Nature: Parmigiano Reggiano is not only healthy and natural, it’s also good for our digestive system

The prestigious journal Nature Communications has published a study that shows how consumption of Parmigiano Reggiano not only plays an important nutritional role in the human diet, but also has a beneficial health effect, as it enriches the microbial communities (microbiota) residing in the human gastrointestinal tract

Parma, 22 March 2019 - The prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications has published a study coordinated by Professors Marco Ventura and Francesca Turroni of the University of Parma, aimed at understanding the ecological origins and composition of the microbial communities of Parmigiano Reggiano that contribute to the development of its organoleptic characteristics. 

Parmigiano Reggiano is closely linked with its area of origin (the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna to the left of the Reno river, and Mantua to the right of the Po river): it is a PDO product that owes its success to its age-old history, but also to an ideal microclimate that helps to make the King of Cheeses unique.

The fact that it is produced without thermal treatment (Parmigiano Reggiano is made with unpasteurized, raw milk), with no additives and preservatives, makes it a completely natural, healthy and authentic product: a cheese that can bring to consumers the fragrances and flavours of the fodder eaten by the cows, and of the milk used to make Italy’s most famous cheese.

In effect, today it is not just the 330 dairies that produce it, but science as well.

The study by the University of Parma has shown for the first time that Parmigiano Reggiano, as a vector of microbial strains that enrich the human gut microbiota, plays an important role as a functional food in the human diet.

It is the first work that provides a very detailed description of the composition of bacterial communities - defined collectively as microbiota - that reside in Parmigiano Reggiano, showing the existence both of ubiquitous bacterial species and of differences connected with the locations of production.

The work was carried out by the Laboratory of Probiogenomics, Department of Chemistry, Life Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, and by the “Microbiome Research Hub” Interdepartmental Research Centre, with the participation of a research group from the University of Parma.

This research project has made it possible to reconstruct a comprehensive profile of the microbiota of Parmigiano Reggiano.

The data obtained showed the existence of bacteria that are transmitted from cow’s milk to humans through the consumption of Parmigiano Reggiano.

These horizontally transmitted bacteria include some bifidobacterial species, probiotic microorganisms commonly considered capable of providing health benefits to humans. In essence, this research shows that there is a horizontal passage between potentially “good” bacteria from the cows to the ultimate consumer.

It highlights how consumption of Parmigiano Reggiano not only plays an important nutritional role in the human diet - as has already been amply demonstrated - but also provides health benefits produced by the transmission of microorganisms capable of modulating and enriching human gut microbiota.

The study opens up a serious scientific debate about the origin of some types of bacteria considered specific to certain foods, therefore called food bacteria, and lays the scientific foundation regarding their environmental origin and their transmission through the food chain.

The research is ongoing: what can be said for certain is that Parmigiano Reggiano is a food that enriches our microbiota with microorganisms that are beneficial to the gastrointestinal tract. However, in the future we may go even further, as the presence of these microorganisms may have additional health benefits, considering the central role attributed to the gut as far as human well-being and health are concerned.