It turns out there’s good reason why Americans spend billions each year on boxed macaroni and cheese, cheese puffs, and the almost endless varieties of cheese-flavored snacks.
Besides being high in energy, fat, and flavor compounds, food scientist Stephen Witherly claims (pdf) cheese is high in casein, a type of protein that produces compounds called casomorphins, which may have opioid-like effects in the body.
Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos, which includes a nacho cheese-flavored Doritos shell coated with Doritos cheese dust, became one of the chain’s most successful new products since their introduction in March of last year.
But the cheese in these products is in powdered form, and as The New Yorker explains, cheese powder has an interesting past, which has been intertwined with war since the beginning.
After James L. Kraft’s patent of processed cheese, in which he claimed cheese could be kept indefinitely without spoiling, Kraft sold six million pounds of processed cheese to the U.S. government during the First World War.
Then came dehydration — when liquid is sprayed into a chamber and blasted with hot air. The liquid evaporates, and the remaining solid, a dry particle, is left behind. The first industrial spray-dried dairy products were manufactured shortly after Kraft’s development of processed cheese in the 1920′s.
According to “The Fundamentals of Cheese Science,” dehydrated cheese products, which includes both cheese powders and dried, grated cheese, were developed for the U.S. Army as a means of preserving cheese solids under conditions which natural cheese would not normally be subjected.
The New Yorker points out that over time dehydrated cheese and packaged macaroni and cheese became staples during the course of the war.
Among the many companies producing cheese powders, a Danish processed-food company, Lactosan, claims that after one of its customers returned an order of processed cheese because he had nowhere to store it, a factory manager, Christian Jessen, began experimenting with melted cheese and industrial spray-driers, producing what we recognize as modern cheese powder in 1951.
In the United States, Commercial Creamery claims to have pioneered the manufacturing of cheese powders for the food industry over sixty years ago.
Powders, which often include whey and other dairy byproducts, became progressively common in twentieth century.
In her history of “Kraft Dinner,” Sasha Chapman notes that while the cheese sauce was likely once just cheese and emulsifying salts, today that cheese accounts for no more than 29 percent of the sauce’s solids.
Estimating the precise cheese content in popular products using cheese powder is hard, but both Doritos Nacho Cheese and its reduced-fat variant list cheddar cheese as the fifth ingredient on the chips’ label, followed by whey and another cheese, Romano.
The “cheese seasoning” on Cheetos puffs, which are produced by the same parent company, Frito-Lay, lists whey as its leading ingredient, followed by cheddar cheese.