Which haloumi cheese is the healthiest?
Originating in Cyprus and eaten in the Middle East for centuries, haloumi is a recent and popular addition to New Zealand cuisine.
Grilled or fried before serving, its stretchy texture and salty taste perfectly compliment Mediterranean-style vegetables and salads. But with many brands competing for market share, are some better than others or is it just a matter of price?
We set out to help by comparing three popular brands for taste, cost and nutrition.
While traditionally based on sheep or goat milk, most New Zealand varieties use cow's milk, to which salt, cultures and enzymes are added. Since milk is the main ingredient, haloumi is a good source of protein and calcium, and while amounts for these are similar across brands, the fat and sodium content can vary. Lowest sodium, together with lowest fat means a better product nutritionally, but taste, texture and cost also need to be factored in making your choice.
This gets points nutritionally for having least sodium (600mg per 100g). It has the most fat however (28.4g/100g), for which it loses its points. Our small tasting panel found this best for taste and texture however; it kept its shape beautifully when fried and was cheapest at $6.79 per 200g block.
Overall rating: Best – lowest sodium, best taste and texture and cheapest.
THE COLLECTIVE TRADITIONAL HALOUMI
This ranks equally with Mainland nutritionally. It has less fat (24.5g fat/100g) but more sodium (864mg/100g). When fried, it loses its shape more than the others, and the texture seems tougher and stretchier. For taste, it was voted second – saltier than Mainland but not as salty as Lemnos. It was second cheapest at $6.99 per 200g.
Overall rating: Second - more sodium but less fat than Mainland, second for taste and cost.
LEMNOS HALOUMI (ORGANIC)
Despite high hopes for this brand (its name screams authenticity), it ranks third for nutrition, taste and cost. Even though it has less fat (20.6g/100g), the much higher sodium content (1500mg/100g) lets it down. Haloumi is traditionally high in salt however, so perhaps this is a more authentic product?
Our tasters found it too salty yet liked the texture. At $13.69 per 180g, it was double the cost of the other two brands - perhaps reflective of its organic classification.
Overall rating: Last –very high in sodium, very salty taste and double the price of the others.
When choosing haloumi, use the 100g column of the Nutrition Information Panel and prioritise lowest fat and sodium. As none of our brands have both low fat and low sodium, you will need to decide which factor - fat or sodium - is more important for you. If weight is an issue yet your blood pressure is normal, lowest fat may be best to prioritise. If blood pressure is high however, go for lowest sodium and limit use to occasional. Taste and cost must also be factored in.
* Products are tested by NZ Registered nutritionist Bronwen King and a diverse, randomly selected group.