Last Updated on August 17, 2021 by David Vause

I found this taxonomy of processed foods, also known as the NOVA classification. Denise and I have spent some time wondering about what is, or is not, a processed or even highly processed food. This helps us.

The text of my table is lifted directly from the sources below. I just characterized the information in columns.

1. Unprocessed,
processed food
Edible parts of plants or of animals and also fungi, algae and water, after separation from natureRemoval of inedible or unwanted parts, and drying, crushing, grinding, fractioning, filtering, roasting, boiling, non-alcoholic fermentation, pasteurization, refrigeration, chilling, freezing, placing in containers and vacuum-packagingSeeds, fruits, leaves, stems, roots muscle, offal, eggs, milk)These processes are designed to preserve natural foods, to make them suitable for storage, or to make them safe or edible or more pleasant to consume.
2. Processed culinary
Processed culinary ingredients, substances derived from Group 1 foods or from nature Processes that include pressing, refining, grinding, milling and dryingOils, butter, sugar and salt,They are not meant to be consumed by themselves, and are normally used in combination with Group 1 foods to make freshly prepared drinks, dishes and meals.
3. Processed foodsMade essentially by adding salt, oil, sugar or other substances from Group 2 to Group 1 foods.Various preservation or cooking methods, and, in the case of breads and cheese, non-alcoholic fermentation. Most processed foods have two or three ingredients, and are recognizable as modified versions of Group 1 foodsCanned vegetables, canned fish, fruits in syrup, cheeses and freshly made breads, wine, or beerThe purpose of processing here is to increase the durability of Group 1 foods, or to modify or enhance their sensory qualities.
4. Ultra-processed
Ultra-processed foods, are not modified foods but formulations made mostly or entirely from substances derived from foods and additives, with little if any intact Group 1 food.A multitude of sequences of processes is used to combine the usually many ingredients and to create the final product (hence ‘ultra-processed’). The processes include several with no domestic equivalents, such as hydrogenation and hydrolysation, extrusion and moulding, and pre-processing for frying.Sugary drinks, sweet or savoury packaged snacks, reconstituted meat products and pre-prepared frozen dishes, cookies, some crackers, chips, and breakfast cereals, some frozen dinners, and luncheon meats. Other sources of energy and nutrients not normally used in culinary preparations. Some of these are directly extracted from foods, such as casein, lactose, whey and gluten. Also, preservatives, antioxidants and stabilizers. Classes of additives found only in ultra-processed products include those used to imitate or enhance the sensory qualities of foods or to disguise unpalatable aspects of the final product. These additives include dyes and other colours, colour stabilizers; flavours, flavour enhancers, non-sugar sweeteners; and processing aids such as carbonating, firming, bulking and anti-bulking, de-foaming, anti-caking and glazing agents, emulsifiers, sequestrants and humectants.
Distilled spirits.
The purpose of ultra-processing is to create branded, convenient (durable, ready to consume), attractive (hyper-palatable) and highly profitable (low-cost ingredients) food products designed to displace all other food groups. Ultra-processed food products are usually packaged attractively and marketed intensively.

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