Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cheddar Cheese Isn't Orange And Other Food Truths

Cheddar cheese isn't orange. In it's natural state it is actually a very pale yellow color. If you look at the ingredient list of most cheddar cheese, particularly the pre-shredded variety, you will see something (usually annatto - at least it's not artificial) added for color. Nobody is completely sure who decided cheddar cheese should be orange. Wikipedia posits that in the 16th century, cheeses of superior quality all appeared darker yellow or orange, so makers of poor-quality cheese began adding deep yellow annatto to spruce up their paltry products. Read on for 3 other weird things that companies do to their food products.

Everybody knows Americans don't get enough fiber in their diets, right? Rather than promoting eating foods that are actually full of fiber, like fruit, vegetables, beans, or oats, many companies add fiber into their otherwise fiberless foods. But they can't exactly transfer the fiber from a black bean into a piece of fried chicken with some Frankenstein-like mad scientist setup, so they get it from somewhere else: trees. Cellulose is an ingredient often added to processed foods to up their fiber content. Cellulose is wood pulp, and in addition to adding dietary fiber and texture to foods like Aunt Jemima's syrup, the McRib sandwich, some shredded cheeses, and Nestle's hot chocolate, it also makes a really good wallpaper paste.

You know that nice sheen that coats treats like chocolate covered raisins, jelly beans, or sprinkles? It usually shows up on food labels as "shellac" or "food glaze", and it's totally natural! It's made from secretions of the female lac bug, similar to a beetle. It's also used as primer, wood finish, and high gloss varnish. Yum.

Here we are talking about cheese again. A Peaceful Plate is nothing if not a cheese-hound. Let's say you were John Sargento (or Jane, as the case may be) and you wanted to make some parmesan cheese. What would you do? Well, you'd start by acquiring some milk. You would curdle the milk by adding some type of acid like lemon juice or vinegar. Then you, JohnJane, would slaughter an unweaned baby cow and take out the lining of it's fourth stomach because it has enzymes you can use to turn your curdled liquid milk into a solid cheese. Maybe you'd sell the rest of the calf as veal so all is not lost. Kidding, stay away from veal. The enzymes baby cows produce in their stomachs is called rennet on ingredient lists. It is becoming quite commonplace to see cheeses using vegetarian and synthetic sources of these coagulating enzymes (some plants and molds produce similar varieties), but if you care about what went into your cheese you'd better read the label.

Shared at: Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Beyond The Peel


  1. Fascinating! Cellulose is wood bark. On of my business teachers used to own a pulp mill and his biggest client (way back in the day) was McDonalds. He sold it as wood flour. They probably still use it today, but he no longer owns the business. Kind of sick. It always amazes me what it's our food.
    I'd love it if you'd share this with us at Beyond The Peel. I host Whole Food Wednesdays and I think they'd all love this as much as me.

    Have a great rest of your week.

  2. Thanks so much for the comment! It is interesting how much strange stuff goes into processed food. Whether it's truly bad or not, that "wood flour" certainly doesn't sound good!

    I'm very happy to share with Beyond the Peel as well... thanks for pointing me to your great site! Looks like you have some yummy recipes I will be trying.

  3. I come from Somerset (where Cheddar is) and just the other day finished off a block of cheddar that was made and cured in the caves at Cheddar. I can attest that true cheddar is pale yellow. But then in the UK all cheese sold as "cheddar" is. So I don't know why american producers feel the need to change the colour?

    Red Leicester cheese is orange, not cheddar.

  4. That is interesting color isn't added in the UK. I don't really know why so many American companies do it. Perhaps it has something to do with perceived expectations of the consumers. I'm able to find cheddar and other cheeses without color added here (in Maryland) but only at certain health food stores.

    Your cave-cured cheese sounds WONDERFUL! How nice to have that so nearby. I will have to add a Cheddar Cave visit to my next UK trip. :)

  5. Thanks for coming by and sharing this with us at Whole FOod Wednesdays. I hope to see you next week. Have a great weekend!


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