They Put What In Cheese?

It’s Friday, so that means another Food Finances Friday. I once read an article about a strange ingredient in a certain fast food’s chili. It was silicon dioxide, a.k.a SAND! It is used as an anticaking agent and filler. This got me wondering: what other strange ingredients are in food I regularly buy? After reading this article you might just change your shopping habits!Today’s Food Finances Friday feature is another guest post by my husband. He shares the reason beyond money that we changed some of our food shopping habits.

Silicon Dioxide

After reading the article on sand being used in food, I went looking at what I had in my kitchen that may have it as an ingredient. It is used primarily in food as a flow agent in powdered foods. Now I know ingesting sand isn’t horrible for you (anyone who has been to the beach with 3 kids has eaten their fair share of it) but I am not willing to spend my money on sand as an ingredient. The powdered food that I used the most was taco seasoning — sure enough it had silicon dioxide as an anticaking agent.

As I was reading the ingredients I realized that I had all of them in my spice arsenal. It took a few tries and a lot of tacos to come up with what I thought was an improvement on my tried and true seasoning of choice for decades.

Here is what I came up with:

Taco / Chili Seasoning

  • 4 tbsps. Chili Powder
  • 2 tbsps. Cumin
  • 1 tbsp.    Kosher Salt
  • 1 tbsp.    Black Pepper
  • 1 tsp.      Garlic Powder
  • 1 tsp.      Onion Powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Crushed Pepper Flakes (1 tsp. for spicy)
  • 1/4 tsp. Cayenne Pepper (more for extra spicy)
  • 1 tsp.      Dried Oregano
  • 2 tsps.   Paprika
  • And if you want you can add a pinch of sand if you feel like it. It wont hurt anyone!

Mix everything up in a mason jar and shake to combine. I usually start with 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons per pound of meat and adjust to your taste from there.

My home-made taco seasoning makes an amazing chili seasoning too (which also had sand as an ingredient) and it is excellent on potatoes. I was able to make a suitable replacement with things I had on hand and no longer had to spend money on food with sand in it! Another popular anticaking ingredient in the news recently is cellulose.


Cellulose powder is most commonly used to prevent caking in the packages of pre-shredded cheese and parmesan.

In case you didn’t already know, cellulose is a structural component of the primary cell wall of green plants. In other words it is sawdust!

Most mammals have limited ability to digest cellulose. It is also the major constituent of paper and cotton. Again, it won’t harm you to eat things that contain cellulose but do you really want to pay money to have your food with extra paper and cotton?

I buy cheese in a block and shred it myself. It only took me a few tacos to get this one right! I did have an eye opener with an ingredient in block cheese too.


This revelation was hard for me to stomach. Most cheeses are made with enzymes to separate milk into solid curds and liquid whey. What they don’t tell you is that these enzymes are usually made in the fourth stomach chamber of young unweaned calves. Needless to say they procure the enzymes as part of livestock butchering for veal production. I know a lot of people who wouldn’t dream of touching veal but I bet they eat cheese produced with animal rennet.

I was amazed to find out that many plants have coagulating properties. It took a little digging into the ingredients on the packages but I was happy to find a cheese that did not use animal rennet and tasted great: 

My cheese of choice is cheddar, and the new cheese was white! I had always eaten yellow cheddar because it was better right?


Cheddar cheese is produced in both white and orange varieties, with the orange (or yellow) being more popular despite the only difference being color due to annatto. Annatto is a natural food coloring derived from seeds of the achiote tree. It is a popular coloring agent due to the FDA considering it “exempt of certification” and therefore safe to consume. I am not against this ingredient in any way. We prefer our foods with as few extra ingredients as possible (safe or not).

I actually prefer the white variety after having a few tacos with the new cheese. As much as we love to eat tacos, the other passion in our house is ice cream or as I recently noticed “Frozen Dairy Dessert”.

What Happened To My Ice Cream?

Frozen treats used to come in two varieties: ice cream and it’s evil twin and inferior ice milk. Now when you walk the frozen case at the supermarket you will find a new frozen dairy dessert.

To legally be labeled ice cream, specific levels of milk fat content, nonfat milk solids content, total solids in each gallon of ice cream, and total weight in each gallon of ice cream, while frozen dairy products do not. Usually ice cream has at least 10% dairy fat while frozen dairy desserts do not. These usually contain the ever popular high fructose corn syrup and ice cream does not.

It is easy to see the difference in the amount of ingredients on each carton.

You think you may be buying ice cream, but it’s really a frozen dairy dessert. It won’t harm or kill you. But when my wife is screaming for ice cream, a frozen dairy dessert won’t do! Trust me!


What strange ingredients have you noticed in processed foods? Have you changed your shopping habits because of it?

For more Food Finance Friday Features, check out:

Grocery Haul: $60.34 for a Family of 5!

How to spend $100 per person per month on food

How to save time in the kitchen

The secret ingredient for low cost meals

10 Ways to save money eating out

Don’t throw that out, I’ll eat it!


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