Classification System developed by researchers at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil

✔ Classifies all foods and food products into 4 groups according to the nature, extent and purposes of processing they undergo,
rather than in terms of nutrients

(physical, chemical & biological techniques used after foods are separated from nature, and before they are consumed or else made into dishes/meals)

✔ Introducing the term “ultra-processed” food

✔ The most widely published and applied food classification system in the scientific literature

NOVA Classification System

Types of food processing: NOVA 1

NOVA Classification System – Definitions

Unprocessed or minimally processed foods

Edible parts of plants (fruit, seeds, leaves, roots) or animals (muscle, fat, eggs, milk), and also fungi, algae, all after separation from nature.
Spring and tap water.

Minimally processed:
Natural foods altered by methods including removal of inedible/unwanted parts, drying, crushing, grinding, powdering, fractioning, filtering, roasting, boiling, non-alcoholic fermentation, pasteurisation, chilling, freezing, placing in containers, and vacuum packaging.

All these processes should not add salt, sugar, oils, fats or other food substances to the original food.

Processed culinary ingredients

Products derived from group 1 or nature by processes such as pressing, refining, grinding, milling, and drying, e.g., oil, sugar, salt.

These products are used to prepare, season and cook group 1 foods.

Μay contain additives that prolong product duration, protect original properties, or prevent proliferation of microorganisms.

Processed foods

Products made by adding salt, sugar, or other group 2 ingredients to unprocessed food using preservation methods (e.g., canning, bottling), and, in the case of breads and cheese, using non-alcoholic fermentation.

The processes and ingredients that are used are designed to increase durability of group 1 foods and make them more enjoyable.

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs)

Products that involve formulations of ingredients, most of exclusive industrial use, typically made by a series of industrial techniques and processes.

Many UPFs require sophisticated equipment and technology, hence the term ‘ultra-processed’.

Ingredients of UPFs include:

  • sources of energy 🡪 sugar, oils or fats, or salt, generally in combination.
  • nutrients of no or rare culinary use 🡪 high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated/interesterified oils etc.
  • protein isolates that make the final product palatable or more appealing 🡪 flavour enhancers, colours, emulsifiers, sweeteners, thickeners, anti-foaming, bulking, carbonating, foaming, gelling, glazing agents etc.
  • additives prolonging product duration, protecting original properties or preventing proliferation of microorganisms.