The shredded cheddar, mozzarella, and grated hard Italian cheeses that they sell in grocery stores can sure be a convenience. Just take the packaged cheese out of the fridge, sprinkle some of it on your chili con carne or penne all’arrabbiata, and your meal is ready to serve.
What not everyone will tell you about shredded cheese is that, whenever you buy and use it, you’re trading off the purity of your food for convenience.
Here’s exactly how and why.
Is shredded cheese bad for you?
Cheese blocks and shredded cheese come from the same cheese wheels. However, shredded cheese bags also contain starch, cellulose, and natamycin to keep the cheese shreds from caking together and inhibit the growth of mold.
To prove this, I went online and compared the ingredients of two cheddar cheeses made by the same brand and sold by the same grocer.
At first, the only difference was that one cheese was sold in blocks, and the other came pre-grated. As soon as I compared the ingredients, there was more to this than meets the eye.
It’s time to share what I found.
|Cheddar Block||Grated Cheddar|
|Packaging||32-oz bag||8-z bag|
|Ingredients||Pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes||Pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes, potato starch, powdered cellulose, natamycin|
The grated cheese had three ingredients that the cheese block didn’t: potato starch, powdered cellulose, and natamycin.
To make sure I’m not misleading you by looking at a single set of cheeses, I did this with several more retailers and brands. Here’s a couple of conclusions that I came to:
- Some manufacturers used modified cornstarch instead of potato starch for an anti-caking agent.
- Some manufacturers put natamycin in both their cheese blocks and shredded cheese packs.
There’s a good reason why each of these three ingredients is there. It’s harder to retain the freshness and characteristics of cheese that’s been grated than cheese that’s sold in blocks.
For example, the cheese shreds can stick together when they come into contact with each other and make the bag look unappealing to shoppers on the freezer shelves. And there’s more surface area for bacteria and fungi to grow on.
Here’s why starch, cellulose, and natamycin are added to the cheese:
- The potato starch is an anti-caking agent. It soaks up the oils and moisture from the cheese shreds, keeping them from sticking together.
- Powdered cellulose is usually a bulking agent that increases the weight and volume of packaged food.
- Natamycin, an antifungal agent that’s also to treat fungal infections around the eye, inhibits the growth of mold in dairy.
As a home cook and the person who does the shopping at home, you need to make a choice for yourself and for your household.
Do you want to trade-off the convenience of buying and using pre-shredded cheese for the fact that it contains additives and preservatives that cheese blocks don’t?
There is no right or wrong answer here. It’s your kitchen and your rules. But, whatever choice you make, it’s best that you make it an informed one. Hence this article.
For some, seeing potato starch, powdered cellulose, and natamycin on the ingredients list is not really a cause of concern. They see them as a necessity to allow our food to be produced and sold at the scale that it is today.
For others, it’s three ingredients too many—and they prefer to eat food as free from additives and preservatives as possible.
No matter which side you are on, remember to read the ingredients list when you buy cheese from the supermarket.
When it comes to the additives in your food, which school of thought do you belong to? Has reading this article in any way changed your mind?
Let me and the rest of its readers know by leaving a comment below.
What Are Potato and Cornstarch?
Starch is an odorless and tasteless powder that’s added to food products, like soups, sauces, gravies, fillings, and puddings. Starch acts as a thickener and stabilizer by preventing moisture and fat from separating from it.
Starch is naturally present in nature and is an important part of the human diet. It’s produced by most green plants and is mostly found in potatoes, corn, peas, and lentils. It acts as a store of energy in the form of carbohydrates.
Starch can come from different sources. The most common types of starch used in commercial food production and by home cooks (i.e., for thickening soups and stews) are potato starch and cornstarch.
What Is Powdered Cellulose?
Cellulose is naturally found in the cells of plants. Plant cells have cell walls, which on a microscopic level add an extra layer of protection from their surrounding environment. These cell walls are mostly made from cellulose—and are the reason why some veggies, like celery, have a stiff and crunchy texture.
Humans cannot digest cellulose. Only some animals, like cows, sheep, and horses, can digest it (which is why they feed on a plant-based diet). However, it is still an important part of the human diet because it acts like fiber. Fibre helps your digestive system by keeping food moving through the gut and pushing waste out of your body.
Food companies add cellulose to their products as a bulking agent. Bulking agents increase the bulk (the weight and/or volume) of a product without affecting its taste.
What Is Natamycin?
Natamycin, also known as pimaricin, is an antifungal agent. In medicine, it’s used as an antifungal medication used to treat fungal infections around the eye. In food production, natamycin is added to dairy and other products to inhibit the growth of mold.
Natamycin is a food additive claimed safe for consumption and permitted for direct addition to food products by the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration (FDA).
In general, pre-shredded cheese is not as fresh as a cheese block. It also contains more additives, like potato starch, cornstarch, powdered cellulose, and natamycin, to keep the shreds from caking together and inhibit the growth of mold.
Some home cooks see that as a problem and others not. At the end of the day, you’re trading off convenience for the purity of the food that you eat; and that’s a deeply personal choice that only you and your family can make.
What’s your choice? Share it in the comments below.