Is cheese an artificial food?

Food: Artificial food: Glutinous ham is often on the pizza

Norbert Schoger often encounters imitations. In 2011, the food inspector and his eight colleagues from the Augsburg Office for Consumer Protection carried out around 400 inspections in around 80 large kitchens, restaurants and snack bars in the city. “There are around 30 complaints per year,” says Schoger. It's almost always about the sausage. Many restaurateurs use molded meat, which is called "ham" on the menu. This is not allowed as ham is a protected term.

Molded meat and imitation ham, often called sticky ham, are among the best-known food counterfeits. Pieces of meat are glued together with enzymes. Classic shaped meat also contains naturally grown muscle meat and only partially consists of pieces that have been joined together. For consumers, it can hardly be distinguished from real ham. Imitations are made from numerous pieces of meat that are mixed with plenty of water, flavor, starch and other binders. The meat content of these products is often below 50 percent.

In analog cheese, milk fat is replaced by vegetable fat

However, the wrong ham must be properly labeled. “As soon as it is formed meat, there must be a note on the packaging,” says Armin Valet from the Hamburg consumer center. The products can be found in wholesalers as “molded meat ham”. The imitations must be identified as "products made from finely chopped shoulder meat".

Three years ago the consumer advice centers published a list of food imitations. Milk-free cheese and shrimp, which are actually molded fish protein, shocked customers. Not much has changed since then, says Valet. Time and again, artificial cheese can be found on pizza slices in fast-food restaurants and on cheese sticks in bakeries.

In analog cheese, milk fat is completely replaced by vegetable fat. There are also starch, water, flavors and colors. The end product looks like cheese, but it isn't. "It's all about deceiving customers," says Valet. The food industry benefits from the low costs, as the imitations can be produced much cheaper than the original products.

Claudia Schuller is the spokesperson for the Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety (LGL). She thinks: "Analog cheese is not bad if it is correctly labeled." If milk is completely replaced by vegetable fat, a product may not be sold as "cheese" in Germany. Sometimes this is done anyway. During controls in wholesalers across Bavaria last year, the LGL found three imitations that were labeled as cheese on the packaging. But even if manufacturers adhere to legal requirements, the customer has a hard time, admits Schuller. Because: "Who knows exactly what preparation from vegetable fat means?"

Valet does not go far enough with this term, which stands for artificial cheese. He calls for manufacturers to be obliged to print the word “imitation” on the packaging. The labeling is generally not strict enough, criticizes the consumer advocate. If a manufacturer mixes imitation cheese with real cheese, he can continue to call his product cheese. Valet: "This is legal deception."

Imitation foods are not automatically unhealthy

Labeling is also a problem for other foods. Fruit yogurt, for example, is often fruit-flavored yogurt. In order for peach yoghurt to be sold as such, its fruit content must be six percent. A yogurt with fruit preparation only needs to contain 3.5 percent fruit. The taste is made possible by “natural aromas”. However, these are mostly produced biotechnologically from other raw materials. For example, food chemists can use mold cultures to produce flavors that taste like peach. The imitations are not automatically unhealthy. “However,” says consumer advocate Valet, “the calcium content in the analog cheese is lower than in the original product, for example.” Therefore, the imitation is at least less healthy.