Feta is the most well-known cheese in Greece. It is a soft, white, brined cheese that is very nutritious and an excellent calcium source.
As part of Mediterranean cuisine, this cheese is used in various dishes, from appetizers to desserts.
Here is everything you need to know about feta cheese.
- What it is
- How feta cheese is made
- Bone health
- Gut health
- Fatty acids
- Potential problems
- How to eat feta cheese
What is feta cheese?
Feta cheese is originally from Greece.
It’s a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product, meaning that only cheese made in some areas of Greece can be called “feta”.
In these regions, feta is made with milk from sheep and goats raised on local grass. This particular environment is what gives the cheese its unique characteristics.
Feta’s flavor is tangy and sharp when made with sheep’s milk but milder when combined with goat’s milk.
Feta is produced in blocks and is firm to the touch. However, it can crumble when cut and has a creamy mouth feel.
Summary: Feta cheese is a Greek cheese made from sheep and goat’s milk. It has a tangy, sharp flavor and a creamy texture in the mouth.
How is feta cheese made?
Genuine Greek feta is made from sheep’s milk or a mixture of sheep’s and goat’s milk.
However, goat’s milk cannot exceed 30% of the mixture.
The milk used to make the cheese is usually pasteurized but can also be raw.
After the milk is pasteurized, lactic acid starter cultures are added to separate the whey from the curds made of protein casein. Then, rennet is added to set the casein.
Once this process is complete, the curd is shaped by draining the whey and placing the curd in molds for 24 hours.
Once the curd is firm, it is cut into cubes, salted and placed in wooden barrels or metal containers for up to three days. Next, the blocks of cheese are placed in a salted solution and refrigerated for two months.
Finally, when the cheese is ready to be distributed to consumers, it is packaged in this solution (called brine) to preserve freshness.
Summary: Feta cheese is a brined cheese shaped into cubes. It is stored in salted water and matures for only two months.
Feta cheese is packed with nutrients
Feta cheese seems to be a healthy choice. One ounce (28 grams) provides:
- Calories: 74
- Fat: 6 grams
- Protein: 4 grams
- Carbs: 1.1 grams
- Riboflavin: 14% of your daily need
- Calcium: 14% of your daily need
- Sodium: 13% of your daily need
- Phosphorus: 9% of your daily need
- Vitamin B12: 8% of your daily need
- Selenium: 6% of your daily need
- Vitamin B6: 6% of your daily need
- Zinc: 5% of your daily need
It also has decent amounts of vitamins A and K, folate, pantothenic acid, iron and magnesium.
Moreover, feta is lower in fat and calories than aged cheeses like cheddar or parmesan.
One ounce (28 grams) of cheddar or parmesan contains more than 110 calories and 7 grams of fat, while 1 ounce of feta has only 74 calories and 6 grams of fat.
Additionally, it contains more calcium and B vitamins than other cheeses like mozzarella, ricotta, cottage cheese or goat cheese.
Summary: Feta cheese is a low-calorie, low-fat cheese. It is also a good source of B vitamins, calcium and phosphorus.
Feta cheese can support bone health
Cheese seems to be the primary source of calcium in Western diets.
Feta cheese is a good source of calcium, phosphorus and protein, all of which have been proven to promote bone health.
Calcium and protein help maintain bone density and prevent osteoporosis, while phosphorus is an important component of bone.
Each serving of feta provides almost twice as much calcium as phosphorus, a proportion shown to affect bone health positively.
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Furthermore, milk from sheep and goats contains more calcium and phosphorus than cow’s milk. Therefore, incorporating cheeses like feta into your diet could help you achieve the recommended daily intake of calcium.
Summary: Calcium and phosphorus are present in feta cheese in amounts that can help support bone health.
Feta cheese is good for your gut
Probiotics are live, friendly bacteria that can benefit your health.
Feta has been shown to contain Lactobacillus plantarum, which accounts for about 48% of its bacteria.
These bacteria can help promote the immune system and gut health by protecting the intestinal tract from disease-causing bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella.
Furthermore, they seem to increase the production of compounds that inhibit the inflammatory response, thus providing anti-inflammatory benefits.
Finally, test-tube studies have shown that the bacteria and other yeast strains found in this cheese can grow at a low pH, surviving extreme conditions in your gut, such as bile acid.
Summary: Feta cheese contains friendly bacteria that have been shown to promote immune and intestinal health and their anti-inflammatory effects.
Feta cheese contains beneficial fatty acids
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a fatty acid in animal products.
It has been shown to help improve body composition, decrease fat, and increase lean body mass. CLA may also help prevent diabetes and has shown anti-cancer effects.
Cheeses made with sheep’s milk have a higher CLA concentration than cheeses made with milk from cows or goats. In fact, feta cheese contains up to 1.9% CLA, which accounts for 0.8% of its fat content.
Even though its CLA content decreases while it’s being processed and stored, a study has shown that the use of bacterial cultures in the making of cheese could help increase the concentration of CLA.
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Therefore, eating feta cheese could contribute to your intake of CLA and provide you with all its benefits.
Interestingly, Greece has the lowest incidence of breast cancer and the highest cheese consumption in the European Union.
Summary: Feta cheese contains good amounts of CLA, which may improve body composition and help prevent diabetes and cancer.
Potential problems with feta cheese
Feta cheese is a good source of nutrients. However, it could have some drawbacks due to how it is made and the types of milk used.
Feta cheese contains high amounts of sodium
During the cheese-making process, salt is added to the curd. Additionally, the cheese block must be submerged in a brine of up to 7% salt during storage.
The finished product is cheese that’s high in sodium. In fact, feta cheese contains 312 mg of sodium in a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving, accounting for up to 13% of your recommended daily intake.
If you’re sensitive to salt, one simple way to reduce the salt content of this cheese is to rinse the cheese with water before eating it.
Feta cheese contains lactose
Unripened cheeses tend to be higher in lactose than aged cheeses.
Since feta cheese is unripened, it has a higher lactose content than other cheeses.
People who are allergic or intolerant to lactose should avoid eating unripened cheeses, including feta.
Pregnant women should not consume unpasteurized feta cheese
Listeria monocytogenes is a type of bacteria found in water and soil that can contaminate crops and animals.
Pregnant women are usually advised to avoid consuming raw vegetables, meats, and unpasteurized dairy products because they can potentially be contaminated with these bacteria.
Cheeses made with unpasteurized milk are more likely to carry the bacteria than those made with pasteurized milk. Similarly, fresh cheeses have a higher risk of carrying it than aged cheeses due to higher moisture content.
Therefore, feta cheese made with unpasteurized milk is not recommended for pregnant women.
Summary: Feta cheese has a higher sodium and lactose content than other cheeses. Also, when made with unpasteurized milk, it can potentially be contaminated with Listeria bacteria.
How to eat feta cheese
Feta can be a great addition to your meals because of its flavor and texture. Greeks traditionally keep it on the table for people to freely add during meals.
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Here are a few fun ways to add this type of cheese to your food:
- On bread: Top with feta, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- On salads: Sprinkle crumbled feta on your salads.
- Grilled: Grill feta, drizzle it with olive oil and season with pepper.
- With fruits: Create dishes such as a watermelon salad, feta and mint.
- On tacos: Sprinkle crumbled feta on tacos.
- On pizza: Add crumbled feta and ingredients like tomatoes, peppers and olives.
- In omelets: Combine eggs with spinach, tomatoes and feta.
- On pasta: Use it with artichokes, tomatoes, olives, capers and parsley.
- On potatoes: Try it on baked or mashed potatoes.
Summary: Because of its characteristic flavor and aroma, feta cheese can be an excellent meal addition.
Feta is a brined, white cheese with a soft and creamy texture.
Compared to other cheeses, it’s low in calories and fat. It also contains many B vitamins, phosphorus and calcium, which can benefit bone health.
Additionally, feta contains beneficial bacteria and fatty acids.
However, this type of cheese is relatively high in sodium. Pregnant women should also be sure to avoid unpasteurized feta.
Yet for most people, feta is perfectly safe to eat. Moreover, it can be used in various recipes, from appetizers to desserts.
Feta is a delicious and healthy addition to most people’s diets.