The future of functional pasta relies on two basic conditions:
1)functional pasta is “normal” food, not a pharmaceutical product and, as such, it resumes all the natural properties of this food, including traditions, habits and gastronomic culture; 2)functional pasta consumption needs to consistently and properly integrate in the ordinary logic of traditional pasta, by meeting consumers’ expectations and taste with respect to the product and its historical and commercial background.
If the above conditions can be shared, as they are, the following step is to decide how the “functional” element must meet them and check how this actually happens and/or how this shall or should happen in practice.
Here are some considerations on this point, based on the current market situation and its trends. The first concerns the increasing demand of functional food in general and pasta in particular: it is a fact that the initial boost to supply and demand has been mainly driven by consumers’ choices which have been oriented by advertising and commercial initiatives taken by producers of specific functional food, including pasta.
The second consideration concerns the role played so far by the International scientific community, that has the obligation to protect health in the first place, but also to give indications to governments and their institutions as to the way in which the issue shall be regulated, by defining guidelines about the production and use of functional food.
Finally, the third consideration concerns the so-called “claims”, i.e. the way in which these foods are presented and advertised in the market. Typically, they are divided according to two terminologies:
- functional claims: allowed to indicate the biological effects of the ingredients, with no reference, be it implicit or explicit, to the effects on consumers’ health and/or the capacity of prevent diseases;
- health claim: allowed to indicate the product capacity to prevent specific diseases through the consumption of amounts that are the same or almost the same as the ordinary ones, and according to the same intake method.
In both cases, it is clear and imperative that the use of two kinds of claims is allowed and/or justified, only if it is based and supported by scientific studies and confirmations.
Over the past decades, the scientific literature has been enriched by a number of chapters related to research and in-depth studies and it has often been oriented by International bodies and institutions that engaged in this activity when, in the 80s, Japan “gave birth to” Foshu (Food for Specific Health Use), which “uncorked” the functional food market worldwide.
Ilsi (International Life Sciences Institute), a non-profit organization that promoted and coordinated Fufose (European Commission Concerted Action on Functional Food Science in Europe); Fufose worked out a scientific document on sound functional food concepts for Europe (Consensus Document on Scientific Concepts of Functional Food in Europe).
Over the past years, other government bodies, like the American Fda and the European Efsa, gave their opinion on the matter, by offering their undoubtedly reliable contribution to the scientific and legal profile of function foods.
After this concise introduction, we could come to the conclusion that the current supply of “functional” foods relies on transparent commercial proposals and rigorous and double-checked scientific “truths”.
I would not like to generalize, but, as far as functional pasta is concerned, I think I can give my disheartened opinion: too superficial, too approximate, with too many “claims” that sound “alarming”, to say the least, and even false and misleading; too many uncertainties in the formulations and, in quite a few cases, the unavoidable requirement according to which “functional” pasta needs to be nothing else but pasta is hardly met.
I would also like to make a technical and commercial comment: functional pasta is a niche product and, as such, it is mainly suitable for small and medium-sized companies. However, these companies need to be aware that their work must draw inspiration from the criteria I have just mentioned in a simple and general way – every baker must seriously investigate and meet them. Bakers should also add those qualities that belong to their human and professional background: creativity, wisdom and discipline.