Abstract We explore the consequences of modifying the way in which species are defined in an evolutionary food web model. In the original version of the model, the species were defined in terms of a fixed number of features, chosen from a large number of possibilities. These features represented phenotypic and behavioural characteristics of the species. Speciation consisted in occasionally replacing one of the features by another. Here we modify this scheme by firstly allowing for a richer structure and secondly by testing whether we are able to eliminate the need for an explicit choice of features altogether. In the first case we allow for changing the number of features which define a species, as well as their nature, and find that in the resulting webs the higher trophic levels typically contain species with the greatest number of features. In the second case, by a simplification of the mechanisms for inter and intra-species competition, we construct a model without any explicit features and find that we are still able to grow model food webs. We assess the quality of the food webs produced and discuss the consequences of our findings for the future modelling of food webs.