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Food Names

 Updated 2019-12-23

Scientific and regulatory sources of food names

A precise nomenclature and a sufficiently detailed description of foods in the preparation of food composition data are essential to guarantee reliable results. Even good quality data, if referred to foods which are not clearly defined, are useless, or, if used, are a source of errors.

Food names are dependent on regulatory and/or scientific issues and cannot just be chosen freely. In many countries and regions food names are defined in the laws and regulations, and international agreements define standards for specific foods.

 Common Names and Scientific Names in Food Composition Databases

Why use Scientific Names?

Common names are language/dialect/region dependent. Therefore, they are not a good source of information for people not speaking the language or dialect or living in the region where the common name is used. Furthermore, the same common name can be used for different species of plants or animals dependent of where in the world they are used.
The scientific names however can be used to describe (more) precisely, which plant or animal you are dealing with. It is important to note that even though there is an ongoing international process dealing with stabilizing* fish and plant names, different authoritative sources of scientific names may have chosen different scientific names for the same species.

*defining which is the preferred scientific name and which are synonyms (non-preferred)

Authoritative Sources of Scientific Names

Internationally, there is a growing list of online sources, which can be considered as being primary authoritative sources of scientific names for animals and plants.
Some examples of the currently most important international authoritative sources are

- plants: GRIN-Global Taxonomy for Plants , USDA Plants, Mansfeld's World Database of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops
- mammals: Mammal Species of the World
- marine species: World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS)
- fish: FishBase and FAO ASFIS ISSCAAP
- all kingdoms: ITIS, the Integrated Taxonomic Information System

For a full list of sources on scientific names, see LanguaL's links page on Food Classification, Description, Nomenclature and Taxonomy.

In addition to the international resources on scientific names, common names/scientific names are regulated in regional/national legislation. This is also the case in Europe where the European Commission, the European Council and national governments issue regulations, which define the legal common names (market names) and corresponding scientific names for plants and animals. This issue is further dealt with in the sections below.

A New Search Tool for Scientific Names, SciName Finder™

SciName Finder™ is a search tool for scientific/common names of plants and animals as they appear in authoritative and regulatory online databases. SciName Finder™ provides a common interface to a long range of online databases mentioned on this page.
SciName Finder™ is provided by Anders Møller, Danish Food Informatics.

Syntax for Scientific Names

The recommended syntax for presentation of scientific names is <genus> <species> <Author, year> [<source> <id>], where <genus> <species> are written in italic. It is important to indicates the Author of the name and - if possible - the year the author published the scientific name, because the same author may have given the same species different names at different times or different authors have given the same species different names (at different times). Furthermore, in order for the scientific name to be as clear as possible, it is important to document where the scientific name has been obtained and its unique identification in this source; the unique identification of the scientific name is often called nomen or taxid.
Examples of presentation of scientific names according to these recommendations are

for okra/gumbo:

Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench. [ARS-GRIN 619]
Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench. [EuroFIR BASIS]

and for atlantic cod:

Gadus morhua Linnaeus, 1758 [FAO GADI Gadu2]
Gadus morhua
Linnaeus, 1758 [ISSCAAP COD]

Use only Authoritative Sources for Scientific Names

It is important only to use the authoritative sources for common (market) and scientific names. As the regulations indicate which names to use, it is important that these names are also used in food composition databases, because it the regulations determine which names can be use in trade.
For this reason, it is also important that you do not use popular books as sources of names - both common and scientific - as they are often erroneous and the origin of naming in these books is usually not indicated.

Indication of Language for Scientific Names in Data Interchange

The language indicator for scientific names in data interchange is by international convention chosen as 'tx' (meaning "taxonomic").


 Common and Scientific Names in European Legislation

The European Combined Nomenclature

The Combined Nomenclature (the tariff and statistical nomenclature of the Customs Union), the Common Customs Tariff (the external tariff applied to products imported into the Union), and the Integrated Tariff of the European Communities (Taric), all incorporates common names and to some extent scientific names applied to goods imported into and exported out of the Community. It is managed by the Commission, which publishes a daily updated version on the official Taric website.

Furthermore, as an example the Commission Regulation (EC) No 1549/2006 of 17 October 2006 amending Annex I to Council Regulation (EEC) No 2658/87 on the tariff and statistical nomenclature and on the Common Customs Tariff given in 20 European languages, defines and classifies goods in trade.

National Customs Regulations

Common and scientific names are often used as definitions of plant and/or animals in trade. Therefore, international and national trade legislation and conventions often contain definitions of plants or animals with their scientific names. An example taken from the Danish Customs Manual, Customs Guide - Forms etc. - Annexes, for export of goods, which contains lists of animals and plants.

Specific Legislation concerning Fish and Plants

The European legislation contains a range of Directives and Regulations concerning agricultural and fisheries' products. Examples of these are listed below.


 Fish and seafood names in the European Countries

EU Regulations on Fish (fish/seafood names)

The regulations on fish naming in EU are rather strict. First of all, all catches must be reported to the European Commission. Secondly, the common names (market names) and scientific names are regulated in the EU legislation and only the proper designation of species (market names) must be used in the marking or labelling of the foods.

Among other things, the Council Regulation (EC) No. 104/2000 instruct the Member States to lay down rules for minimum information to consumers concerning the market names, production area, and catch area of fish and seafood. The regulation instructs the Member States to "draw up and publish lists of the commercial designations in their territory for at least the species listed" in the annexes of this Regulation, no later than 1 January 2002. This means that all EU Member States have regulated the common names of fish and seafood according to the same regulation and against the same Regulation - the market names of fish in Europe are stabilized.
Examples of these lists of the commercial designation of species are the Danish Fiskehandelsnavne på dansk og latin (DK National Food Agency, 936 species, 2017) and the G(GOV.UK 3 September 2013). Similarly, the Swiss Federal Institute oh Health provides Fischliste - Benennung von Speisefischen in German, French, and Italian.

The EU Regulation on fish is laid down in a series of directives (for all information, see EUR-Lex, search on "fish").
Food description - especially concerning fish names - is very clear in the EU regulations as the definition of scientific names and common names (market names/commercial names) is regulated on a pan-European level. This means that scientific names as well as market names of fish in the European countries are regulated in the common EU regulations, which are followed by all Member States.
Some other examples are the following regulations in different languages, which contain the information on scientific and market names of fish sold in the European Union:

EU COMMISSION REGULATION (EC) No 1637/2001 of 23 July 2001 amending Council Regulation (EEC) No 3880/91 on the submission of nominal catch statistics by Member States fishing in the North-East Atlantic
[OJ L 222, 17.8.2001, p. 20–28]

COMMISSION REGULATION (EC) No 1638/2001 of 24 July 2001 amending Council Regulation (EC) No 2597/95 on the submission of nominal catch statistics by Member States fishing in certain areas other than those of the North Atlantic

[OJ L 222, 17.8.2001, p. 29–52]

These regulation have now been replaced by newer regulations:

Regulation (EC) No 216/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2009 on the submission of nominal catch statistics by Member States fishing in certain areas other than those of the North Atlantic (recast).
[OJ L 87, 31.3.2009, p. 1-41]

Regulation (EC) No 217/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2009 on the submission of catch and activity statistics by Member States fishing in the north-west Atlantic (recast).
[OJ L 87, 31.3.2009, p. 42-69]

Regulation (EC) No 218/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2009 on the submission of nominal catch statistics by Member States fishing in the north-east Atlantic (recast).
[OJ L 87, 31.3.2009, p. 70-108]

containing common names, scientific names as well as fishing area codes and designations in all official languages in EU, i.e. the country specific documents of these regulations contain the preferred fish names as well as fishing area designations for fisheries statistics and labelling of fish and seafood products on the market in the local language.

Fish Names in the European Community

The European Commission has published the dictionary

Multilingual illustrated dictionary of aquatic animals and plants.
Fishing News Books.
Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
ECSC-EEC-EAEC, Brussels - Luxembourg, 1998.
ISBN 92-828-1886-1

The first edition (1993) contained scientific names and common names in 9 languages (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT) for 1512 species, while second edition from 1998 contains scientific and common names for 1532 species in 11 languages (ES, DA, DE, GR, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV).

The commercial fish names in the European regulation are based on the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO's) lists of fish names, which are also the basis of the FishBase initiative. The ASFIS ISSCAAP, International Standard Statistical Classification of Aquatic Animals and Plants of FAO, and used in the FAO Year Books and in FAO Aquaculture Production Statistics, is the basis of most fish lists in the world. The European Regulations (see above) and the multilingual illustrated dictionary use the 3-alpha identifier of the ISSCAAP list.
The ISSCAAP list can be downloaded from the FAO Fisheries website. The list includes fish names in English, French and Spanish as well as the scientific names for 10900 species (2011-03-05).

A pdf-document of the ASFIS ISSCAAP list sorted by scientific name has been prepared for the EuroFIR Network (by AM, DFI), it can be found here.

A short list of fish names in European languages, Fish Names of the European Community, has been prepared by the UK Torry Research Station (Torry Advisory Note No. 96), which is available from the FAO website.


 Fish and seafood names in other countries

Australian Regulations on Fish (fish/seafood names)

Like in EU, the regulations on fish naming in Australia are rather strict and laid down in the Australian Fish Names Standards (current version 1.9, July 2007) developed by the Seafood Services Australia (AS/SSA Standards) The Standard defines standard fish names for use in Australia and specifies when standard fish names are required to be used. The Australian Standard Fish Names List (Annex A) is incorporated into and forms part of this Standard (alist can be downloaded here).

Based on the Australian Fish Names Standard, the Australian Government's Fisheries Research & Development Corporation (FRDC) has developed a Searchable database of Australian Standard Fish Names as well as fact sheets on seafood.


United States Regulations on Fish (fish/seafood names)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (FDA CFSAN) is responsible for for the regulations on seafood in the United States (under Code of Federal Regulations vol. 21).

U.S. FDA publishes the Seafood List (current version September 2017 FDA Seafood Complete List), a compilation of existing acceptable market names for imported and domestically available seafood. It contains more than 1500 species of finfish and shellfish important in the U.S. The list was developed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in cooperation with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). FDA advises either the Acceptable Market Name or the Common Name in labelling seafood products which will help assure that identity labelling of the seafood will comply with FDA and NMFS regulations.

The Seafood List links to the Regulatory Fish Encyclopedia (RFE), which is coordinated through the Seafood Products Research Center and Science Branch, Seattle District; the Office of Seafood, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition; and the Seafood Laboratory and Science Branch, San Francisco District, with participation from other FDA offices within CFSAN and the field.

The RFE includes for each of a number of commercially relevant fish species for sale in the U.S. market high-resolution photographs as their scanned digital images (jpeg format) of whole fish and their marketed product forms (including fillets, steaks, or whole crustaceans) which may be used for visual comparison to a whole fish in question (or its marketed product form). The RFE also includes unique taxonomic characteristics (physical properties such as size, shape, color, etc.), usually in a "checklist" format, to aid in identification. In addition there is chemical taxonomic information consisting of species-characteristic biochemical patterns which may be compared quantitatively to patterns obtained by an appropriate laboratory analysis of the fish species specimen in question. These patterns include data from IEF (isoelectric focusing) and RFLP (restriction fragment length polymorphism) studies.


 Plant Names in EU Regulation

Plant Names in EU Regulation
Like fish names, also plant names are regulated in EU legislation. From a food description point of view, the most important regulations are the Common Catalogue of Varieties of Agricultural Plant Species, a list of 81 important agricultural crops, the Common catalogue of varieties of vegetable species, a list of 46 vegetable species, as well as Council Directive 2002/55/EC of 13 June 2002 on the marketing of vegetable seed.
Plant Names in EU Regulation on Pesticides
An example of plant name definitions in EU Regulation on Pesticides is COMMISSION REGULATION (EC) No 178/2006 of 1 February 2006 amending Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 of the European Parliament and of the Council to establish Annex I listing the food and feed products to which maximum levels for pesticide residues apply. This EU Regulation contains a list of food and feeds products.
National Plant Name Committees
Plant names are often regulated nationally. This means that the preferred common name for the plants is stabilized in the local language in order to promote consistent use of the common names. An example of this is Recommended Scientific and Danish Plant Names is published by the Danish Plant Directorate with the aim of contributing to a uniform application of Danish and scientific plant names in Danish agriculture, horticulture and in other sectors using plants and plant products. The list contains scientific and Danish names of more than 7700 plant species.



First Albanian food composition tables (2022).

First Albanian food composition tables (2022) published with assistance from NPPC-VÚP in the frame of the Slovak Republic Official Development Support Programme.
Download here.
Swedish food composition database updated.

New version of the Swedish food composition database with updated nutritional values for several food groups and new foods and iodine values added. See the Swedish Food Agency's website.
First edition of the Kyrgyz Food Composition Table.

Kyrgyzstan has released their first national food composition table. For more information, see the EuroFIR website.
2021 Release of the New Zealand Food Composition Database.

The 2021 update of New Zealand food composition database (NZFCD) released online on 31st March 2022. For more information, see the EuroFIR website.