The ingredient “cheese powder” does not have a standard of identity set by the FDA or international standards, so it may contain whatever a supplier or food processor needs it to. Thus, cheese powder provides an economical and more “operations-friendly” choice of adding flavor to a product, when compared to the addition of expensive aged cheese. Cheese powders usually are no more than 10-15% of most final products, and the actual percentage of real cheese within that cheese powder varies from product to product.

Building Cheese Flavors

Cheese powders generally are used for dry snacks and sauces or re-hydrated and used in fillings. Some powders have no real cheese at all. However, a typical cheese powder may be a combination of up to 15% cheese, whey, vegetable oil, maltodextrin, and calcium caseinate. Often times, artificial flavors, natural flavors and flavor potentiators like disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, MSG, autolyzed yeast extract and enzyme modified cheeses are added to cheese powder as flavor enhancers. Manipulating enzymes and cultures to create high-flavor cheeses for use in powders is sometimes better than using bland commodity cheeses, says Tom Rieman, a business manager with a cheese ingredient supplier. “Using high-flavor cheeses allows a much more flavorful cheese powder and better value to the manufacturer.”

Cheese powder is a practical substitution for hard cheeses because of its convenience in handling, storage and shelf stability, says Gary Reineccius, Ph.D., a food science professor at the University of Minnesota (St. Paul).

Like all cheese, dried cheeses can contain fat. However, product manufacturers can reduce fat content by replacing cheese with lower levels of powdered cheese made from high-flavor cheeses.

Introduced last autumn, Slim-Fast's (Unilever, London) new Austrian and German line of pastas are a case in point. Their Pasta Pomodoro, a savory parmesan and mozzarella weight-loss product, provides the consumer with 23 vitamins and minerals and only 4.3 grams of fat.

During the process of converting cheese to a cheese powder, some volatile flavor compounds may be lost. Reineccius says buttery flavor components like diacetyl and dimethyl sulfide are lost by 45% and 30% respectively, during the spray drying of the cheese and are quite important to cheese flavor.

At times, natural or artificial flavors are added to cheese powders to replace the lost flavor volatiles. Flavor compounds are casualties of heating—whether during cooking of real cheese or in the process of creating cheese powder. But the flavor of a formulated cheese powder can be enhanced by the addition of flavor potentiators, an option not available with natural cheeses.

Often, suppliers add whey, milkfat, salt and even non-dairy ingredients (such as maltodextrin or vegetable oil) to cheese when producing cheese powders. Cheese powder can be marketed as reduced-fat or reduced-sodium, by using low-fat and low-salt cheese as the cheese ingredient.

The Cheese Overseas

The flavoring benefits of cheese powder are particularly advantageous outside of the U.S., as countries with less dairy resources develop western taste buds.

Because flavor is subjective, especially between cultures, most of the innovation is in making the product consumer-friendly, says Rieman. A taste or texture desired in one region may be disliked in another. Dairy products in Asian countries were expensive until recently. Japanese and Chinese markets have seen a significant increase in cheese powder usage even though natural cheeses, historically, were not staples in their countries. Cream cheese is prevalent in many Asian sweet food snacks including Japan's Caplico sticks, a chocolate confectionery, launched the summer of 2003 by Ezaki Glico, and Meiji's Melty Kiss Chocolates released in China earlier that year. “Cheese is gaining in popularity in Asia. They're not big cheese eaters, so it's new and different for them,” states Rieman. “When you introduce somebody to something new, you tend to do it with a milder flavor. That's why you are seeing more cream cheese and mild American cheese profiles internationally.”

“Natural cheeses are appreciated like wines in Europe,” continues Rieman. “They are eating natural cheese in a way that we don't in the U.S.” Cheese powders can be formulated to mimic the unique cheese flavors that Europeans are fond of. While Americans rely heavily on cheddar for flavor, Europeans incorporate a wide range of native cheeses in their products. “[In Europe], you see a lot of reliance on savory flavors in snack applications with cheese as an accompanying or background flavor,” says Rieman. Danone's German-based company, Griesson-de Beukelaer (Polch, Germany), released Cheese Sandwich Biscuits on their Tuc brand line in early 2003. The on-the-go snack food contains Switzerland's oldest cheese, Emmentaler, a nutty, sweet cheese Americans know as Swiss.

Making Cheese Powder Ch-easier

Since there is no standard identity for cheese powder, quality of cheese powders between suppliers vary. Cheese powders from some vendors are often made with “opportunity cheese,” cheese that is out of specification or past its shelflife. Rieman says this is true of some facilities outside the U.S.

Product developers using cheese powders should create a target model that will take into account the characteristics of the cheese in the desired final product.

Rieman suggests that product developers first think of cheese powders primarily as a flavor ingredient and then identify any ingredient line restrictions, kosher requirements, etc. Perhaps the most important restriction will be what cost the cheese will contribute to the formula. Next, they should determine how the cheese will be used in the product, how the manufacturer will process the product, how it will be distributed and the preparation steps the consumer will be asked to perform.

Some information in this article was derived from Mintel International's Global New Products Database,, 312-932-0400. For more information on the GNPD, email