You may have heard, in the news, that an American cheese company has been caught with its pants down. This company sold grated parmesan cheese with the assumption that it contained parmesan cheese and only parmesan cheese. Well, it turns out that there was zero parmesan cheese and a small percentage of cellulose. There were other cheeses present, but it’s the small percentage of cellulose, extracted from wood pulp, that has people losing their collective minds.
I get it – the idea of eating a bowl of spaghetti, with a side of bark, makes the dish sound more like it’s fit for a beaver, not your family. But, this is nothing more than hyperbole masked as concern for the frail consumer.
Cellulose is a component of grated cheese products, and it’s used as desiccant. A desiccant is a substance that reduces the amount of moisture in a packaged product. The addition of cellulose keeps your favourite grated parmesan cheese product from turning into a giant clump inside the package.
Here’s the biggest fallacy in the assertion that you’re eating wood pulp with your pasta. The cellulose used in these products is extracted from sawdust, but it could be extracted from any plant material. Cellulose is the main component of plant cell walls, and it’s more commonly known as dietary fibre. Your kale smoothie contains cellulose. Your spinach salad also contains cellulose. That pizza crust you fashioned from a head of cauliflower also contains cellulose. Cellulose is more commonly known as dietary fibre. Fibre isn’t absorbed by the human body – it’s indigestible, which means the cellulose in grated parmesan cheese, and other plant products, has no effect on your body. In cheese, it’s not even present in amounts that help with…ahem…your regularity.
Even more interesting is that, chemically, cellulose is identical to starch. Both are long-chain glucose polymers. However, starch, or amylose, has bonds that are oriented in the opposite direction, which gives it unique characteristics and differentiates the two molecules.
But, if you’re absolutely disgusted with the notion of cellulose, or fibre, being used in your grated cheese products, you have an option. You could buy parmesan cheese, which has been imported from Italy, because the Italians have really strict rules about their cheese. I expect this comes with a steep price tag, but to each their own. Or, you could forego using any pre-grated cheese product and save yourself some money.
Me? I don’t care. I understand that cellulose plays an important role in preserving these products, and more importantly, I’m too frugal to buy these kinds of processed foods. Ultimately, to each their own, but please, stop spreading a bunch of nonsensical hyperbole. This “scandal” is much ado about nothing.