Feta cheese is a creamy cheese variant and is mostly used in Mediterranean and Greek delicacies. The benefits of feta cheese can be attributed to its high amount of vitamins and minerals.
Feta cheese is a perfect treat to satisfy your taste buds. It enhances the taste of your meal and contains high amounts of calcium, which is crucial for maintaining healthy bones. Scroll down to know more about the benefits of feta cheese, healthy recipes, and nutrition facts.
In This Article
What Is Feta Cheese?
Mediterranean diet expert Elena Paravantes, RDN, explains, “Feta is a Greek brined cheese (as it is aged in a brine solution) made from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep and goat milk. It is aged in the brine for at least two months. However, good quality feta is aged for 12 months. It has a tangy, rich, and slightly salty flavor.”
Feta cheese is a protected designation of origin (PDO) food (1). It is recognized by the European Union as a traditional Greek product. Feta cheese is rindless. The fresh cheese has a clean, acidic, and salty flavor, while matured cheese has a sharp, pungent flavor. It appears white because feta cheese is made from sheep, goat, or buffalo milk. It is also produced from cows’ milk. However, manufacturers decolorize the fat to get the required white color (2).
Kayla Girgen, RD, LD, adds, “It’s a staple ingredient that I keep in my fridge at all times. What I love most about feta cheese is that a little bit goes a long way. Feta is excellent for cooking because of its natural saltiness.”
There is a link between every traditional cheese and its place of origin. Feta cheese, too, has an interesting history. Let’s trace back its roots in the next section.
Origin Of Feta cheese
The origin of feta (meaning “slice”) cheese can be traced back to ancient Greece. Feta cheese finds a mention in the works of Aristotle, Pythagoras, and Homer’s Odyssey. The Greeks called it ’feta’ because they sliced the cheese before putting it into the barrel – a practice that Greeks still follow.
Traditionally, feta cheese is produced from sheep and goat milk. It is because most East-Mediterranean nations have:
- Modest and irregular rainfall
- Hot and dry summers
- Mountainous landscapes
This type of environment is not suited to meet the fodder requirements of dairy cattle, except sheep and goats. Hence, they prepared cheese from the milk of these two animals. The cheese was preserved and ripened under brine until consumption, as there was no way to refrigerate it, and transporting milk was difficult (3).
Feta is a low-fat cheese and a good source of important nutrients. Scroll down to know more about its nutritional value.
Nutritional Profile Of Feta Cheese
A wedge of feta cheese (about 1 oz) contains (4):
Total lipids (Fat)
Kristin Gillespie, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC, says, “As cheeses go, feta is a fairly healthy option. It is packed with nutrients like calcium, sodium, phosphorus, and B vitamins. Feta is also low in saturated fat and calories than many other kinds of cheese.” With a rich nutritional profile, feta cheese can be a healthy addition to your diet. Check out its health benefits in the next section.
Health Benefits Of Feta Cheese
1. May Improve Bone Health
Feta cheese is a great source of calcium, a mineral that maintains the bones.
Researchers found that consuming cheese and milk improved bone mineral density in rats. They concluded that consuming cheese could be beneficial in preventing osteoporosis and the risk of age-related bone loss (5),(6).
2. May Promote Weight Loss
Feta cheese has a low fat content than other types of cheese. The calcium and fatty acid complexes in cheese may bind in the gut and prevent fat absorption. It also boosts fat breakdown and reduces fat storage in the cells.
The high protein content of feta cheese increases satiety, making it a good option for calorie-restricted diets. Also, dairy products (including feta cheese, which is made from goat milk) contain polyunsaturated fatty acids called conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs). Animal and human studies have shown that CLA reduces body weight and fat (7), (8).
3. May Promote Gut Health
Lactobacillus co-starter culture, a probiotic, is used for manufacturing feta cheese. These gut-friendly bacteria support digestive functions, such as food breakdown, nutrient absorption, and fighting harmful bacteria to keep your gut healthy (9).
Moreover, feta cheese made of goat milk contains short-chain fatty acids and is easy to digest (10). It is good for those who are allergic to cow milk. Felicia Newell, RD, says, “Feta tends to be less allergenic and is hence good for people who are slightly allergic to dairy.”
4. Good Source Of Vitamins
Feta cheese contains vitamins B6 (5% daily value), and cobalamin (vitamin B12) (8% daily value). It also contains vitamin D that helps the body absorb calcium and strengthens the bones. Vitamin B6 facilitates metabolism, and cobalamin keeps the nervous system healthy (4), (11), (12), (13).
There is no reason you should not include feta cheese in your diet. You can also easily make it at home. All you need is – a mixture of milk, starter culture, and patience! Here is the process.
How To Make Feta Cheese
What You Need
- 1 gallon of whole milk
- ¼ teaspoon of feta cheese culture
- ½ cup of water
- ½ teaspoon of calcium chloride
- ½ teaspoon of liquid rennet
- 8 cups of water
- 5 tablespoons of salt
- 1 teaspoon of calcium chloride
- ¼ teaspoon of white vinegar
- Mix one-fourth cup of water and half a teaspoon of calcium chloride in a bowl.
- In another bowl, mix one-fourth cup of water and liquid rennet.
- Heat milk in a double boiler over medium heat until it reaches 86℉.
- Add cheese culture to it and let it dissolve for a few minutes. Stir the mixture. Cover and let it boil for an hour on 86℉.
- Mix calcium chloride with milk and stir for a minute. Add the rennet mixture to it and stir again.
- Allow the milk to curdle at room temperature for an hour.
- Check the curd’s firmness with the back of a spoon.
- Slice the curd into 1-inch squares. Stir gently with a rubber spatula and rest it for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Maintain 86°F at all times and stir the curd until it sinks to the bottom of the pot.
- Turn off the heat. Scoop out the liquid (whey).
- Place the multi-layered cheesecloth in a colander. Drain the remaining whey from the curd.
- Wrap the cheesecloth around the curd and hang it for 4 hours to drain the whey.
- Mix the brine ingredients in a large container. Let the cheese soak in it for at least 8 hours and up to 3 weeks.
- Do not boil the milk as it decreases its calcium content.
- Add calcium chloride to make the cheese firm.
- Do not use UHT or ultrapasteurized milk for making feta cheese.
- Use liquid rennet or half of the rennet tablet diluted in one-fourth cup of cool water. You may also use mesophilic starter culture or a tablespoon of yogurt instead of a feta starter culture.
Feta cheese is used in salads, pasta, and other dishes. Here are a few popular recipes you may try at home.
Popular Feta Cheese Recipes
1. Tomato, Basil, And Feta salad (serves 2)
What You Need
- 3 tomatoes, diced
- 1 small cucumber, peeled and chopped
- 2 green onions, chopped
- ¼ cup of fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons of crumbled feta cheese
- 1 teaspoon of black pepper, freshly ground
- Salt, as needed
- Toss all ingredients in a large bowl.
- Sprinkle salt and pepper and enjoy!
2. Spinach And Feta Pasta (serves 3)
What You Need
- 8 ounces of penne pasta
- 8 ounces of feta cheese, crumbled
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- ½ cup of onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 cups of tomatoes, chopped
- 1 cup of mushrooms, sliced
- 2 cups of spinach leaves
- A pinch of red pepper flakes
- Salt, as needed
- Black pepper, as needed
- Cook pasta and drain it.
- Fry onion and garlic over medium heat until golden brown.
- Add tomatoes, mushrooms, and spinach for 2-5 minutes.
- Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes as desired.
- Reduce the heat. Stir in pasta and feta cheese until it is done.
Note: This pasta could be heavy on digestion. If you have a sensitive digestive system, you may want to avoid this recipe.
3. Hot And Spicy Sun Dried Tomato, Spinach, and Feta Cheese Salad (serves 2)
What You Need
- 1 tablespoon of virgin olive oil
- 1 red chili
- 300 grams of spinach leaves
- 6 sun dried tomatoes
- ½ a lime
- 20 grams of feta cheese
- 2 tablespoons of flaked almonds, toasted
- Salt, to taste
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil.
- Add the spinach and sauté until the leaves reduce in volume.
- Cut the chili in thin slices. Add them along with the dried tomatoes.
- Mix and season with the salt and lime juice.
- Serve hot with diced feta cheese and the flaked almonds
Holly Klamer, a Michigan-based RDN, explains, “Like other cheeses, feta can be good for you as long as it is eaten in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy per day to healthy adults.” Moreover, feta cheese has a high salt content. Therefore, keep these precautions in mind before consuming it.
Risk Factors Associated With Feta Cheese
Feta cheese is matured in a salt brine to (14):
- Control bacterial growth and activity
- Control different enzymatic activities in cheese
- Promote whey outflow and reduce cheese moisture
- Influence the cheese proteins and texture
But such a high salt content might be risky and cause:
1. High Blood Pressure
Salt increases arterial blood pressure. While the process is unknown, it is believed to be connected to the kidneys’ difficulty in eliminating excess salt (15).
2. Pregnancy Issues
Traditionally, feta cheese is prepared from raw milk to shorten the ripening process and maintain its pungent taste. Listeria monocytogenes is a pathogen found in about 4% of US raw milk. It causes listeriosis, a type of infection that may lead to miscarriage. Hence, avoid raw milk-based cheese if you are pregnant (16), (17).
Feta cheese is soft, delicious, and creamy and is used in various dishes. It is replete with minerals, vitamins, fats, and other nutrients that promote overall health. The benefits of feta cheese include stronger bones and healthy weight gain. In addition, it is loaded with vitamin B complex that may promote nervous system health. You can add feta cheese to your salads, pasta, pizzas, and other dishes. However, excess consumption may spike blood pressure due to its high sodium content. Limit its use and consult a doctor if you experience any adverse reactions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is feta cheese anti-inflammatory?
Yes. Feta cheese is a type of goat cheese that is replete with beneficial polyunsaturated fatty acids and conjugated linolenic acid. These nutrients help lower inflammatory biomarkers thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties (18).
Can I eat feta cheese raw?
Yes. You can add raw feta cheese to your salads, sandwiches, and other savory dishes.
Is feta cheese good for fatty liver?
No. Feta cheese, like most cheeses, is high in saturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids lead to fat accumulation in the liver and may increase oxidative stress (19).
Can individuals with diabetes eat feta cheese?
Yes, though in moderate amounts. Feta cheese is rich in saturated fatty acids and notable guidelines have recommended limiting its intake to less than10% of one’s total calorie intake (20).
Does feta cheese cause gas?
Possibly, if you are lactose intolerant. Cheese is a rich source of lactose which, if consumed by those who are lactose intolerant, may lead to gas, bloating, cramps, and other gastrointestinal troubles.
- The nutrient-rich feta cheese is made from a mix of goat and sheep milk.
- It is a rich source of calcium, and it improves bone health, promotes weight loss, and boosts gut health.
- Moderate consumption of this cheese is advised for people with high blood pressure as it is matured in salt brine.
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- Nutritional Characteristics of Prepacked Feta PDO Cheese Products in Greece: Assessment of Dietary Intakes and Nutritional Profiles
- Cheese Varieties Ripened in Brine
- Characteristics of major traditional regional cheese varieties of East-Mediterranean countries: a review
- FoodData Central
- Milk Calcium Taken with Cheese Increases Bone Mineral Density and Bone Strength in Growing Rats
- Cheese in nutrition and health
- Healthy bones – Activity and nutrition
- Conjugated Linoleic Acid Effects on Cancer Obesity and Atherosclerosis: A Review of Pre-Clinical and Human Trials with Current Perspectives
- Greek functional Feta cheese: enhancing quality and safety using a Lactobacillus 3 plantarum strain with probiotic potential
- The Comparison of Fatty Acid Composition and Lipid Quality Indices in Hard Cow Sheep and Goat Cheeses
- Vitamin D: importance in the prevention of cancers type 1 diabetes heart disease and osteoporosis
- Folate and Vitamin B6 From Diet and Supplements in Relation to Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Among Women
- B Vitamins in the nervous system: Current knowledge of the biochemical modes of action and synergies of thiamine pyridoxine and cobalamin
- Effect of Salt and Chymosin on the Physico-Chemical Properties of Feta Cheese During Ripening
- Links Between Dietary Salt Intake Renal Salt Handling Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Diseases
- Enhancement of low-fat Feta cheese characteristics using probiotic bacteria
- Listeria monocytogenes – Threat to a Safe Food Supply: A Review
- Consumption of Goat Cheese Naturally Rich in Omega-3 and Conjugated Linoleic Acid Improves the Cardiovascular and Inflammatory Biomarkers of Overweight and Obese Subjects: A Randomized Controlled Trial
- Isocaloric Dietary Changes and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in High Cardiometabolic Risk Individuals
- Nutritional Recommendations for Individuals with Diabetes