Cellulose: The Wood Pulp in Your Shredded Cheese

published May 9, 2011
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(Image credit: P Maxwell Photography)

Have you ever glanced at the ingredients in a shredded cheese package or a quart of ice cream and wondered, “What is cellulose and why is it here?”

The Wall Street Journal took a closer look at this popular food additive — made from wood pulp or other plant fibers — and the many roles it plays in the packaged foods we eat.

In packaged shredded cheese, cellulose is used to coat the pieces of cheese, blocking out the moisture that causes them to clump. But that is just the beginning; cellulose is also used to replace fat and give a creamier feel to foods like low-fat ice cream, to thicken and stabilize, and to boost fiber content.

Nutritionists say the insoluble fiber in cellulose is no different from those found in vegetables, and offers the same health benefits.

“Cellulose is cellulose,” regardless of if whether it comes from wood pulp or celery, says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a group that advocates healthier, more nutritious food. He says no research points to health problems related to consuming cellulose.

We’d take

a pot of beans

Have you ever noticed cellulose listed in the ingredients of a food you eat?