Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cheese, cheese, my favorite food... but not when it's pre-shredded.

I have long loved cheese. Almost any kind of cheese! I don't consider Velveeta and American to be cheeses. They're a cheese mix and not something I think should be included in any healthy diet. 

Give me a salad with feta, blue cheese or hot pepper cheese or cheddar or... oh, alright, any kind of cheese.

In the past I've cheated and bought shredded cheese in the bag. It feels like I eat less when I use shredded cheeses for some reason, plus I'm basically one of those who'll take out any step I can when cooking.

However, today as I was looking for recipes I came across a few articles on pre-shredded cheese. It appears they use an additive to keep the cheese from clumping. One of the recipes said to shred your own because it was a good idea to have it clump when making the crackers. Huh. Learned something new.

I went on an Internet search to see if I could find out if and what they used.

One thing I learned is that not all bleu cheeses are gluten-free. I'll have to be more careful. 

Here's what I've found on the shredded additive search thus far: - it's a link to a patent titled "method of treating a divided cheese product for anticaking". Just because a patent exists for a product doesn't mean that Kraft and other companies are using one. 
An anticaking agent which reduces the stickiness of the chunked, diced, or shredded cheese and improves the functionality of cheese is formulated of fine mesh vegetable flour, bentonite, cellulose, and antimycotic agents or bacterial cultures. This anticaking agent also will reduce the yeast and mold growth. This discovery is also extended to include various flavors, colors, enzymes and other supplements into the anticaking agent, to ultimately add to the cheese.  

and more from the patent (highlights are mine):

Anticaking agent in the food industry, especially in the dairy and cheese industry, is defined as any safe and suitable food ingredient which, when added, should prevent lumping of shredded, diced or chunked dairy product, such as cheese, during storage at room temperature or refrigerator or freezer. Such a dairy product with anticaking agent in it should be easy to handle at the time of applying on the final food product. Some cheeses, after they are chunked and if the anticaking agent is not used, will cake and are very difficult to handle. This is a serious problem especially with high moisture and high fat cheeses. Currently, at least 50% to 75% of the hard and semihard cheeses are either diced, shredded or chunked for sale in grocery stores, institutions, and major restaurant chains in the United States.
Several anticaking agents are commercially available, such as cellulose, microcrystalline cellulose, cellulose impregnated with glucose sugar and glucose oxidase enzyme, silicon dioxide, and sodium aluminum silicate. The major drawbacks of the existing anticaking agents are as follows:
1. Relatively expensive.
2. Deteriorates the product functionality in terms of performance in the finished products.
3. The product efficiency is questionable depending on the chemical specification of the cheese.
4. Too much dusting in the packaging room.
5. Health hazard to workers.
6. Excessive, unwanted bacteria and yeast and mold contamination.
Primarily, anticaking agents are formulated to include compounds which will eliminate sticking. One commonly used anticaking compound is cellulose, which is a fibrous vegetable material. Some formulations include starch in the anticaking agent, and many employ cellulose in combination with dextrose sugar and glucose oxidase. In the last mentioned case, the intent is to reduce oxygen in the packaged treated product in order to eliminate yeast and molds and, at the same time, to prevent the treated product from caking. One drawback with this kind of system when applied on pizza pie is that dextrose, used in anticaking agent, will increase browning of cheese when pizza pie is baked.
Also, the efficiency of such procedures to perform consistently is highly questionable because of the variance in chemical specifications of the cheeses. Enzymatic reactions require proper temperatures, moisture, pH, and, most importantly, time to react and produce the final result. In the pizza industry, it is a known problem that higher use of cellulose based anticaking agents tends to interfere with baking qualities of cheeses in terms of melt and browning. This problem is recent in origin because, formerly, temperatures of pizza baking ovens were maintained at 400° to 475° F. More recently, with the concept of fast served foods such as five minute pizza for lunch trade and 30 minute home delivery of pizza, pizza is baked at 575° to 650° F. With this higher temperature baking, the problems associated with cheese and anticaking agents are magnified. A serious problem is excessive browning and scorching of cheeses on pizza pie at such elevated temperatures.
In the prior art, flour has not been used as an anticaking agent on cheese, especially if the cheese will be used on pizza pie. Although flour may have a superior functionality in terms of reducing the stickiness of cheese, flour seriously interferes with the melting properties of cheese on pizza pie. Consequently, despite the economy of using flour as an anticaking agent, the food industry has been unable to take advantage of using food grade flours as anticaking agents in shredded cheese products, especially those intended for use on pizza pie.

Here's something from Sargento (

Q. Is there gluten in Sargento cheeses?

We are pleased to tell you that most Sargento natural cheeses should be acceptable to a gluten-free diet. However, there are a few exceptions.

There is wheat gluten in Sargento Blue Cheese. Those on a gluten-free diet should also not eat the following Sargento Snacks: Cheese Dips! Cheddar Dip & Buttery Pretzels, Cheese Dips! Cheddar Dip & Zesty Ranch Bagel Chips, Cheese Dip & Sticks, Cheese Dip & Cheddar Sticks, Cheese Dip & Pretzels, Cheese Dip & Crackers, Chocolate Dip & Cookie Sticks or S’mores. 
You will notice that we use microcrystalline cellulose, calcium carbonate or potato starch as anti-caking agents on our shredded cheeses. When added to shredded cheese, they prevent the shreds from sticking together.

Microcrystalline cellulose is a white, odorless, tasteless, totally natural powder made from cellulose, a naturally occurring component of most plants. Calcium carbonate and potato starch are also natural ingredients. None of these anti-caking agents is derived from wheat, rye, oats or barley; therefore, they are acceptable to a gluten-free diet.

The source of vinegar in Sargento Ricotta Cheese can vary; however, it is triple distilled, and, to the best of our knowledge, no gluten is present.

We hope this information is helpful. If you have questions about how our products may affect your medical condition, we suggest you discuss this information with your physician.
From the International Fiber Corporation:
Cheese Anti-Caking
Shredded Cheese
International Fiber Corporation was the first company to petition the FDA to permit the use of powdered cellulose as an anti-caking agent in shredded cheese and grated cheese in 1986. Eventually powdered cellulose replaced the use of microcrystalline cellulose as the anti-caking agent of choice within the dairy industry....

Here's one that's a tad bit off the subject, but interesting. It's on the various Parmesan cheeses on the market. It popped up in my search because there's a comment after the article on clumping, cellulose, etc.

Bottom line for me is that I'll be reading packages more often. It never crossed my mind to look at a shredded cheese list of ingredients. I think I'm going to pay more attention to all of my purchases for a while.

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