The food industry uses wood pulp, also known as powdered cellulose, in everything from crackers and ice creams to puddings and baked goods and gums to thicken or stabilize foods, replace fat, enhance fiber content, and to extend the shelf life of processed foods.
Powdered cellulose is made by cooking wood in various chemicals to separate the cellulose, and then purify it. Modified versions are exposed to acid to further break down the fiber.
Wood pulp is used to coat cheese to prevent it from clumping by blocking out moisture. And wood pulp is also used to make low-fat ice cream taste creamy. Kraft Foods Inc. uses cellulose made from wood pulp and cotton in shredded cheese and salad dressing.
According to a source close to the processed food industry who spoke with TheStreet on the condition of anonymity, food producers save as much as 30% in ingredient costs by opting for cellulose as a filler or binder in processed foods.
Dan Inman, director of research and development at J. Rettenmaier USA, said that in his 30 years in the food science business, he’s seen “an amazing leap in terms of the applications of cellulose fiber and what you can do with it.”
Inman’s company supplies “organic” cellulose fibers for use in a variety of processed foods and meats meant for human and pet consumption, as well as for plastics, cleaning detergents, welding electrodes, pet litter, automotive brake pads, glue and reinforcing compounds, construction materials, roof coating, asphalt and even emulsion paints, among many other products.
Inman says more of his customers are converting from things like oat or sugar cane fibers to cellulose because it is snow white in color, bland and easy to work with.
Most surprising, said Inman, is that he’s been able to remove as much as 50% of the fat from some cookies, biscuits, cakes and brownies by replacing it with powdered cellulose — but still end up with a very similar product in terms of taste and appearance.
“We’re only limited by our own imagination,” Inman told TheStreet. “I would never have dreamed I could successfully put 18% fiber in a loaf of bread two years ago.”
Inman said cellulose is common in processed foods, often labeled as reduced-fat or high-fiber products like breads, pancakes, crackers, pizza crusts, muffins, scrambled eggs, mashed potato mixes, and even cheesecake.
The Street claims Inman himself keeps a box of Wheat Thins Fiber Selects crackers, manufactured by Kraft Foods Nabisco brand, at his desk, and snacks on them daily, clearly unmoved by the use of wood pulp in its ingredients.
“Most consumers would be shocked to find these types of filler products are used as substitutes for items that they believe are more pure,” said Michael A. Yoshikami, chief investment strategist at YCMNet Advisors. “We would expect increased disclosure to follow increased use of cellulose and other filler products as the practice increases in frequency.”
Click ‘Next’ to see 10 of the 15 companies from a list TheStreet comprised of popular food companies that use cellulose in their food products.