Food-scented beauty products first appeared in the late 1930s when customers were enticed by Harriet Hubbard Ayer’s clove-scented lipstick, Demeter’s pizza-scented perfume, and banana-scented setting powder by Too Faced. Now we have nail polish that smells of cheese! Not just any cheese, but Velveeta! If you want to call that cheese.
Cheese is a dairy product and comes in various textures, shapes, and flavours. The process of producing traditional cheese starts with the acidification and coagulation of the milk, resulting in solid or semi-solid curds suspended in a liquid known as whey. The curd is cut into small pieces, heated and drained to remove whey. The curds are then salted, formed into the final shape, and pressed to form a solid piece of cheese.
Some cheeses can be consumed immediately, whereas some require weeks, months, or years of aging. During the process of aging, the rinds of cheeses can be washed by brandy, port, beer, or salt water several times to provide moisture. The buildup of moisture favors the colonization of bacteria, typically Brevibacterium linens. These bacteria break down lactose, casein, and the fat in cheese and, as a result, produce pungent gases consisting of ammonia or sulfur compounds. Other factors including the type of starter culture bacteria used and the length of aging can also affect the smell of a cheese.
“Processed cheese,” was patented by James Kraft, the founder of the Kraft food company. Back in the early 1900s, the most popular cheese was Cheddar, but its taste and texture were variable. This is no surprise since the taste of cheese depends on many factors including the type of milk, the specific bacterial cultures used to develop flavour and the length of the aging period. Kraft wanted to give his customers a cheese that always tasted the same, had a reliably smooth consistency, melted readily and could withstand elevated temperatures without spoiling. After much experimentation he found that blending various grades of Cheddar cheese and treating the mix with steam yielded a mixture that had most of the properties he was looking for.
The high temperature pasteurized the cheese and inactivated any bacteria that would cause further reactions that affect the flavour. One problem, though, was that the finished product was not as smooth as he would have liked, mostly because the fat content was not evenly distributed throughout the cheese. In other words, the cheese wasn’t adequately emulsified.
Cheese products always consist of an oil phase, containing fats and oil-soluble compounds, and a water phase which contains water-soluble proteins and minerals. Kraft discovered that the addition of disodium phosphate would prevent the fats and water from separating, resulting in cheese that looks like plastic, keeps like plastic and melts like plastic. Some would even say it tastes like plastic.
In 1918, Emil Frey at the Monroe Cheese Factory was charged with salvaging wheels of Swiss cheese that were crumbling apart. Inspired by Kraft’s emulsifying technology, he blended the crumbling cheese with liquidy whey and came up with a product that was smooth and melted readily without its fat and whey separating. Just right for dipping nachos! Velveeta was born! It was a hit with consumers. The brand has been extended to various products including cheesy bites, macaroni and cheese, cheesy skillets, and lately, cheese-scented nail polish.
A set of cheese-scented nail polishes was recently released by Velveeta in collaboration with the UK-based beauty brand, Nails Inc. It features two highly pigmented shades, a bright red shade dubbed “Finger Food,” and a creamy yellow shade called “La Dolce Velveeta.” According to the company’s launch message they are designed for flamboyant individuals and pleasure seekers. They can be comforted by the fact that the nail polish is vegan and “cruelty free.” But it isn’t edible.
There is no mention of how the cheese aroma is incorporated into the nail polish. In general, cheese smell is due to hundreds of different compounds, the result of the breakdown of proteins, fats and lactose due to bacterial action. Processed cheese is usually made from hard cheeses like cheddar that owe their fragrance to a cacophony of compounds such as dodecalactone, methional, furaneol and diacetyl. These can be extracted from cheese or can be synthesized in the lab.
Nails Inc. advertises that “these highly pigmented shades provide full-cover payoff and are designed to be worn together for those confident enough to show the world they are living a big, bold, and unrestrained life.” Will this product be successful? The likelihood is that is most consumers will see through the cheesy promotions and will manage to restrain themselves from having their fingers smell of fake cheese.
K. Coco Zhang is a third-year dietetics student at McGill University