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Why is cheese so addictive?

https://www.sciencefocus.com/science/why-is-cheese-so-addictive/

sciencefocus.com

Why is cheese so addictive?
Sweet dreams are made of cheese...

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1,700 distinct varieties of cheese

1,700 distinct varieties of cheese

Animal milk is used to create over 1,700 distinct varieties of cheese; creamy Brie, buttery Gouda, crumbly Parmesan, stringy mozzarella, sharp Cheddar, to name a few.

The staggering variety of cheeses is testimony to cheesemakers' creativity throughout the ages, but the real stars of the show are the microbes.

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From milk to cheese

All cheeses start from animal milk, including cow, buffalo, goat, sheep, and even camel.

  • The milk is first warmed to a temperature ideal for microbes to flourish.
  • Next, acid or rennet is added, alongside some 'starter' bacteria that causes the milk proteins and fats to coagulate, curdling the milk.
  • The curds can be drained and chopped into chunks and scooped into moulds.
  • The initial 'starter' bacteria die off over several weeks and other microbes take over to enhance the flavour that creates the potent flavours and aromas.
  • Salt is added to stop microbes responsible for spoiling the process.
  • The 'ripening' microbes break the proteins in the cheese into amino acids, many of which have their own flavour.
  • Particularly voracious bacteria and fungi will break down amino acids even further to produce the truly smelly by-products.

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The source of cheese’s flavour

Over the months of ripening, smelly parts can interact in new ways to produce more flavour-carrying molecules, such as a hint of nutty, spicy, woody, grassy, or burnt oats. More fat in the cheese generally makes it tastier.

Flavour compounds typically dissolve well in oils, fats, and alcohol, but poorly in water. Fat-rich foods will therefore cover your tongue with a flavour that lingers.

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Smelly cheeses

Some microorganisms digest more than proteins, they also digest fat, such as the Penicillium moulds found in blue cheese. The broken-down molecules may have a peppery taste, while others create an off-putting stink.

One of the substances, known as mushroom alcohol, has a mouldy smell, also found in breath and sweat. The really stinky cheeses, such as Munster and Limburger, contain molecules identical to those given off from old socks.

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Craving cheese

Our food-obsessed minds crave novelty. When we have a new flavour offered, the desire to try something novel is irresistible.

There are also some scientific-sounding claims that cheese is as addictive as cocaine because it contains opium-like chemicals called casomorphin peptides.

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How we react to certain smells

  • Smells can alert us about danger - we're repulsed by the smell of sewage and rotting food.
  • We don't all respond to odour molecules in the same way.
  • Butyric acid contributes to the smell of both Parmesan cheese and vomit, so it may smell offputting or appealing, depending on the situation.

When we lose our sense of smell

A complete loss of smell, known as anosmia, can occur after a cold, sinus infection or even a bump to the head.

Anosmia affects the flavour of food. However, it isn't always permanent and may recover naturally or through exercises like 'smell training' to re-stimulate the olfactory system.

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Plant-based protein sources are not the same as animal protein sources. Proteins are made up of amino acids which are the building blocks of every cell and hormone in our body. Meat protein contains all nine essential amino acids, whereas plant-based protein usually lacks at least one of the nine essential amino acids our body needs.

Unripe jackfruit makes a convincing choice for pulled pork alternatives, curries and burgers. But it is almost valueless if you needed protein since jackfruit consists of carbohydrates. Vegan burgers are made up of beans, but this is not a complete protein source.

Iron content

One study found that 25% of vegans (mainly women) had very low blood iron levels, compared to 0% of omnivores.

Plants like whole grains, legumes and spinach are high in iron but is not always the best type. Animal sources contain haem iron. Non-haem iron, found in plants, is not as well absorbed by the body.

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Most foods spoil because of the growth of microbes. Preserving food is an attempt to limit microbial growth. Food can be preserved by drying, salting, chilling, or storing in air-tight containers.

  • Drying is the most effective because microbial growth is inhibited.
  • Salting is effective because it removes moisture, creating an environment where microbes cannot survive.
  • Sugar coating can prevent bacterial cells from functioning correctly.
  • Storing in air-tight containers is less effective because there are probably a lot of microbes on the food before you put it in the container. Some microbes are anaerobic, meaning they don't need oxygen.

Food preservatives

Preservatives are used in foods to extend their shelf lives. One of McDonald's Big Mac in Iceland is an example of a long-lasting processed food. It has been on display since 2009, in a glass box. Preservatives that has been discontinued by McDonald's are:

  • calcium propionate that prevents mold growth on bread.
  • sorbic acid that also inhibits mold from cheese
  • sodium benzoate, which inhibits the growth of bacteria in the Big Mac special sauce.