Every week, Wendyl Nissen takes a readily available packaged food item and decodes what the label tells you about its contents.
Signature Range Lite Processed Cheese -250g for $3.95.
Cheese slices are a handy snack to keep in the refrigerator for putting on sandwiches or home-made burgers. But many of these slices are processed cheese, which is different to normal cheese in so many ways.
I was alerted to these cheese slices by a reader who wrote: "I was appalled to read the labels on some processed cheese slices in various supermarkets, as they contain about 50 per cent cheese. What else is in there? And before you ask, no, I won't buy or eat or serve stuff like this, but somebody must."
And somebody does, judging by the many shelves in the supermarket fridge dedicated to cheese slice products.
That this product contains only 50 per cent cheese is a bit of a surprise for me. I have always assumed that cheese is cheese and not much else, so the processing must mean adding something to make up the other 50 per cent of the slice.
A scan of the other processed cheese slices on the supermarket shelves revealed that the amount of actual cheese in the cheese slices ranged from 50 per cent to 60 per cent across the different brands.
Ingredients (in order of greatest quantity):
Cheese (50 per cent) [milk, salt, culture, rennet]
These are the standard ingredients for cheese which you buy in a block. So at this stage it isn't processed.
As the second ingredient on the list you can confidently assume that much of the remaining 50 per cent of the cheese slice is made up of water.
Non-fat milk solids
These are solids found in milk once the water has been removed. Possibly in here as a thickener.
These are sodium citrate (331) which is a salt of citric acid and sodium phosphate (339) which is a salt of phosphoric acid.
These are sorbic acid (200) and nisin (234) which is a preservative produced by fermenting milk.
What about getting a block of cheese and a knife and cutting a slice yourself? That way your family get 100 per cent cheese in their sandwiches and not two emulsifiers, two preservatives and water. None of the additives in the processed cheese has any health concerns but I always think eating real, unadulterated food is a better choice.
Price-wise, these slices are cheaper at $3.95 per 250g than a similar-sized block of real mild cheese at $5.90 (although on special at Countdown this week for $3.99). But once you halve the price of the real cheese, because after all with the slices you are only getting half cheese, then you pay $2.95. So buy a block of cheese - you can get lite if you are watching your fat intake - and slice. If you can't manage the 15 seconds it takes to slice some cheese then slice it in advance and keep it in a container in the fridge.
You can also feel smug because you are not using the plastic which is wrapped around each slice of cheese in this product which gets sent to landfill. You can also buy real cheese sliced if you prefer which isn't individually wrapped.