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Paneer

Overview

In the search for ways to prevent milk spoilage in the hot climate of South Asia and find uses for surplus milk, a number of products have been developed, including Paneer. Paneer, (also called Panir), is a soft, unripened "home made cheese" (cottage cheese-like product modelled into large chunks), traditionally made from buffalo’s milk. A dairy product that is particular to the Indian/Pakistani cultures, Paneer is also produced in Canada using cow’s milk. The use of paneer in the diet of those cultures, especially for vegetarians, is akin to the use of prime meats and is a source of valuable proteins.

Following the traditional method of preparation, milk is boiled and then coagulated with either previous day’s fermented whey or with an acid, usually citric or lactic. Acidulant is added until clear whey separates from the coagulum. The precipitate is collected in a muslin cloth, hung for a few hours and then lightly pressed in order to further drain the whey. Cheese made in identical fashion but not pressed is known as chenna and is normally made from cow’s milk. Once all of the whey matter has been separated, the compacted cheese product is cut up into smaller blocks that are cooled in cold water to help firm up the cheese. The acids used for coagulation are mostly eliminated with the whey and subsequent water cooling of the product. Paneer has a high moisture content and so must be refrigerated and has a short shelf life. Blocks of paneer can be packaged under vacuum or gas flushing to extend the shelf life.

Very little of the paneer produced in the world is prepared on an industrial scale. More recently, dairy processing plant facilities have begun manufacturing Paneer from cow’s milk which has been modified by means of various processing techniques. The resulting product is slightly different from traditional buffalo milk paneer, being somewhat softer in texture and containing a higher degree of moisture.

The process of making Paneer from cow’s milk has been modified in order for the Paneer to resemble as much as possible, the firmer texture that is normally achieved with buffalo milk Paneer. This involves modifications to the temperature and acidification techniques and post-production tempering of the product.


Composition

A typical composition for paneer would be 25-27% fat and 50-54% moisture.

Paneer must be free from coliforms in 0.001 grams. Paneer is a good source of calcium, providing 75 to 150 mg per cup. The desired pH value for Paneer is 5.5 +/- 0.1.

The harsh heat treatment of the milk prior to the addition of acidulant results in the disulfide bonding of some of the whey proteins, particularly b-lactoglobulin, onto the surface of the casein micelles. When the coagulum is formed, these whey proteins are incorporated into the curd. This is in contrast to typical cheese production where only casein proteins are included in the curd and all the other proteins are lost with the whey. The inclusion of the whey proteins in the curd improves the yield and protein quality of paneer relative to typical casein cheeses.


Characteristics

Paneer resembles a fresh cheese such as cottage cheese (Cut in larger chunks), even though paneer is heat/acid-coagulated while cottage cheeses are usually rennet/acid coagulated. Despite its high moisture content, the texture and body of Paneer is firm and smooth, comparable to that of tofu, due to the water-retention capacity of heat-precipitated milk proteins. Its colour is white and its taste is somewhat bland or slightly acidic. Most Paneer is made from Buffalo milk that contains 5% more fat than cow’s milk, adding to its unique and creamy texture.

In Canada, Paneer is currently available only in two forms: one-pound slabs and deep-fried chunks.


Various Uses

Paneer is a staple ingredient in many Indian/Pakistani dishes and can be used fresh or deep fried. Paneer is commonly used in sweets, snacks or with vegetables.

  • Paneer can be included in curries, particularly with tomatoes, potatoes or peas.
  • Cubes of paneer can be added to soup to provide texture.
  • Paneer can absorb other flavours, for instance it can be marinated and grilled.
  • Different traditional Indian dishes can be prepared by cooking Paneer with spinach, peas or mustard leaves.
  • Fresh paneer can be boiled in sugar syrup and served as a sweet.
  • Another sweet can be made by mixing paneer with flour and other ingredients and then frying the mixture and serving it in a sugar syrup.
  • A snack can be made by frying rolls made from grated paneer mixed with water soaked bread and spices.
  • A snack can be made by deep frying crumb coated balls of mashed potato and paneer
  • Paneer can be blended with other ingredients and used as a sandwich filling.

Functional Properties
  • Paneer does not melt and so can be used to introduce interesting textures in hot dishes
  • Paneer will undergo browning when cooked, including Maillard browning due to its relatively high lactose concentration. This brown colour can add visual appeal to certain dishes.
  • Paneer itself has a rather bland flavour but it can act as a flavour carrier. Therefore it is excellent marinated or used in a curry or sauce.
  • The mild flavour of the paneer also lends itself to use in sweets where the flavour of sweetened paneer compliments other flavours such as pineapple or coconut.

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