Previously, in my post where I shared my Award Winning Slow Cooker Chili recipe, I told you that you should always shred your own cheese and to NEVER use pre-shredded bagged cheese. But what I didn’t tell you was why.
Like most consumers, I used to buy bagged cheese. I mean, who doesn’t like the convenience of someone else shredding your cheese for you? In fact, I don’t remember not using pre-shredded cheese…even when I was a child. I’m not sure we even owned a cheese grater when I was growing up. But at some point a few years ago I learned that bagged cheese isn’t just cheese. It has additives to keep it from clumping. Think about it…if you have ever seen fresh shredded cheese, it does stick to itself. So what do they put in pre-shredded bagged cheese that keeps it from sticking together?
Let’s do a side-by-side comparison. I bought one bag of pre-shredded cheese and one block of cheese – both the same variety and from the same popular manufacturer. I’ve blocked out the brand name…this isn’t an attack on any one label. They all do it, so I chose a high quality cheese brand. Let’s look a the labels.
Eliminating the ingredients that are identical (because that would be the actual cheese ingredients), let’s look at the additional ingredients in the bagged cheese.
Potato Starch – This is exactly like it sounds…starch derived from the potato. No real concern here, unless you are controlling the amount of carbs in your diet. I know many low-carb people avoid pre-shredded cheese altogether, but you will need to do some more research to see how the amount of Potato Starch really affects your diet.
Cellulose Powder - This one isn’t as straight forward. If you do a Wikipedia search for Cellulose Powder, the results look more like chemistry class notes than a food item search. Search around Google and the answers you find are surprising. Basically, Cellulose Powder is a food additive that has become popular recently because it has unique properties that allow food makers to thicken food, replace fat, raise fiber content and decrease the need for ingredients like oil and flour. Although cellulose is commonly found in all kinds of plants, do you know where the most popular and economical source for cellulose are? Cotton and wood pulp. Yep. That’s what you are eating in shredded cheese! Source 1 Source 2
Calcium Sulfate – do a quick Google search of calcium sulfate, and the results look more like chemistry class notes than a food product search. It is really confusing. Here is how Merriam Webster defines it: a white odorless compound of calcium that is used especially in building materials and to dry other substances. (Source 3) Mmmm…love me some building materials.
Okay, now before I get a hundred comments arguing with me that all of these additives are FDA approved and edible, let me just say…you are right. But there are a lot of things that are FDA approved and edible that I just don’t want to put into my body, especially when it comes hidden in something as wonderful as cheese.
Okay, let’s talk about the convenience factor…the reason we all buy the bagged cheese stuff. How inconvenient is it really to shred your own cheese? I took this block of cheese and shredded it with this simple cheese grater. It took me less than 60 seconds. That isn’t an exaggeration…seriously less than 60 seconds. You can’t tell me that you don’t have a spare 60 seconds in your day to eliminate wood pulp from your family’s diet. Here is what my block looked like after shredding:
It’s is actually kind of pretty, isn’t it? But, to be fair, let’s compare the two cheeses side by side.
I wish I hadn’t purchased the finely shredded cheddar so that the final products would have been closer in size. But even with the size difference, both cheeses look fine…until you take a closer look. Here is what the pre-shredded cheese looks like up close:
I purposely did not touch up this picture. I could have worked a little on the clarity and exposure, but I wanted to give you an honest, untouched picture. Do you see that powdery substance all over the cheese? Not sure if that is potato starch, cellulose powder or calcium sulfate. All I do know is that there is none of that on my shredded cheese – see the picture below:
Again, I didn’t touch up this picture at all, but can you see the difference? Definitely. You can see the difference, but what I can’t share with you is the difference in taste. When I first started shredding my own cheese, I don’t think my oldest children were big fans…because it added one more cooking utensil that they had to wash (dishes are one of their chores.) However, after shredding my own cheese for awhile, I bought and used a bag of pre-shredded cheese, and I remember my oldest daughter’s reaction…she was not happy. She is the one that pointed out that the block cheese tasted so much better than the pre-shredded cheese. So much so that they don’t mind having to wash the cheese grater…as long as I haven’t let the cheese harden to the consistency of cement before they get a chance to wash it. Sorry guys! Trust me, once you get used to the taste of cheese you shred yourself, it is very hard to go back!
Well, there you have it…my rant on shredded cheese. How do you prefer your cheese? I’d love to read your comments on this!