This paper results from the final phase of the ENDO project (DGXII AIRII-CT94-1095), a European Commission-funded project on non-digestible oligosaccharides (NDO). All participants in the programme met to perform a consensus exercise on the possible functional food properties of NDO. Topics studied during the project (including a workshop on probiotics and prebiotics) and related aspects, for which considerable evidence has been generated recently, were evaluated on the basis of existing published scientific evidence. There was a general consensus that: (1) there is strong evidence for a prebiotic effect of NDO in human subjects. A prebiotic effect was defined as a food-induced increase in numbers and/or activity predominantly of bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria in the human large intestine; (2) there is strong evidence for the impact that NDO have on bowel habit; (3) there is promising evidence that consumption of inulin-type fructans may result in increased Ca absorption in man; (4) there are preliminary indications that inulin-type fructans interact with the functioning of lipid metabolism; (5) there is preliminary evidence in experimental animals of a preventive effect against colon cancer. Human nutrition studies are needed to substantiate these findings. It was concluded that the nutritional properties of NDO may prove to be a key issue in nutritional research in the future.