Food & Nutrition

The Sneaky Ingredient That’s Hiding in Your Shredded Cheese

From extra sharp cheddar to Italian blend, cheese is best when you spring for blocks instead of the pre-packaged shredded stuff. Here’s why.

Organic Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese on a Cutting BoardBrent Hofacker/Shutterstock

If your fridge is anything like mine, pre-shredded cheese is a staple. Yes, I know block is better. But when the day runs long and I’m staring at a block of cheddar or a bag of the shredded kind, the bag always wins.

I never thought much about this—it’s cheese either way—until I sat down to dinner with my parents. I was looking for mozzarella (one of the healthiest cheese options) to sprinkle over my family’s famous shrimp marinara recipe and my parents only had blocks of cheese. Not a pre-shredded tub in sight! I wanted to know why, so I did some research.

What is cellulose?

When you look at the ingredient list on the back of a bag of shredded cheddar, you’ll almost always find cellulose. It’s a common ingredient in pre-shredded cheese, valued for its anti-caking and moisture-absorbing properties. It’s not that cellulose itself is bad, despite the false rumors from February 2016 claiming that the cellulose in cheese was actually wood pulp. In its natural state, the substance is a dietary fiber found in plant cell walls, and we consume abundant amounts of it anytime we eat whole fruits and vegetables like apples, strawberries, green beans, and tomatoes. An insoluble complex carb, cellulose also helps us digest food.

Why you should shred your own

The trouble is that when it comes to cellulose in pre-packaged items, like cheese, there’s no clear cut way to know how much you’re actually getting. Cheese suppliers could easily substitute some of the cheese you think you’re buying for extra cellulose, and some have been caught doing just that. Castle Cheese president Michelle Myrter was sentenced to three years’ probation and a $ 5,000 fine for allowing adulterated and misbranded cheese—labeled as 100 percent pure cheese when it actually contained cellulose and other fillers—to hit markets. In light of these scandals, it’s important to know what you’re feeding your family, which is why my parents buy blocks instead of the pre-shredded kind in bags. Here are 14 more ingredients to look out for on nutrition labels.

The price for an eight-ounce bag or five-ounce tub of shredded cheese can be downright expensive, too. You’re better off buying a fresh block or wedge and shredding it yourself. You can shred cheese by hand or with a food processor, and store the shredded cheese in the freezer in heavy-duty plastic bags. (Here are more cheese storage options—all tested by a Taste of Home writer.)

Pro Tip: To shred cheese by hand, put blocks of softer cheese like mozzarella in the freezer for a half hour. It will make things much easier to shred. Your next meal should be pretty Gouda! Next, check out these “healthy” foods that you actually need to avoid.

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