Electronic Journal of Polish Agricultural Universities (EJPAU) founded by all Polish Agriculture Universities presents original papers and review articles relevant to all aspects of agricultural sciences. It is target for persons working both in science and industry,regulatory agencies or teaching in agricultural sector. Covered by IFIS Publishing (Food Science and Technology Abstracts), ELSEVIER Science - Food Science and Technology Program, CAS USA (Chemical Abstracts), CABI Publishing UK and ALPSP (Association of Learned and Professional Society Publisher - full membership). Presented in the Master List of Thomson ISI.
Volume 13
Issue 2
Food Science and Technology
Available Online: http://www.ejpau.media.pl/volume13/issue2/art-12.html


Jerzy Borowski
Department of Human Nutrition, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, Poland



The word "traditional" is not properly defined and, for this reason (consciously or not) it is used rather incorrectly. The history of food and feeding started when human beings first appeared in this world and ate to survive. In the beginning, humans led nomadic lives and later they grew new plant species and became animal hunters and breeders.
Eating habits cannot be separated from culture, religion, morality or medicine. The first humans fed like vultures. The meat they ate was not matured. As time went by, they started to look for ways of making it taste better. At the same time, food became a factor which brought social distinction to human communities.
The European culinary art started by adopting Muslim eating habits. The Renaissance saw the rejection of the Arabic influence and new importance was given to dairy products, vegetables and mushrooms. The bourgeoisie started to adopt foods eaten by the nobility.
Traditional food is a guide to our culture. In the early 1990s, the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) and certificates of specific character systems were introduce in Europe. These regulations sought to provide a simple system of protection.
Creating a List of Traditional Products in Poland in 2004 aimed at granting distinction to products with unique quality, which they owed to old recipes and traditional production methods. As of 8 March 2010, 722 products had been granted distinction.
An analysis of the market of traditional food in Poland highlights the strong and weak points of actions which aim at cultivating the tradition. The strong points include the possibility of protecting the names and brands of products, the development of rural areas and increasing the touristic attractiveness of regions. Threats and barriers should be seen in the lack of clearly defined state policy, including the relevant legal, administrative and economic regulations.

Key words: traditional food, historical and cultural factors, heritage protection.


Since the earliest times, humans have eaten to survive. At the beginning of their existence, they led nomadic lives, spending their time wandering in search of food. They ate whatever they found. Gradually, (we still do not know how or when) food gathering gave way to agriculture. Instead of gathering naturally-growing plant varieties, they started to transfer them to new sites prepared for vegetation. They took actions which radically interfered with the natural environment. This was called "civilisation". The soil was churned, watered and fertilised, wild plants were removed, plots were weeded, predators were killed and the land profile was changed by making ditches and weirs. The courses of streams and rivers were changed and fences were put up and people started to create their own varieties by selective sowing, hybridisation and grafting. Agriculture was the first great human interference with the course of evolution. New species were created by natural selection. With hindsight, one may claim that it was the greatest revolution in world history [11].

About three million years ago, humans started hunting and this enriched their diet with the meat of wild animals. A habit existed in hunter cultures that the men who killed animals frequently ate the partly digested contents of the animals' stomachs. That was the first example of the consumption of "cooked" food. Burying food in the ground can also be regarded as quasi-cooking. Pieces of meat were put under a saddle where they were heated and kneaded in a horse's sweat [2]. Later, the use of fire made it possible to increase the range of foods and to improve their absorbability. Archestratus of Gela recommended wrapping tuna meat into fig tree leaves with a pinch of marjoram and keeping it in embers to smoke the leaves. This is what Homer's "Odyssey" says: "... The axe cut through the tendons on the heifer's neck and she fell. With this, the women started a ceremonial lament. When the dark blood had flowed down and no life was left in the animal, the carcass was skilfully quartered, the haunches were cut off, wrapped in fat and a layer of raw meat was put onto them. The king grilled them in the flames, having sprinkled the fire with red wine, while young men gathered round with five-tooth forks in their hands. When the meat was ready, they cut it into small pieces, pierced them with spikes and then kept them in the fire until they were roasted..."

Ten thousand years ago humans started animal breeding. All contemporary animal species have their "wild" ancestors. For example, depending on the part of the world, cattle may be descended from bison, buffalo, guaru, watusi, guanaco, caribou, bantenga, zebu, camel or reindeer.

Roasting food in pit stoves was a great improvement on roasting it on hot stones. The improvement required a brilliant idea and no tools except for those used to make a pit. A dry pit could be heated with stones and turned into a stove. A pit dug under a natural water reservoir and heated in the same manner was used as a device for boiling water or to cook food in hot water. This was an improvement of great significance, not surpassed by any other technical innovation in the history of cooking until our times [11].

This is how Charles Lamb, an English writer who lived in the years 1775–1834, described in the story entitled "A dissertation upon roast pig" man's first sensory experience of contact with roast meat: While he was thinking what he should say to his father, and wringing his hands over the smoking remnants of one of those untimely sufferers, an odour assailed his nostrils, unlike any scent which he had before experienced. What could it proceed from? Much less did it resemble that of any known herb, weed, or flower. A premonitory moistening at the same time overflowed his nether lip. He knew not what to think. He next stooped down to feel the pig, if there were any signs of life in it. He burnt his fingers, and to cool them he applied them in his booby fashion to his mouth. Some of the crums of the scorched skin had come away with his fingers, and for the first time in his life (in the world's life indeed, for before him no man had known it) he tasted – crackling! Again he felt and fumbled at the pig [17].

Lamb's research [17] led to China, which is the most innovative country in the history of mankind. This seems to be confirmed [25] by the history of Jinhua ham (named after one of the provinces), which is one of the oldest and best known dry-cured hams in the world. Its documented history goes back to the times of the Tang dynasty (618–907), and the production recipe was brought to Europe by Marco Polo at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries.  Still applied today, the production process lasts 8–10 months, depending on the size of the piece of meat, and consists of six stages – selection of raw ham, salting (6–10°C, 75–85%, 30–35 days), soaking and washing (removing excess of salt), drying in sunlight, shaping and branding, maturing (6–8 months, temperature increasing from 15 to 37°C, 55–75%) and final measures (brushing and covering with a thin layer of vegetable oil). This traditional method of production yields a finished product, the amino acid content in which has increased 14–16 fold. Over 190 volatile compounds have been identified, with endogenous enzymes of the muscle tissue playing a vital role in developing the characteristic flavour.

A meat-containing diet seems to provide the basis for eliminating plant foods from a cuisine. But this is misleading. It was discovered as early as in the ancient times that it is necessary to use a diet of meat with vegetables to add variety. Nomads who wander the deserts do not ignore crops. For example, they did not have any cereals or fruit and vegetables, which were highly valued and imported at great expense or exacted as tribute through war or the threat of war [11].

Therefore, it may be claimed that humans are omnivorous creatures with plant foods dominating in their diet at first and later partly replaced by meat products. Nowadays, especially in developed countries, the proportions are reversed and the consumption of animal products has increased.


Diet and eating habits cannot be separated from culture. They interact with religion, morality and medicine. Inhabitants of the Amazon basin treat culinary activities as ones which are between the earth and heaven, between life and death and between nature and human communities. In India, how one eats is closely related to which specific social group one belongs to [2].

Steak tartar is a classic dish of raw meat. Meat is minced to make soft, winding strips, and flavour enhancing additives, like salt, pepper, herbs, chive or onions, capers, olives, eggs, are used to emphasise its "rawness". Raw ham is intensely marinated and smoked. Carpaccio is cut into very thin slices and no one starts eating them until they are sprinkled with olive oil and dressed with pepper and parmesan cheese. In the past, Turks used their shields to roast food on and spears were used as spits for roasting. When Sharon Hudgins, an American writer (whose ancestors come from Z³otów), was received at a Buryat feast, she was treated to a sheep's head with intact wool, followed by a sheep's stomach filled with cow's milk, sheep's blood, garlic and young onions wrapped in intestines [11].

At the turn of the second and third century AD, Athenaios of Naucratis created a specific synthesis of the aristocratic cuisine which was then emerging. The most luxurious meals had to be abundant, to consist of many dishes, to attract attention with diversity and creative cooking and had to be served by excellent servants. In a banquet hall, on a clean table, under hanging lamps, the servants brought properly stuffed sea eels with bread loaves sprinkled with snow-white flour, on a shining plate which would be to the god's liking. Further dishes included marinated ray (a cartilaginous marine fish), shark, big-tooth stingray (a spherical fish with a well developed tail fin) and polyps (a type of cephalopods) with soft tentacles of the colour of sepia, followed by a huge steaming fish, as big as the table, squid in pastry and shrimps baked on a gridiron. The culmination of the banquet were cakes shaped as flowers, sweets and sponge cakes. According to the poet, whose description of the banquet is quoted by Athenaios, "Dishes were served so quickly that I barely managed to eat hot tripe". A home-bred pig provided tripe, pork neck with hot noodles, cooked trotters, ribs with white skin, snouts, heads, legs and tenderloin, everything seasoned with a rare African spice called silphium; then a lamb baked on a gridiron, stewed hare, young roosters, partridges and wood pigeons, and finally a dessert of honey, thick cream and cheese [11].

In 49 BC, nearly 700 kg of aromatic resin was deposited in a Roman treasury, obtained from roots of silphium, which was an extremely precious plant, used as a spice and a medicinal herb.  According to Pliny, a Roman naturalist, a century later Nero was sent the last specimen of the herb found in the wild. At first glance, it looked like a dried, browned stem, resembling huge dill, with strong, distinct smell. At that time, it was as valuable as gold and no one could find more of it, and all attempts at cultivating it had failed. Silphium disappeared and it became the first case of a plant to be made extinct by man.

But silphium disappeared nearly two thousand years ago, so how do we know what it looked like? It was owing to its extraordinary properties that numerous descriptions of the plant have survived, including that made by the father of botany – Theophrastus. An image of the herb also appeared on coins minted in Cyrene – the capital of Cyrenaica (present-day Libya) – a town which owed its wealth to exporting silphium (Fig. 1). Some of them show a plant with spherical inflorescence and a shape typical of umbellifers, while others show a silphium fruit, with a characteristic heart-like shape. According to descriptions, it was flat, as if made of paper. Such flattened fruit with small wings (which help to disseminate seeds) occur in many umbelliferous plants.

Fig. 1. Silphium on a coin


The first humans fed like vultures, collecting remnants of food left over by stronger and more efficient predators, or pieces of carcasses of animals which had died of old age or had been killed by diseases. Initially, meat was eaten unmatured, but later humans started to seek ways of improving its taste.

Slightly tart fruit were found to soften fresh game meat, hence, in many recipes such meat is combined with gravies based on forest fruit. Reindeer is traditionally served in cloudberries, wild boar meat – with plums, hare – with juniper berries or in hot sauce, which the Italians call agrodolce. In England, roast or grilled game meat is usually served with a wonderful mixture called Cumberland sauce, which is made of red currant, but it has an intangible sophisticated tint thanks to orange peel and port wine. The English habit of cooking pork in apple puree is an echo of the habit of cooking wild boar meat in this manner. In general, the "wilder" the meat, the leaner it is, therefore, in most recipes used by settled peoples game meat or meat from grazing animals is studded with fat from domestic animals. For example, connoisseurs of reindeer meat argue whether goulash from the meat should contain pork fat or not [2].

The Inuit diet consists wholly of meat and fish with a considerable proportion of fat.  The diet of Bushmen and Pigmies is based one-third on meat. The blood pressure and cholesterol level of both peoples are similar to those of other gatherer cultures. A traditional Mediterranean diet [22] has to fulfil ten "commandments", namely: a lot of vegetables, beans, fruit, nuts, unrefined cereals and olive oil, little animal fat, dairy products (mainly cheese and yoghurt), meat and poultry and moderate amounts of fish and alcohol (mainly wine with meals).  The beneficial effect of the diet has been shown to result from the presence of all of its components. It is highly probable that beneficial effects on health can be ascribed to the biological interactions which occur between a wide range of active components of the foods. This also concerns traditional food, which combines the wisdom and knowledge of earlier generations, who lived in various conditions and learned how to make the best use of ingredients available locally to make tasty and healthy food. Food has become a factor which brings social distinction, and inequality is, in fact, a feature of evolution based on natural selection. Charlemagne suffered from digestion problems due to an excess of roast meat. The Labyrinth in Knossos was not the Minotaur's lair but rather a place where a large stock of olive oil and grain was hidden. Abundance became a sign of one's social position and wealth. A bill has survived to our days [11] for the enthronement banquet of Archbishop of York in 1466: over 30 cubic metres of wheat, 300 barrels of beer and 1000 barrels of wine, 104 oxen, 6 wild buffaloes, 1000 sheep, 304 calves, 304 pigs, 400 swans, 200 geese, 1000 capons, 2000 piglets, 400 plovers, 100 dozen quails, 200 dozen female redshanks, 104 peacocks, 4000 wild ducks, 204 cranes, 204 kids, 2000 chickens, 4000 pigeons, 4000 crayfish, 204 bitterns, 400 herons, 200 pheasants, 5000 partridges, 400 snipes, 100 curlews, 1000 white herons, over 500 deer, 4000 cold pâtés, 2000 hot pâtés, 608 pikes and breams, 12 porpoises and fowls and an unspecified amount of spices, sweet delicacies, wafers and cakes.
Picatric, the 12th-century book of magic, associated tastes with planets – pepper and ginger with Mars, camphor and rose with Moon. Bad tastes were attracted by Saturn, bitter tastes by Jupiter and sweet ones by Venus.

The culinary art of Muslim courts inspired western authors of books with recipes, which were published on a wider scale in the 12th century. The West absorbed external influences, mainly those associated with the manner of laying the table, emphasising certain traditional, exotic ingredients and an inclination to intensive sweetening. The aesthetics of banqueting in Muslim courts resembled that of religious art in the West – the art  of the best cooks was supposed to reflect the love of gold and jewellery. According to a 10th-century text, known as "The Cook of Baghdad", they used saffron to make quasi-gold ornaments, sugar to make diamond-like ones and they lay white and red pieces of meat alternately, as if they were silver coins.  The period known as the Renaissance transformed noble cuisine as it did other arts. The refocusing on ancient texts and Greco-Roman sources led to a decline in Arabic influence. Historians who deal with culinary art have adopted the view that Western cuisine was dominated by salty and sour tints of taste originating in ancient Rome. The notion that the Roman cuisine was over-salty originates from the ubiquity of a fish sauce called guarum, which was made from red gudgeon, sprats, anchovies and mackerel, mixed with the intestines of another big fish, which were salted, exposed to sunlight, and the concentrate thus prepared was passed through a sieve and put into a larder [11].

The Renaissance brought more changes. A new meaning was imparted to dairy products and vegetables; mushrooms were discovered anew as a food ingredient. Asparagus and bottom parts of artichoke stem were again used in the kitchen. The bourgeoisie started to adopt foods eaten by the nobility. In France, a need appeared to give grand receptions as a means to achieve one's diplomatic and political goals. Louis XIV's sister-in-law saw the king consume four bowls of different soups, an entire pheasant, partridge, a large plate of  lettuce, chopped mutton in its own gravy with garlic, two large pieces of ham, a plate of cakes and fruit and fruit preserves to top it all. He usually ate alone, but sometimes he gave public banquets in full royal splendour, attended by three hundred courtiers and in the presence of a limited number of spectators, separated with barriers. Paradoxically, court cuisine infiltrated wide ranks of the society, first as an object of desires and aspirations and then – amazingly soon – as a standard way of eating in families in its top circles. The cooks of Louis XIV did not keep their secrets. Recipes were popularised in cookbooks, with the first one by Francois Pierre La Varenne, the cook of one of the noble houses, published in 1651 and entitled "The French Cook". Around 1691, when Francois Massialot published "The Royal and Bourgeois Cook", there were 100.000 copies of such books in print.

New nutritional recommendations appeared, which created distinctions in the society and which were in line with the principle "the lord collects the grain and the peasant gets the straw". Baldassare Pisanelli, a 16th century physician, assured his readers that leek is the worst food of all, the poorest and most deplorable, that it is the food of rural people, who for their own good should avoid food eaten by those in higher ranks of the society.   The pheasant's only defect was that it was thought to cause asthma in rural people. Therefore, such people should abstain from eating it and leave it to those of higher birth and rank. Court kitchens frequently used foods restricted to them and forbidden to people from the outside, such as swans in England and mead in Ethiopia.

However, the social distinction did not usually stem from what people ate but how their food was cooked. The recipes used in the mid-16th century in royal kitchens differed from those used by ordinary people only in the amount of spices used. In the 19th century, poor Parisians were advised to buy lard from melted butter leftovers, from the fat dripping from roast meat and from fatty scraps of pork and poultry from bourgeois tables.  

In his description of the conquest of Mexico, Bernal Diaz mentioned the diet of Montezuma. The ruler ate behind a painted screen in a hall lit with torches of smoke-free wood, on a table covered with white tablecloths. On three hundred plates, which were kept warm by burning torches, there were thirty different dishes, including chickens, turkeys, small singing birds, pigeons, ducks, both domestic and wild ones, rabbits and hares and wild birds, which Diaz calls pheasants, partridges and quails, and many other birds which lived in that country and which are so numerous that there is not enough time to mention them all. When Montezuma had washed his hands, tortillas were served with bitter chocolate in a gold cup. There were also fruit from all the parts of the empire, but – with his usual restraint – the ruler tasted only some of them. The food that he was given was not only a manifestation of luxury, wealth and power, but also an element of generous distribution of goods. When he had finished eating, a thousand of bowls with the same kinds of food were distributed among his courtiers.  The food ingredients came from a huge rent, which was delivered daily on the backs of carriers to the main cities of the Aztec empire. The palace received daily enough rent to feed two thousand people, who ate maize, beans, tortillas, cocoa, salt, red pepper, tomatoes and pumpkins [11].
Brillat-Savarin [3] justifies gluttony with these words: "When making man eat to survive, the Maker gave him an appetite as an incentive and pleasure as a reward".

Trichopoulou et al. [22] claim that traditional food reflects cultural heritage, but it diverges from the current nutritional recommendations due to contemporary lifestyle, which does not encourage us to return to the old ways, including eating habits. It is a guide to our culture, it can be tasty and healthy. Taking Greece and Norway as examples, the authors showed (Fig. 2) differences in structure and amount of selected types of food.

Fig. 2. Dietary pattern of a Northern and a Southern European country

Chizzolini [6] provides characteristics of traditional products in the Mediterranean area. The foods were made in such a way as to preserve meat both during cold and warm seasons and to make them ready to eat during long journeys. Traditional food made of meat covers a wide range of products and those made of pork primarily include dried fermented meat and dried-cured ham. Owing to scientific research, we now know what interactions take place in fermented products between muscular tissue and fat and what role microbes play in the processes. We know the reactions which produce flavour substances and what effect the technological process parameters, starters and additives, including spices, have on them. The amount of auto-oxidation products in "old-fashioned sausage", i.e. those that ferment at low temperatures only after nitrates are added, is comparable to the corresponding amounts in "modern sausages" which are fermented at high temperatures with an addition of Propionibacterium pentosaceum, glucose and nitrites. The flavour components isolated from dry-cured ham are very similar to those extracted from fermented meats, except for terpenes, if pepper was not rubbed into the meat surface. The authors proved that the content of saturated, mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids in products made from the pork of Iberian pigs depended on the type of fodder – acorns with fresh grass and grain or commercial grain fodder.

Contemporary consumer preferences [20] include health features, understood as the amount of fat in meat and the use of "lean" animals and the appearance with distinctly visible fat. A great role in the preference of traditional meat products is played by such factors as income, age, ethical issues, convenience, changes in distribution and price.

According to Issanchou [14], consumers' expectations concerning the quality of meat and meat products do not always correspond with their quality perceived through the ISO 8402 standard, in which it is a set of features and numerical characteristics of a product or service which affect their ability to satisfy needs. The factors which affect meat quality include: convenience (a consumer looks for products which require less time for meal preparation), animal welfare (consumers may stop consuming meat if they have fears about the methods of its production), safety (consumers' attitude to the issue has changed in recent years), wholesomeness (more and more people's diets are based on recommendations of nutritionists), external indicators (visible fat, price) and sensory features (appearance, taste, flavour, consistency).


In the early 1990s, an EU-wide system was created within the Common Agricultural Policy for granting Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) certificates and certificates of specific character [1]. It provided the basis for conditions and procedures, both in the community and national levels aimed at: protecting culinary traditions, historical methods and forms of production of local specialities, creating guarantees of quality for products offered on the market and their identification on the common market.

The term "traditional" [22] is not sufficiently defined or protected at the national legislation level. It is frequently – consciously or otherwise – used improperly. Due to legal loopholes, products which fail to meet the commonly adopted criteria can be marketed as traditional food. Therefore, registration and standardisation of traditional food, taking into account its quality and confirming the principles of production and safety, has become important.

Two EU directives have been issued, which regulate issues related to "local/traditional" food sold within Europe:

A month after the EuroFIR London Congress, the above regulation was replaced by Council Regulation No 510/06 of 20 March 2006 "On the protection of geographical indications and designations of origin for agricultural products and foodstuffs"

A month after the EuroFIR London Congress, the above regulation was replaced by Council Regulation No 509/06 of 20 March 2006 "On agricultural products and foodstuffs as traditional guaranteed specialties"

These regulations aim to provide a simple system for the protection of food names on a geographical or traditional basis (Fig. 3). The regulation covering "Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)" or "Protected Geographical Indication (PGI)" has been successfully implemented and many European foods have been registered. On the contrary, very few foods have been certified as "Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (TSG)".

Fig. 3. Graphical symbols of signs protected in the EU (PDO, PGI, TSG)

The contents of an application for establishing a protected brand are usually very detailed and after it is approved [7,8] it becomes obligatory for all the entities in the European Union. For example, Parma ham (Prosciutto di Parma) is raw, dry-cured ham marked with a brand on the pigskin. Its shape is rounded, with no outer defects, which might adversely affect the product image, the size of the exposed part above the head of femur is limited and must not be more than 6 cm. The weight must be from eight to ten kilograms.

The colour after cutting is uniform, between pink and red, separated by white fatty tissue. The meat has gentle and mild taste and is slightly salty with a strong and intensive flavour. It complies with specific analytical parameters of humidity, saltiness and proteolysis. The region of Parma, i.e. an area with the altitude of not more than 900 metres, is approved as the area where the product is manufactured. There are specific requirements for breeds, feeding and methods of rearing. A special inspection system guarantees that the requirements are met and includes breeders, slaughterers and producers, who are all properly certified, inspected and identified.  Breeders brand the skin of the haunches of each of their pigs, within thirty days of birth with an unremovable mark with their identification codes. They have to issue certificates of compliance with the breeding requirements. The slaughterhouse is obliged to brand the skin of fresh haunches with a visible and unremovable mark, according to the relevant guidelines. The brand contains the identification code of the slaughterhouse, which has to attach the breeder's certificate to every haunch. When fresh haunches are being prepared for curing, metal tags are attached to them to certify the date when the processing started. The tag is attached by the producer before the curing process and it has to be permanently visible. The seal contains information on the month and year when the processing started. When the curing is finished, the relevant inspection authority supervises the burning (Fig. 4) of the mark into the skin (a five-arm crown on top of an ellipse with the word PARMA inside it).

Fig. 4. Prosciutto di Parma

According to the product specification, Parma ham can be produced only from pigs of traditional pure breeds or derivative breeds, based on Large White and Landrace or Duroc; from pigs of other breeds, hybridised and combined, provided they are obtained from the selection or hybridisation schemes complying with the Italian Breed Book for the production of fatty pork, aged at least 9 months, weighing 160 kg and fed by a special diet. The thickness of a fat layer in the external part of the pig's haunch should be about 20 mm in fresh legs used for the production of Parma ham of 7-9 kg apiece and 30 mm in fresh legs used for the production of Parma ham pieces weighing more than 9 kg.

Fresh haunches must not be processed in any other way except for cooling. Haunches from pigs slaughtered less than 24 or more than 120 hours earlier must not be used. A fresh haunch is processed according to a detailed scheme, with sea salt being the only additive. The production process lasts no less than 12 months and includes the following stages: selection, cooling, meat separation from bones, curing, resting, washing and drying, pre-maturing, brushing, sugnatura (covering with pork fat); maturing, cutting and packaging.

An identification mark (ChNP) must be imprinted on the packaging in a permanent manner, which is a guarantee of the quality typical of Parma ham and full product traceability.

Due to the importance of the activities concerning the legislation and protection of branded traditional products [22] the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology has been involved in a systematic investigation of traditional Greek foods since 1992. Through a series of research projects, a multi-faceted framework has developed for the systematic investigation of traditional Greek foods and recipes which involves:


According to Trichopoulou et al. [23], longevity, which is associated with the Mediterranean diet, largely depends on the presence of traditional food in it. A traditional daily food ration (Table 1) complies with the guidelines of the EU Commission. It should be stressed that it contains a high content of flavonoids, amounting to 200 mg/week.

Table 1. An example composition of a daily food ration in a traditional Greek diet [23]



Herbal tea, sugar, feta, bread

Morning snack



Green beans, feta, bread, red wine, apple

Afternoon snack



Cheese pie, greek salad, bread



Yogurt, honey

Morning snack



Fried wet salted cod, chicories, bread, red wine, pear

Afternoon snack

Olive oil cookies, greek coffee, sugar


Spinach rice, feta, bread

The Mediterranean diet (Table 2) provides a human body with all important nutrients. Comparing the size of average daily uptake with the current Polish standards of consumption [15] one can claim that the amount of energy and proportion of most nutrients (protein, zinc, magnesium) and digestible fibre complies with our nutritional standards.  Differences are noticeable in the higher consumption of total carbohydrates, which are consumed mainly in a complex form, iron and copper. The Mediterranean diet would be a source of lower than recommended amounts of calcium.

Table 2. Daily intake of macro and micronutrients of the Mediterranean menu [23]


Daily intake


74.5 g

Total lipids

110.7 g

Dietary fibre

29.8 g


255.8 g


14 g

Energy value

2.473 Kcal

Saturated Fatty Acids

29.8 g

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids

63.8 g

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

9.9 g

Total sterols

256.8 mg

Total carotenoids

65.7 mg


4.3 mg


1774 mg


14.9 mg


2632 mg


696 mg


214 mg




3.80 mg


3.51 mg

No nitrites are allowed in the production of Parma ham (a condition similar to that applied in the production of Milan salami) as PDO (Protected Denomination of Origin) product and a matured product must not contain event traces of it [24]. The authors examined the effect of supplementing the diet with vitamin E and oleic acid on the stability of lipid fraction and cholesterol content in Parma ham and Milano salami.  Salami matured for 4 and ham for 15 months. The total cholesterol content in salami ranged from 95 to 110 mg/100g, while that in the ham – from 62 to 67 mg/100g in mortadella. No adverse effect of fodder supplements on the stability of fat in either product, expressed as MDA content (mg/kg), was found. Ghiretti et al. [12] examined the effect of selected antioxidants (ascorbic acid, catechin, phytic acid, sesamol) on the intensity of autoxidation, with Milano salami and mortadella as examples. They showed sodium ascorbate reduced the nitrite level and, like sesamol, to inhibit cholesterol oxidation during the product maturation.

Iberian breed pigs [4] have been bred for decades in the south-west of Spain. They are the main source of meat for dried smoked ham with specific taste and flavour qualities and a high level of consumer acceptance. The best hams are those obtained from pigs fed on acorns. If mixtures of acorns and grain or grain alone is used, the consumer acceptance of the final product is lower. In traditional nutrition, the ratio of fatty acids delivered with fodder – saturated:monounsaturated:polyunsaturated – is 1:3:1, while in other types of fodder it is 1:1:2. The amount of C18:0 acid in ham fat was lower in traditional feeding, while the content of C16:0, C18:0 and C18:1 acids in the phospholipid fraction was higher and that of C18:2 and C20:4 was lower.

The maturing process of traditional dry-cured Italian hams is greatly affected by the yeast which live on their surface and create a white layer. [21] isolated and identified 261 species of microbes. The dominating ones were Debaryomyces hansenii, Candida zeylanoides, Debaryomyces maramus as well as Candida famata and Hyphopichia burtonii. Ham samples for testing were taken according to the diagram shown in Fig. 5.

Fig. 5. Sampling areas on dry-cured ham surface

We use the term "traditional food of native people" with increasing frequency [16]. The food is usually the basis of existence of specific ethnic groups. The sources of food include wild animals and plants, insects and other components which are found in the wild, as well as cultivated plants and farm animals. Therefore, a traditional system includes all the culturally acceptable food available from local natural sources. Examples include Canadian geese (Branta canadensis), i.e. favourite migrating birds, a traditional delicacy from James Bay in Northern Quebec or narwhal (Monodon monocerous) meat, which is dried in sunlight and which can be stored for a year. Hunters in Greenland say that "just a little bit of dried narwhal meat will keep you going all day".

Even the countries of the Arabian Gulf like Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have initiated programs aimed at taking stock of local food (Musaiger et al., 1998). According to an evaluation of 20 traditional foods of Oman, they contain up to 7.6% of protein and up to 28% of fat, they are poor in iron, zinc and calcium and the dominating fatty acids include palmitic, oleic and linoleic acids.

 [19] conducted a survey on 4828 respondents from six European countries (Belgium, France, Italy, Norway, Poland and Spain) to examine the factors affecting the choice of traditional food. It was shown that consumption of such food was strongly and positively correlated with many factors (Fig. 6), including the personal relationship of an individual with food.

Fig. 6. Hypotheoretical model linking motives for food choice with attitude and behaviour toward traditional foods

Nowadays, we speak more and more frequently [13] about the importance and use of edible wild plants which were known in ancient times and the cultural and nutritional aspects of those edible species which, at a certain moment in its history, mankind started to regard as weeds ("weeds of agriculture"). Earlier, they were frequently used as elements of a diet before harvest.  Such periods were called "hungry months" and the products obtained from them – "famine food".

According to Cayot [5], it is generally accepted that the concept of traditional food indicates products obtained from specific materials and/or a recipe which has been known for a long time and/or a specific method of production. A social group (e.g. family) or the passage of time seems to be an important subject of tradition. The contemporary food industry is believed to have come into existence in the 1930s, when home refrigerators were launched. Earlier, food was preserved by fermentation, and preservation methods subsequently evolved from salting to drying, canning and refrigerating. Industrialisation of food production, the European law of food safety and development of innovative food requires standardisation of organoleptic (sensory) characteristics of traditional products. It is necessary to provide clear specification of taste and flavour features of food to complete the characterisation of products for which applications for PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) or PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) brands have been filed.


Creating a List of Traditional Products in Poland in 2004 [1] aimed at rewarding products with unique quality, which they owe to old recipes and traditional production methods. This makes it possible for producers to prepare and document an application for Community registration.

As of 8 March 2010, there were 722 products of variable quantity, depending on the province, on the list (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7. The number of products entered in the List of Traditional Products by province

For example, the Province of Wielkopolska has 4 dairy products, 27 meat products, 6 classed as fruit and vegetables, 5 bakery and confectionery products, 5 classed as oils and fats, 1 honey, 15 ready-made foods and dishes, 8 beverages and 2 classified as "other" (mushrooms). The Province of Warmia and Mazury had 3 dairy products, 12 meat products, 1 classed as fruit and vegetables, 2 in bakery and confectionery and 1 beverage.

Although the List of Traditional Products is a stage of registering products for which applications for EU denominations will be filed, it is also a great privilege for the remaining products on the market for which applications for further qualification will not be filed.  A product entered on the list can be deleted from it if it has been awarded with a PDO, PGI or TSG label. A product can be entered on the List of Traditional Products if it can be documented that it has been produced for at least 25 years; it should also have a confirmed  manufacturing tradition and origin.
There is great potential for government, local administration, NGOs and, especially, local communities to build markets for regional, traditional and local products.

Actions should be intensified to convince customers of the credibility and quality of food products offered on the market and to support food producers in creating and emphasising their regional identity as part of their "small homelands".

When discussing the market of traditional and regional foods in Poland one cannot fail to mention the existing opportunities and barriers in its development and the weak and strong points in cultivating the tradition. The former include the  possibility of protecting the names of Polish products, development of rural areas, maintaining existing jobs and creating new ones as well as increasing the touristic attractiveness of regions. Moreover, thanks to the List of Traditional Products and many competitions, such as "Our Cultural Heritage", it was possible to classify, identify and restore many products which belong to the Polish culinary tradition and bring them back to our tables and to grant them distinction on the European market. We return to our family traditions more and more frequently.

Threats or barriers to the development of the market for traditional and local products should be seen in the lack of clearly defined state policy, relevant legal, administrative and economic regulations and the possibility of the appearance of fake products or ones without a certificate of authenticity.


  1. Borowska A., 2006. The chances and the barriers for development of traditional and regional food market. Prace Naukowe SGGW, 41, 325–337.

  2. Borowski J., 2007. Meat in human nutrition, Electronic Journal of Polish Agricultural Universities 10(4), 1–10.

  3. Brillat-Savarin A., 1973. The physiology of taste. PIW Warszawa.

  4. Cava R., Ruiz J., Lopez-Bote C., Martin L., Garcia C., Ventanas J., Antequera T., 1997. Influence of finishing diet on fatty acid profiles of intramuscular lipids, triglycerides and phospholipids in muscles of the Iberian pig. Meat Science, 45(2), 263–270.

  5. Cayot N., 2007. Sensory quality of traditional foods. Food Chem., 102, 445–453.

  6. Chizzolini R., Novelli E., Zanardi E., 1998. Oxidation in traditional mediterranean meat products. Meat Science, 49(1), S87–S99.

  7. Commission Regulation (EC) No 1258/2004 of 8 July 2004 supplementing the Annex to Regulation (EC) No 2400/96 on the entry of certain names in the Register of protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications (Paia de Toucinho de Estremoz e Borba, Chouriço de Carne de Estremoz e Borba, Paia de Lombo de Estremoz e Borba, Morcela de Estremoz e Borba, Chouriço grosso de Estremoz e Borba, Paia de Estremoz e Borba)

  8. Council Regulation (EC) No 510/2006 'Szegedi Szalámi or Szegedi Téliszalámi' EC No: HU/PDO/005/0392/21.10.2004 PDO ( X ) PGI ( )

  9. Council Regulation (EC) No 510/2006 Amendment application according to Article 9 and Article 17(2) 'Prosciutto di Parma' EC No: IT/PDO/117/0067/09.06.1998 PDO ( X ) PGI ( )

  10. Council Regulation (EC) No 510/2006 Application for registration according to Article 5 and Article 17(2) 'Paio de Beja' EC No: PT/0230/08.04.2002 PDO ( ) PGI ( X )

  11. Fernandez-Armesto F., 2003. Near a thousand tables: a history of food. Twój Styl, Warszawa.

  12. Ghiretti G.P., Zanardi E., Novelli, Campanini G., Dazzi G., Maderana G., Chizzolini, 1997. Comparative evaluation of some antioxidants in salame Milano and mortadella productions. Meat Science, 47 (1/2), 167–176.

  13. Grivetti L.E., Ogle B.M., 2000. Value of traditional foods in meeting macro- and micronutrient needs: the wild plant connection. Nutrition Research Reviews, 13, 31–46.

  14. Issanchou S., 1996. Consumer expectations and perceptions of meat and meat product quality. Meat Science, 44, 5–19.

  15. Jarosz M., Bu³hak-Jachymczyk B., 2008. Dietary reference intakes. PZWL Warszawa.

  16. Kuhnlein H.V., 2000. The joys and pains of sampling and analysis of traditional food of indigenous peoples. J. Food Compos. Anal., 13, 649–658.

  17. Lamb C., 1888. A dissertation upon roast pig. D. Lothrop Boston.

  18. Musaiger A.O., Ahmed M.A., Rao M.V., 1998. Chemical composition of some traditional dishes of Oman. Food Chem., 61 (1/2), 17–22.

  19. Pieniak Z., Verbeke W., Vanhonacker F., Guerrero L., Hersleth M., 2009. Association between traditional food consumption and motives for food choice in six European countries. Appetite, 53, 101–108.

  20. Resurreccion A.V.A., 2003. Sensory aspects of consumer choices for meat and meat products. Meat Science, 66, 11–20.

  21. Simoncini N., Rotelli D., Virgili R., Quintavalla S., 2007. Dynamics and characterization of yeasts during ripening of typical Italian dry-cured ham. Food Microbiology, 24, 577–584.

  22. Trichopoulou A., Soukara S., Vasilopoulou E., 2007. Traditional foods: a science and society perspective. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 18, 420–427.

  23. Trichopoulou A., Vasilopoulou E., Georga K., Soukara S., Dilis V., 2006. Traditional foods: why and how to sustain them. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 17, 498–504.

  24. Zanardi E., Novelli E., Ghiretti G.P., Chizzolini, 2000. Oxidative stability of lipids and cholesterol in salame Milano, coppa and Parma ham: dietary supplementation with vitamin E and oleic acid. Meat Science, 55, 169–175.

  25. Zhou G.H., Zhao G.M., 2007. Biochemical changes during processing of traditional Jinhua ham. Meat Science, 77: 114–120.


Accepted for print: 10.05.2010

Jerzy Borowski
Department of Human Nutrition,
University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, Poland
Plac Cieszynski 1, 10-726 Olsztyn, Poland
phone: (+48 89) 523 37 60
email: jerzy.borowski@uwm.edu.pl

Responses to this article, comments are invited and should be submitted within three months of the publication of the article. If accepted for publication, they will be published in the chapter headed 'Discussions' and hyperlinked to the article.