You never know what bizarre news stories will take America by storm. This past February, for instance, everyone was up in arms over a report exposing just how much wood-based filler was in bottles of grated Parmesan cheese. The specific filler is cellulose, an anti-clumping agent made from wood pulp, and no one seemed too pleased at the idea of eating wood with every fork full of fettuccini.
But if you found that surprising, wait until you hear this: According to research from the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT), the key to “improving the texture and reducing the energy content of food products” might be none other than – you guessed it – wood-derived polymers, specifically xylan, lignin and fibrillated cellulose. Maybe grated Parmesan cheese makers weren’t ripping us all off; maybe they were just ahead of their time.
“The food industry is continuously looking for new, natural ingredients that improve the quality of food products and promote consumers’ health,” said VTT in a press release published by Science Daily. “Studies conducted by VTT have shown that xylan, fibrillated cellulose and lignin have properties that make them stand out from traditionally used ingredients.”
What’s so great about wood? Well, apparently xylan makes yogurt smoother, while also reducing separation and, get this, the likeliness of flatulence. Fibrillated cellulose, meanwhile, works as a thickening and stabilizing agent, but it also binds to free bile acids which may reduce cholesterol. Healthy wood! Finally, lignin has a long list of possible uses according to VTT: It “could be utilised to prepare emulsions (mixtures of water and oil) and foams with improved texture” or “used to reduce oxidation.” VTT even made some muffins with lignin, writing, “In addition to giving muffins a fluffier texture, lignin proved to be a surprisingly efficient substitute for whole eggs and egg yolks.”
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So there you have it, parmesan cheese lovers. Quit bashing wood. It was used to build the log cabins of your forefathers, to make clogs for the Dutch, and maybe, in the future, to create the most fart-free yogurt you’ve ever tasted.