Glossary of terms

Here you will find definitions of terms used in resources on the Foodsource website. You will also find these definitions on the right-hand side within chapters. If you have any suggestions for new glossary items, let us know here.

2 (1) | A (13) | B (6) | C (15) | D (6) | E (8) | F (12) | G (4) | H (3) | I (7) | L (5) | M (12) | N (7) | O (4) | P (9) | R (7) | S (10) | T (1) | U (2) | W (4) | Y (1) | Z (2)

Endemic species

Endemic species is a plant or animal species that is unique to a specific geographic location, such as a country or an island. Usually the area where an endemic species live is isolated, making it difficult for the species to move to other areas. Endemic species are often uniquely adapted to the specific environment in which they live. Almost all endemic species are specialist species.

Enteric fermentation

Enteric fermentation is a natural part of the digestive process of ruminant animals (e.g. cattle and sheep) where microbes decompose and ferment the food present in large rumen portion of the stomach. As a byproduct of this fermentation process, some bacteria species in the stomach produce methane.


Epidemiology is a scientific discipline that uses data mathematical tools to understand the patterns of disease found in human populations and changes therein. It seeks to explain exactly how these patterns are caused in order to identify ways to control and treat health problems.


Eutrophication refers to the buildup of nutrients in a body of water (e.g. nitrogen and phosphorus) to a level in excess of what would occur naturally and to which aquatic ecosystems are adapted. This can result in detrimental impacts on many aquatic plants and animals, as well as the rapid overgrowth of some plants and algae.


The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is a specialised agency of the United Nations. It is dedicated to leading international efforts to defeat hunger worldwide.

Feed conversion efficiency

Feed conversion efficiency is a measure of how much feed is required to produce a certain amount of a desired output. Such outputs may be animal weight, the amount of milk or meat produced, or even nutritional value measured in calories or grams of protein. It is a metric used to compare animal breeds and species in terms of their ability to convert feed into food available for human consumption.

Food additives

Food additives, including colourants, flavour enhancers, sweeteners, emulsifiers, and preservatives, are substances that are added to foods to preserve them or to enhance their taste and appearance. A food additive may have nutritional value but is not normally consumed as a food by itself. Generally not considered to be food additives are herbs, spices and substances such as micronutrients (for example iron or vitamin B12) that are added solely to improve a food’s nutritional qualities. Many food additives have a long history and are derived from food ingredients or non-food substances that have traditionally been used for processing foods (e.g. chalk or beetroot juice colourant). Others are produced using chemical synthesis (e.g. aspartame and synthetic vitamins). Some question the health impacts of certain additives from this latter group. Many national and international health authorities regulate additives by banning their use and by defining intake limits.

Food chain

The food chain is a hierarchical network constituted by the succession of organisms that eat other organisms and may, in turn, be eaten themselves. The position an organism occupies in a food chain is indicated by its trophic level. Plants, algae, and phytoplankton constitute the lowest trophic level, whereas predators and carnivores constitute the highest trophic levels. Many humans consume food from different trophic levels, while those following vegetarian and vegan diets consume all or most of their food from the primary trophic level.

Food frequency questionnaire

A food frequency questionnaire is a dietary assessment tool commonly used in nutrition research that consists of a questionnaire in which participants are asked to answer questions relating to the frequency with which they consumed certain foods and drinks during a selected time period, e.g. a week, month or year. Food frequency questionnaires can be long or short and interviewer- or self-administered. They are commonly used to investigate the dietary patterns of large populations, and unlike 24-hour recalls, they can measure the consumption of foods that are eaten incidentally or occasionally. Limitations of food frequency questionnaires include their reliance on participants’ ability to accurately recall the foods and drinks they have consumed over a relatively long period, and the possibility of social desirability bias (e.g. people may over-report their consumption of foods they think are healthy or sustainable).

Food preservation

Food preservation encompasses the processes and techniques that are used to prevent food from spoiling, including canning, pickling, salting, drying, smoking, chilling, fermenting, pasteurising, and the addition of chemicals such as sodium benzoate (which dissolves in food as an acid). These measures inhibit the growth and survival of microorganisms that spoil food. Food preservation can be understood as a form of food processing.

Food processing

Food processing, defined by stakeholders in many different ways, broadly refers to modifications made to raw food ingredients after they have been gathered or harvested and before they are consumed or prepared for consumption in a kitchen. Examples of food processing include the pickling of vegetables, smoking or mincing of meat, pasteurisation of milk, milling of wheat, and the hydrogenation of oils. By this definition, most foods are processed in some way (e.g. to improve their taste, extend their shelf-life, make them edible or increase their nutritional value), but there are growing concerns over the health impacts of industrially processed foods.

Food security

Food security is an idealised state or goal where all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Food sovereignty

Food sovereignty is a political movement that emphasises the rights of food producers, distributors and consumers to have control over the food system, as opposed to coorporations and market institutions. It has been defined as the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.

Forest degradation

Forest degradation is the long-term reduction in the overall capacity of a forest to produce or provide benefits, such as carbon storage, biodiversity, wood, and other products due to environmental and anthropogenic alterations.


Fortification refers to the addition of micronutrients to foods to improve their nutritional quality. For example, micronutrients such as iron, zinc, or vitamins A and B may be added to rice or white bread. Fortification is seen as a way of improving the nutritional status of a population.