Rumours persist that cheese isn’t just delicious – it’s genuinely addictive. But this isn’t an idea that has simply been plucked out of thin air.
Anyone searching online for the terms “cheese” and “addiction” will quickly find a lot of hits, ranging from “potential for addiction” to “hard drug”. Then they’ll ask themselves if it isn’t all a bit of an exaggeration.
Good question. And reason enough to take a closer look. No less a figure than Stefan Meierhans, the Swiss price regulator, revealed last year in “Migros-Magazin” that he was “addicted” to Kaltbach cheese. And he isn’t an isolated case, particularly when it comes to our cave-aged cheese from Kaltbach. Even though “addiction” is meant in more of an appreciative sense here, it does raise the question: is there really anything to it? And if so, what is the explanation behind this?
A trip into the world of chemistry
To find answers, Thomas Büeler from Emmi, who has a degree in food science from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), delved into the relevant specialist literature. Time and again he came across the term “casomorphin”, referring to addictive morphine-like substances in cheese. Is that really a thing? Well, it’s not entirely wrong. Proteins are the main component of cheese. The majority of milk protein consists of casein, and this in turn is mainly composed of beta casein, which can be thought of as long chains of molecules. During maturation or later, during digestion in the body, these chains are “fragmented”. The fragments then have a structure and composition similar to morphine – and the same calming, soothing and possibly also uplifting effect.
Does the same apply to breast milk?
You should be aware, though, that the concentration is far, far lower than with a drug. And depending on how the cheese is matured and how the protein chains are fragmented, the pieces may no longer have a morphine-like structure. Incidentally, this phenomenon is not limited to cow’s milk. Researchers believe that casomorphins in breast milk are one of the factors that help to calm infants. However, research has yet to be done into many of these effects. Expert Thomas Büeler’s advice to both infants and cheese lovers is therefore to simply enjoy and trust in your own taste.