Who doesn’t like shredded cheese? It’s easy and convenient on so many levels — you don’t need to grate shredded cheese, it comes in pre-measured bags, and putting different cheeses together to create a pizza or salad topping doesn’t mean storing a number of half-grated cheese blocks back in the fridge. But what if we told you that buying shredded cheese means we’re also consuming something we didn’t intend to?
A look at the labelling on some shredded cheese will uncover three ingredients that are most uncheese-like: potato starch, natamycin, and powdered cellulose. Potato starch is pretty much as advertised; it is normally used commercially as a thickener, and helps keeps cheese shreds from clumping together (via KCET). Joining potato starch is natamycin, which is a mold inhibitor, so it keeps shredded cheese fresh. The antifungal ingredient is produced naturally by a soil bacteria. As Slate puts it, you might be grossed out at the thought of eating the byproduct of a dirt bug, but it is natural, and unlikely to cause any side effects or serious harm, because it is poorly absorbed by the body. Nonetheless, Whole Foods has put natamycin on its list on unacceptable food ingredients.
Shredded cheese may have a controversial additive
The third component in some shredded cheeses is the one many people a problem with: cellulose. Like potato starch and natamycin, cellulose has a function: it keeps shredded cheese from caking and absorbing moisture. Cellulose got its bad rep from a rumor that the additive was from wood pulp. In fact, Snopes quotes author Jeff Potter to clarify this misconception: “Cellulose is a non-digestible plant fiber, and we actually happen to need non-digestible vegetable fiber in our food — that’s why people eat bran flakes and psyllium husks.”
While there may be nothing wrong with cellulose, some still have a problem with how much of it might actually be found in a pack of shredded cheese — the answer is not clear (via Reader’s Digest). So, while buying a bag of shredded cheese is more practical, grating your own ensures more peace of mind. Plus, shredded cheese is pricier, and cheese grated fresh off the block tastes better! So, pass on the bagged cheese and go find an amazing grater.
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