There’s good news and bad news about the revelation that a supposed 100-percent Parmesan cheese was adulterated with cellulose—a filler often made from wood pulp.
First the good: Eating cellulose won’t kill you. There are no known harmful side effects from adding it to food, and it’s completely legal.
“Cellulose is a non-digestible plant fiber, and we actually happen to need non-digestible vegetable fiber in our food—that’s why people eat bran flakes and psyllium husks,” says Jeff Potter, author of Cooking for Geeks.
And though it makes for more sensational headlines, it’s not quite accurate to claim that something made with cellulose is part “wood pulp,” as implied in a rather breathless Bloomberg News headline. (“The Parmesan Cheese You Sprinkle on Your Penne Could Be Wood”) Companies that manufacture cellulose create it from a variety of sources, from wood pulp to asparagus.
“Basically anything with plant stuff in it,” Potter says.
So could part of the faux-Parmesan cheese you eat once have had a tire-swing hanging from it? Sure. (We say faux-Parm because in the U.S., cheese only has to be made of cow’s milk and meet a certain fat and water content, whereas really real Parmigiano-Reggiano only comes from northern …read more