Everything You Wanted to Know About Cheese Powder (But Were Afraid to Ask)

Get schooled on the how and why of that cheesy dust that coats so many junk food snacks.

Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor. He has written for The Awl, The New Inquiry, and elsewhere.

Cheese powder, the dusty, yellow-orange common ground shared by many a snack and processed food product, is something that most people either consume without question—or wildly decry. Few, however, spend much time thinking about the genius process of food preservation that underlies its production.

“Very simply, it’s melted down into a liquid, combined with any desired additives, and sprayed through a nozzle or an atomizer to convert it into droplets,” The New Yorker’s Matt Buchanan narrators in yet another awesome video produced in tandem with its recent food issue. The splattered cheese droplets “are then blasted with hot air. The drops are vaporized, and the result is a powder,” he says.

If you associate powdered cheese with junk food like Cheetos or Doritos, know that the orange dust coating those snacks suffers from something of a cheese deficit. Unlike the pure cheese product that would result from the process described above, there isn’t all that much cheese in junk food cheese powder, which is augmented with ingredients such as whey and vegetable oil.

You might be surprised to learn that “the first patent for commercial spray-drying was awarded to Samuel Percy in 1872,” although the technology didn’t take off until the military started pursuing the idea of dehydrating cheese in order to make spoil-proof rations for soldiers during World War II.

That’s right: As with the Internet, we have the armed forces to thank for the ubiquity of cheese powder.

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