Is There Anything Wrong With Pre-Shredded Cheese?
Convenience products are super helpful in allowing us more time to work, socialize and do the leisure activities we love, and pre-shredded cheese is one of the most popular. It is a dream for saving time when whipping up a quick pizza or plate of nachos, however, it does have some distinct differences from regular cheese bought in block form.
As a convenience product, in my humble opinion, pre-shredded cheese is almost unbeatable (my pet peeve is washing cheese graters), however I have rounded up some information about why you may want to reconsider using it.
Freshly grated cheese on the left compared to pre-shredded cheese on the right
Pre-Shredded Cheese Contains Cellulose Powder
Cellulose is a plant fiber found in the walls of cells that make up a plant. It is an anti-clumping agent used to coat each small piece of cheese, which actually means there is quite a lot of it added to each bag of pre-shredded cheese. There were rumors a few years ago that the cellulose was actually wood pulp, but that seems to be a bit of an exaggeration. It is still an unnecessary additive which will also inhibit the cheese from melting properly, and definitely from being turned into a smooth sauce.
Cellulose has been used as a filler for quantity in pre-shredded cheese too, which means you are getting slightly less bang for your buck. The FDA regulates the addition of cellulose to cheese at 4% or less, so this alone is not going to blow your cheese budget. Despite the FDA regulations, there have been cases of companies using cellulose in large quantities, but those seem like the exceptions to the rule.
Pre-Shredded Cheese Costs More
As with many things in life, the convenience of pre-shredded cheese comes with a higher price tag. In the US, the price is about 20 to 50 cents higher per ounce for pre-shredded cheese vs cheese in block form.
Pre-Shredded Cheese Doesn't Melt As Nicely
The additives in pre-shredded cheese inhibit the melting quality when compared to regular block cheese. I use cheese sauce a lot in pastas, and really like to have a smooth texture, so pre-shredded cheese doesn't work for a lot of my cooking projects.
Natamycin Is Added To Inhibit Mold Growth
As many will know, once food is exposed to the air, particles of fungi (mold) will attach themselves to it, and begin growing. The more surface area that is exposed, the more fungi that will end up on the food. As you may be thinking, pre-shredded cheese has a lot of surface area exposed to air, and so it is necessary to add a mold inhibitor or else the shelf life would be very short.
Natamycin is a naturally occurring mold inhibitor produced by a bacteria found in soil. It is considered safe for consumption, partially because our bodies don't absorb it, and partially because it is naturally occurring, although Whole Food does have it on its list of unacceptable food ingredients.
Ingredient list for pre-shredded cheese on the right, and block cheese on the left
So, Yay or Nay to Pre-Shredded Cheese....
Well, despite the additives in it, I don't think it is inherently significantly less healthy than regular cheese. However, the quality and its trickiness to cook with is what puts me off it the most. The higher cost is also a consideration, although it is often on sale (as it has a short shelf life), so that can offset the regular prices.
Grating cheese 'on demand' is a bit tedious, but chilling the block in the freezer for 30 minutes or so before grating will make it a bit easier, as will having a good quality grater! Also, don't forget that you can store your own pre-grated cheese in the freezer for a few days in an air-tight container, so you don't need to be grating every time that you require a bit of cheese.
Is there a place for pre-shredded cheese? Absolutely, although grating my own fresh from a block is still my preference unless I am completely short on time.