You must read this alarming fact about shredded cheese! Many shredded cheese products contain cellulose. Wood contains cellulose. Therefore, they use sawdust in shredded cheese. This is according to Insider via Eater. According to Insider, cellulose in shredded cheese is the same as sawdust. 1Fantozzi, Joanna. “30 Food Facts That Will Blow Your Mind.” Insider, Insider, 3 Aug. 2020, www.insider.com/amazing-food-facts-2017-12.
Cellulose used in food is not sawdust, per se. Wood contains cellulose, of course. We humans can actually eat wood. We just cannot utilize it except for wood fiber that contains glucose. Large amounts of wood could be harmful due to the effect of too much fiber and also the possibility of gut damage due to sharp wood fibers that we cannot properly chew. Some trees, though, have an edible inner bark that can be used as subsistence food in time of need.
Cellulose is the main component of plant cell walls and of all vegetable fibers. The plants we eat also contain cellulose. It is a polysaccharide that we normally call ‘fiber.’ We cannot digest it but it helps to maintain our digestive health. It is an important part of a healthy diet.
Sometimes cellulose is used as a food additive. In shredded cheese, microcrystalline cellulose is added as an anticaking agent. This helps keep the cheese from clumping together. Microcrystalline cellulose is created by the partial depolymerization of wood pulp by acid hydrolysis. This type of prepared cellulose is non-fibrous and is able to absorb water. It comes as a fine, white powder. You may sometimes be able to observe this powder on shredded cheese.
Uses for Microcrystalline Cellulose
- Anticaking agent in grated or shredded cheese
- Stabilize foams, emulsions
- Noncaloric filler or bulking agent
- Fat and oil substitute
- Form thixotropic gels
- Improve adhesion
- Help stabilize foods during free-thaw cycles
- Impart creaminess and improve body without gumminess
Powdered cellulose is used in many other types of food besides shredded cheese, such as pasta, puffed snack foods, pancake batters, canned foods, dressings, baked goods, frozen foods, vitamin supplements, and more. It is also used in cosmetics and medications. In fact, this is one of the most popular ingredients on the market. 2BeMiller, James N. Carbohydrate Chemistry for Food Scientists. Elsevier, Octorber 2018.[note],[note]Glicksman, Martin. Food Hydrocolloids. CRC Press, August 26, 2020.,3Emerton, Victoria, and Eugenia Choi. Essential Guide to Food Additives. Leatherhead Food International, 2008.
In the body, it acts much like any cellulose. It is basically inert and is not affected by the digestive system. But, it does provide dietary fiber like any other plant fiber. It can bind large amounts of water so could produce a laxative effect, but we do not normally consume such large quantities of this product.
Contrary to the popular claim, microcrystalline cellulose is not created from thrown-away industrial pallets. It is processed from raw wood or other plants, including sorghum cotton, or hemp.
Parmesan Cheese Cellulose Controversy
Recently, grated Parmesan cheese has been in the news due to a lawsuit brought by consumers against several companies that sell grated parmesan cheese. The lawsuit concerned the kind of shelf-stable grated parmesan that comes in canisters. It involved Kraft Heinz, Wal-Mart, Supervalu, and others.
The issue was that these containers proclaim 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese on the front while listing added ingredients like cellulose and potassium sorbate on the back. Dozens of such lawsuits began in 2016 after a Bloomberg article uncovered the fact that some of these brands contain 8% or more cellulose. The cases were eventually consolidated in Chicago federal court. Initially, the court sided with the consumers but the appellate court recently overturned this decision.
This is an unusual amount of cellulose but it is probably necessary to prevent such grated parmesan from clumping. After all, it sits in the middle of the store for long periods. The original judge said that common sense should tell you that such a product would need additives and preservatives. The appellate court disagreed, saying that consumers could not be expected to read the fine print. 4Elejalde-Ruiz, Alexia. “If Your Cheese Contains Fillers, It’s Not ‘100% Grated Parmesan,’ Appellate Court Rules.” Chicagotribune.com, Chicago Tribune, 28 Dec. 2020, www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-parmesan-cheese-100-percent-ruling-20201228-euf2kbnjgnfyzl6zdggr7eqhja-story.html.
Personally, I’m of two minds. It is dishonest to declare 100% Grated Cheese on a product that is not 100% grated cheese. On the other hand, everyone should, at some point, read the back of the label. That is why it’s there. If consumers cannot be expected to read it, then why must ingredients lists and nutrition data panels exist? My opinion is that anyone who thinks that pure grated parmesan could sit on a store shelf at room temperature and be fine to use really needs to start reading food labels. There’s no telling what else they believe. It’s not right to lie but on the other hand, it pays to pay to turn that label around.
The issue, however, is not with cellulose itself. There is no reason to believe that it has any ill effects on your health. The issue is one of truth in labeling.
Not All Shredded Cheese Uses Cellulose
Powdered cellulose is not the only ingredient that can fulfill this role in shredded cheese. Some shredded cheese brands use potato starch, corn starch, calcium sulfate, and others. Also, a mixture of cellulose and another product, such as corn starch, might be used. Powdered cellulose is by far the most popular solution, though.
|↲1||Fantozzi, Joanna. “30 Food Facts That Will Blow Your Mind.” Insider, Insider, 3 Aug. 2020, www.insider.com/amazing-food-facts-2017-12.|
|↲2||BeMiller, James N. Carbohydrate Chemistry for Food Scientists. Elsevier, Octorber 2018.[note],[note]Glicksman, Martin. Food Hydrocolloids. CRC Press, August 26, 2020.|
|↲3||Emerton, Victoria, and Eugenia Choi. Essential Guide to Food Additives. Leatherhead Food International, 2008.|
|↲4||Elejalde-Ruiz, Alexia. “If Your Cheese Contains Fillers, It’s Not ‘100% Grated Parmesan,’ Appellate Court Rules.” Chicagotribune.com, Chicago Tribune, 28 Dec. 2020, www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-parmesan-cheese-100-percent-ruling-20201228-euf2kbnjgnfyzl6zdggr7eqhja-story.html.|