Feta is a famous brined white cheese from Greece.
This Greek cheese has enjoyed popularity in Europe for centuries, and it has a distinctive taste.
Compared to other famous cheese varieties, Feta has a unique nutritional profile too.
This article provides a complete guide to Feta cheese and its production process, nutritional values, how to use it, and more.
What Is Feta Cheese?
Feta cheese is the most famous Greek cheese, and it is renowned around the world.
Unlike most other cheese varieties, producers cure Feta in a saltwater brine, in which the cheese is also packaged and stored.
Feta has a soft and grainy texture, and it has a slightly sour and tangy taste due to the brine.
The texture is similar to ricotta cheese in that both these cheese varieties are soft and crumbly, but the flavor is very different.
The cheese also has somewhat unique flavor characteristics since it is produced using either sheep’s milk or a mixture of sheep and goat milk.
In terms of appearance, feta is a white cheese, and it is possible to find it sold in blocks or small cube-shaped pieces.
Feta is a popular culinary cheese too, and it features as an ingredient in a wide range of recipes.
Traditional Feta recipes used unpasteurized milk, but in the present day, the majority of Feta cheese is pasteurized.
Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)
Feta cheese has a protected designation of origin (PDO). PDO is a scheme in the European Union designed to protect traditional foods and drinks from a particular region (1, 2).
This PDO was awarded to Feta in 2002, and it designates that the name ‘Feta’ can only be used for cheese within the EU that meets the following conditions (3):
- The cheese follows traditional production practices.
- It should be made 100% from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep and goat’s milk. The maximum allowable proportion of goat milk is 30%.
- The Feta should come from traditional production regions within Greece.
- A certifying body must thoroughly check the cheese and its compliance with the PDO terms.
How Is Feta Cheese Made?
The Food Sciences department at the University of Guelph has a comprehensive guide to the production process of Feta cheese.
However, to briefly summarize:
Step 1: Firstly, the milk is pasteurized to destroy any potential bacteria present.
Step 2: As the milk cools following pasteurization, rennet and bacterial starter cultures are added.
Step 3: After the Feta mixture curdles and solidifies, the curds are drained for approximately two hours, during which time they lose their whey content.
Step 4: The next step is to store the curds in a room with a temperature of approximately 18°C (64°F) and room humidity of 85%.
Step 5: When the PH of the cheese hits 4.7 approximately 24 hours later, the curds are cut into cubes, dry salted, and then left at room temperature for another 24 hours.
Step 6: The cheese is then placed in containers and covered with a brine solution (approximately 8% salt). Following this, the Feta is left to age at a temperature of 8-10°C (46-50°F) until it is ready.
With a moisture content of 55-56%, Feta has a much higher water content than most other cheeses (4).
As a result, the nutritional profile of Feta is unique: it’s lower in calories than other types of cheese, but also lower in some beneficial nutrients.
Based on data from the USDA’s FoodData Central database, here are the full nutritional values for Feta cheese (4).
Vitamins and Minerals
Here are the amounts of each essential vitamin and mineral that Feta offers per 100 grams.
Daily values have been calculated using the USDA’s nutrient values and the FDA’s published daily values (4, 5).
- Vitamin B12: 70% DV
- Riboflavin (B2): 65% DV
- Vitamin B6: 25% DV
- Pantothenic acid (B5): 19% DV
- Vitamin A: 14% DV
- Thiamin (B1): 13% DV
- Folate: 8% DV
- Niacin (B3): 6% DV
- Choline: 3% DV
- Vitamin D: 2% DV
- Vitamin K: 2% DV
- Vitamin E: 1% DV
- Sodium: 40% DV
- Calcium: 38% DV
- Phosphorus: 27% DV
- Selenium: 27% DV
- Zinc: 26% DV
- Magnesium: 5% DV
- Iron: 4% DV
- Copper: 3% DV
- Manganese: 1% DV
- Potassium: 1% DV
Nutritional Benefits of Feta
Based on the nutritional profile and production process of Feta, the cheese may have several benefits.
Feta contains several probiotics that have potential health benefits.
For instance, studies have demonstrated that Feta cheese can contain numerous bacterial strains, such as (6, 7):
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus coryniformis
- Lactobacillus fermentum
- Lactobacillus paracasei
- Lactobacillus plantarum
While research into such bacterial strains is ongoing, several human trials suggest that they may have potential benefits.
For example, a randomized controlled trial found that Lactobacillus plantarum appeared to support intestinal repair processes (8).
On this note, a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials suggested that fermented milk containing lactic acid bacteria consistently improved symptoms of gastrointestinal distress (9).
It is also thought that these Lactobacillus bacteria can have anti-inflammatory effects in the body. However, extensive reviews of the existing evidence for this note that further studies are necessary to confirm these potential benefits (10, 11).
An Excellent Source of B Vitamins and Calcium
As shown in the nutritional values, Feta cheese is a rich source of B vitamins (particularly riboflavin and B12).
These essential vitamins play a vital role in energy production, maintaining healthy cells, and overall growth and development (12, 13).
Low In Calories
Since Feta has a high moisture content, it contains lower amounts of fat, protein, and overall calories than most other cheese products.
For instance, here is the calorie content of Feta compared to several other popular cheese varieties per 100 grams (4, 14, 15, 16, 17):
- Feta: 264 kcal
- Cheddar: 403 kcal
- Gouda: 356 kcal
- Gruyère: 413 kcal
- Parmesan: 392 kcal
As shown, Feta is much lower in calories than these types of medium and hard cheese.
Therefore, compared to hard cheese options like Parmesan and Gruyère, Feta may be a better option for individuals looking to lower their energy intake.
Due to its production process, Feta cheese has several potential drawbacks.
High Salt Content
One hundred grams of Feta contains 917 mg of sodium, which is equivalent to 2.3 grams of salt. This amount is also equal to 40% of the daily value for sodium (4).
For this reason, Feta is probably a cheese to consume in moderation, particularly for individuals with salt sensitivity hypertension.
This high salt content is partly due to the fact that Feta is a brined cheese; other brined cheese options like halloumi are similarly high in salt.
Lactose intolerance is a condition that, to some degree, affects approximately 65% of adults around the world (18).
The inability to digest sugars in milk (known as lactose) characterizes this condition (19).
While hard aged cheese contains very little lactose and is often well tolerated, Feta still includes four grams of lactose per 100 grams, which is a relatively high amount of lactose (4).
For this reason, Feta may be unsuitable for people with lactose intolerance or sensitivity.
Lower Protein Content Than Most Cheese
Since it has such high water content, Feta cheese provides only moderate amounts of protein compared to most other cheese options.
For example, Feta only contains 14 grams of protein per 100 grams.
In contrast, Gruyere has a much higher protein content and offers more than double the amount of protein per gram.
For this reason, there are better cheese options if the biggest concern is protein density.
How To Use Feta
Like all varieties of cheese, Feta is a versatile ingredient that we can use in many different ways.
Feta works well in salads, and there are many different recipes out there.
Here is a particularly good salad combination:
- Chopped avocado
- Cherry tomatoes
- Black olives
- Raw red onion
- Chopped bell peppers
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
While melted hard cheese is usually the go-to default cheese for omelets, Feta is a tasty filling too.
There is a traditional Greek Feta omelet recipe here that features Feta, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, red bell pepper, and a variety of herbs.
Feta cheese also works well as an ingredient in oven-baked dishes.
For a tasty recipe idea, here is a Mediterranean-style baked Feta with herbs, tomatoes, and olives.
It is also common to use Feta as a topping on pizza, bread, casseroles, grilled meats, baked potatoes, and more.
Feta is rich in vitamins and minerals, it’s a source of probiotics, and we can use it in a wide variety of ways.
This famous Greek cheese also has a unique tangy taste that many people find enjoyable.
All in all, Feta is one of the world’s most popular cheese options for a good reason.
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