Philadelphia: Accept No Substitutes

I may not be the world’s biggest cream cheese fan, but I know a top-quality product when I see one, and Philadelphia cream cheese is it (no, they’re not paying me to say that). Its composition is similar to several of the “natural” cream cheese products on the market except for a few very important additions: xanthan and/or guar and/or carob gum. These harmless additives help make cream cheese what it is, and by extension, cheesecake what it is. All three are natural compounds, though truth be told, while guar and carob gums are naturally-occurring (found inside the seed coats of beans), xanthan gum is fermented from corn starch (don’t tell Michael Pollan, OK?).

So what do they do? Mostly they’re there to keep the cream cheese thick, but also to keep it from separating…to keep the fat from congealing into large masses (the job of an emulsifier) and to keep the solids in the cheese from sinking or floating to the top (the job of a stabilizer). Both functions are important in the ingredient as well as in the finished product, helping to keep the texture smooth and creamy.

The good news for the European home baking underground, and other Joe Pastry readers around the world, is that Philadelphia Cream Cheese (a Kraft product) can be found pretty much everywhere on Earth.

8 thoughts on “Philadelphia: Accept No Substitutes”

  1. It also has something called “whey protein concentrate.” Do you have any idea what that is, or what it’s for?

    1. Hi Mari!

      Yes, whey protein concentrate is pretty much what it sounds like: proteins separated out of whey (the liquid leftover from cheese making). It’s added to cream cheese to help make it thicker (proteins are the molecules that are responsible for clumping and/or thickening in any fermented dairy product). Does that make sense?

      Thanks for the question!

      – Joe

  2. <q cite="The good news for the European home baking underground, … is that Philadelphia… can be found pretty much everywhere… “> It has only recently arrived in France, where, until now, it could only be found in rare shops as an imported product.
    But then again, this is France, with its own 350+ varieties of cheese… You can (almost) forgive them for not knowing how unique Philadelphia is! 😉

    1. You know, I almost hoped that there were some places left where cream cheese isn’t available! 😉

      I’m no great lover of cream cheese, however it can be useful.

      Nice to hear from you, Claudine!

      – Joe

  3. What about Neufchâtel cheese? I have found this works well in most recipes. I don’t have any on hand to check the ingredients though.

    1. Hey Wil!

      Neufchâtel is an excellent substitute it some cases, but being an actual cheese (its made up of tiny curds) as opposed to a milk emulsion, it won’t behave the same in every application. It should work in a Japanese cheesecake, though!

      Thanks Wil!

      – Joe

  4. As in France, cream cheese is not terribly popular in Belgium, but I don’t have much trouble finding Philly. It’s a bit pricey, and my wife has found a local brand she’s satisfied for most purposes, but she has already informed me that if we were to make a cheesecake she’d insist on Philly (or maybe Neufchâtel).

    1. Very interesting, Jimma. You mean to say there is a locally-made Belgian cream cheese? That’s fascinating. Is it used mostly for cheesecake do you know? Or are there other Belgian cream cheese dishes that I don’t know about?

      Thanks for the note!

      – Joe

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