Extension of Shelf Life of Paneer-An Indian Variety of Soft Cheese: A Review

P. Prajapati1, M. Garg1,*, N. Singh1, R. Chopra2, A. Mittal3
1Department of Food Technology, Bhaskaracharya College of Applied Sciences, University of Delhi, New Delhi-110 075, india.
2National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management, Sonipat-131 028, Haryana, India.
3Department of Polymer Science, Bhaskaracharya College of Applied Sciences, University of Delhi, New Delhi-110 075, india.
Conventional dairy products constitute a vital role in the human diet in India. Paneer, an indigenous soft cheese, is a versatile nutrient-dense food used as a pedestal substance in various culinary preparations. It contains a good amount of high-quality animal protein, fat and minerals. However, relatively short shelf life of paneer, up to 5-6 days, creates a significant obstacle for commercial manufacturers. Conventional techniques like drying, freezing or chilling are not considered proficient in extending paneer’s keeping quality. This review summarizes different techniques used for the shelf life extension of paneer. The main focus was apprehended on research that contributes to increasing nutritional content and keeping the quality of paneer. Based on the perceptions of various researchers available in the shape of literature, it was concluded that edible coating incorporated with active compounds could be a pioneer preservation technique for Paneer. Moreover, some novel food techniques (Non-thermal techniques, hurdle technology, smart packaging) have also shown considerable potential to enhance keeping quality of paneer without jeopardizing flavour and texture. However, these technologies are at their nascent stage and require extensive research.

The “Operation Flood program” triumph in the 1970s was one of the most extensive collective dairy programs, making India the leading milk producer in the world (Khan and Pal, 2011). Besides, the continuous increase in the number of cattle and improved quality of feed and fodder are significant factors responsible for the astronomical milk production of the country (Dairy and dairy products-OECD-FAO agricultural outlook 2019-2028). An estimated 55% of the milk produced in India is used for product manufacturing and residuum is used as liquid milk (Rao, 2020).

Paneer is an indigenous dairy product produced by coagulating milk at elevated temperature using organic acids (citric acid, lactic acid and tartaric acid) (Khan and Pal, 2011; Raveendran et al., 2018). It is used as a pedestal substance in various culinary dishes, especially (Matar paneer, palak paneer, kadhai paneer) and other food products (pakoras). Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) defines “Paneer as the food product obtained from any variant of milk, with or without added milk solids, by precipitation with permitted acidulants and heating” having not more than 60% moisture and not less than 50% fat. Fresh and good quality Paneer has a pleasant, sweetish, nutty flavour, has a compact, smooth, closely knitted texture and must be tender enough to maintain its shape at the time of cutting and is easily chewable. In addition, the type of milk also affects the organoleptic characteristics of paneer, ranging from greenish to yellow ting in paneer prepared using buffalo and cow milk, respectively (Khan and Pal, 2011; Kumar et al., 2014).

Paneer belongs to the soft cheese category and is believed to have been developed by the South Asia region nomads (Raveendran et al., 2018; Kumar et al., 2014). Several different types of fresh cheese (Wara, Anari, Feta, Queso Fresco etc.) are manufactured worldwide with similar characteristics as Paneer. These cheeses are either rennet set or acid set and have a short shelf life of up to two weeks (Khan and Pal, 2011; Aspri et al., 2017; Lourenco et al., 2017; Hamdy et al., 2021).

The relatively short shelf stability of paneer limits the industrialist from adopting a commercial manufacturing process. This review aims to examine existing studies that may help in extending the shelf life of Paneer without much jeopardizing its flavor and texture. Moreover, this study also focuses on enhancing the nutritive value of paneer by incorporating various bio-active compounds in the form of edible coating.

Structure of paneer

Paneer is a network of casein micelles entangling the other milk components like whey protein, fat globules, lactose and minerals), which are also responsible for its flavor and texture. The type of milk and its constituents, mainly (water and fat content), will affect the structural properties of the Paneer. The presence of high moisture content will form a loose and soft body texture (Ahmed and Bajwa, 2019).

The microstructure of paneer observed under scanning electron microscope (SEM) showed that fat globules are coated with the membrane and casein micelles are fused to the fat globule membrane. The protein network comprises the varying size of aggregated protein particles and fat globules are uniformly entangled within the network. The microstructure of paneer made from cow milk has smaller and uniformly distributed protein molecules, whereas Paneer produced from buffalo milk contains densely packed fused protein particles. The fat globules and protein network defines Paneer’s microstructure and consequently affect tactile properties like mouthfeel, firmness and elasticity (Hui,  2007).

The formation of the paneer structure starts with the acidification process of milk when there is a dynamic change observed in the physicochemical properties of milk, as illustrated in (Fig 1).

Fig 1: Gel structure formation of Paneer.

The casein micelles present in milk dissociate from the Colloidal Calcium Phosphate (CCP) complex and release into the serum phase. This phenomenon occurs due to the decrease in net charge on casein micelles. When the pH of milk falls from 6.6 to 5.5, the collective charge on casein micelles is lost continuously, resulting in the collapse of the micelle’s surface’s hairy structure onto the surface. The stabilizing membrane of casein micelles collapse below pH 5.5. The collapse causes the electrostatic forces between the casein micelles to become weaker and bring them close to form the cluster. At pH-4.6, the cluster of casein micelles becomes denser and more compact and eventually forms into a gel (Jacob et al., 2011; Sinaga et al., 2017; Li and Zhao, 2019). The other milk constituent separates in whey from the curd (Cottage) or gel structure of paneer (Lucey, 2011).

Value-added paneer

Growing consumer awareness about the functional foods incorporated with antioxidants, dietary fibre, phytosterols, phenolics, etc., forced the food scientist to transform traditional foods into value-added food products. Paneer is seemed to be a promising matrix to incorporate bioactive compounds as it is appreciated by the consumer for its suitable organoleptic property and high nutritive value. It is devoid of iron, dietary fibre and (Vitamin-C) thus, most studies focus (Table 1) on incorporating these nutrients in the Paneer to make it a complete food (Diaz-Castro et al. (2012); Caleja et al., 2015). In addition to nutrients, adding bioactive compounds like (phenols, antioxidants and natural color pigments) helps increase its shelf life and enhance the organoleptic and textural properties of paneer.  

Table 1: Different types of value-added Paneer/Cottage cheese.

Methods to extend the shelf of paneer

Paneer has a minimal shelf life of a day at ambient temperature and about 5-6 days at refrigeration temperature. Although the heat treatment given to milk destroys all the pathogenic and spoilage micro-organisms, washing and handling the curd can reintroduce spoilage organisms like Psychrotrophs, Coliforms, yeasts and molds (Raju and Sasikala, 2016). The quality of Paneer deteriorates due to the growth of this spoilage micro-organism on the surface during storage.

Nevertheless, low-temperature storage is an effective and economical method to control pathogenic decay. It has been reported that microbial load on paneer is significantly increased during storage, even under refrigerated conditions (Lamdande et al., 2012). Although the refrigerated storage of Paneer maintains its keeping quality for up to 6 days, colour and appearance are affected after three days. Thus, chilling also limits the storage period (Rani et al., 2014). Several attempts, as mentioned in (Table 2) have been made to enhance the shelf life of Paneer, which include the addition of preservatives, packaging in modified conditions (vacuum packaging, modified atmosphere packaging, dehydration and heat sterilization) (Goyal and Goyal, 2016).

Table 2: Preservation methods of Paneer.

However, these methods were not fully effective in extending the keeping quality and also rendered alteration in texture and flavour of the product. In recent years, the focus has been shifting to new technologies as elicited in (Fig 2) which perverse the quality of paneer and parallelly promote environmental sustainability.

Fig 2: Preservation techniques for Paneer.

Hurdle technology

Hurdle technology (HT) is an innovative concept that utilizes different hurdles like water activity (aw), redox potential (Eh) and pH to work synergistically by either killing the microorganism or preventing their multiplication without affecting the product quality. Keeping quality of paneer could be increased up to 12 days at 30±1°C and 20 days at 7± 1°C by adopting the hurdle concept, which comprises reducing aw and pH of paneer. Further effect in preventing spoilage of paneer was imparted by packaging under modified conditions (Carbon dioxide: Nitrogen gas = 50:50) (Thippeswamy et al., 2011). Similarly incorporating antioxidants (Eugenol, gallic acid, quercetin, piperine and methanol) and subsequent storage at low-temperature storage has been proven effective in extending Paneer’s shelf life (Sharma et al., 2019). Applying heat treatment to pickled paneer works synergistically, thus helping in increasing shelf life for 30 days under refrigerated conditions (Narayanan et al., 2016). The hurdle concept also successfully preserves Paneer products like canned paneer and ready-to-eat canned Paneer curry (Rao and Patil, 2009).

Non-thermal technologies

Non-conventional Technology has the potential to provide a better substitute over thermal treatment to maintain sensory and nutritional characteristics as they employ low temperature and short processing time. Dairy products such as Paneer are rich in many essential nutrients and provide suitable conditions for the growth of food pathogens, especially Listeria monocytogenes. Non thermal techniques impaired the cellular or genetic material of pathogenic strains and inhibit the growth of pathogenic microorganisms (Pereira et al., 2020; Nunez et al., 2020).

Ionizing radiation, ohmic heating, high-pressure processing (HPP) and supercritical carbon dioxide application are some non-thermal techniques to preserve paneer (Lacivita et al., 2019; Kapoor et al., 2021). These techniques improve the shelf life by reducing microbial load without much affecting the textural properties of the paneer. Irradiation and Supercritical Carbon dioxide techniques were reported to increase the shelf life of paneer up to 30 days (Singh et al., 1991; Kapoor et al., 2021). Paneer manufacture by milk undergoing ohmic heat treatment showed a significant reduction in microbial load and a less brittle texture as compared to conventional processes (Kumar and Hausain, 2014). High-pressure processing of cheese reduces the moisture content of cheese and may produce a new texture, lose more whey with high nitrogen content compared to untreated cheese, inactivates pathogenic microorganisms (Listeria monocytogene) and accelerates cheese ripening in ripened cheese (Capellas et al., 2001; Tomasula et al., 2014). Application of the high-pressure processing technique shows a positive effect on the shelf life and texture profile of paneer (Kapoor et al., 2021).

Packaging of paneer

Continuously occurring dynamic microbiological and chemical changes makes the paneer a perishable commodity. Its high moisture content makes it susceptible to microbial attack and thus limits its storage period to 5-6 days under refrigerated conditions. The formation of whitish or yellowish, thick, gelatinous, slimy film around the surface of the Paneer is the primary defect occurring during low-temperature storage. This is followed by discoloration of Paneer and occurrence of off-flavor (fruity, rancid, or bitter) (Ho et al., 2016). The growth of gram-negative psychotropic bacteria (Aeromonas, Alcaligenes, Pseudomonas, Proteus) is believed to be responsible for the degradation of Paneer (Chen and Hotchkiss, 1993). To limit microorganisms from proliferation and thereby extend the shelf life of Paneer, packaging could be considered one of the excellent preservation methods.

Packaging requirement of paneer:

1. Packaging of paneer must extend its shelf life and protect it from physical and chemical microbiological damage.

2. It must ensure the conservation of flavor, texture and taste of paneer during storage and transportation.

3. Only food-grade packet/ wrapper should be used for the packaging of paneer.

4. The packaging material used for the packaging of paneer must be structurally strong to withstand harsh conditions and should be aesthetically appealing to the consumer (Spreafico and Russo, 2021).

According to the survey conducted by FSSAI in India, most commercial brands’ paneer is wrapped in printed polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material (poly pack) and blister transparent packet. On the other hand, the loose Paneer sold in the local market was found to be packaged in recyclable paper covered with biodegradable PVC film. Commonly used plastic materials for packaging Paneer are coextruded plastic laminates and sachets made up of Polyethylene, shrink films, parchment paper coated with edible wax and polypropylene (PP) films. On the other hand, polyethylene bags, ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA)/Poly Vinyl di-Chloride (PVdC)/EVA, or cryovac laminates are preferred for vacuum packaging (Paneer: Eat It with Caution, FSSAI).

Modified atmosphere packaging of paneer

Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) is a new area in food packaging that maintains the product’s initial fresh-like characteristics for a much more extended time (Maniar et al., 1994). The atmospheric conditions around the food product inside the food package are altered to minimize food deterioration. Rai et al., (2008) observed that modifying the gaseous atmosphere surrounding the paneer can effectively increase its shelf life and minimize the chemical changes that affect its quality. Paneer packed under a modified atmosphere containing 100% CO2 shows satisfactory sensory characteristics up to 28 days of storage. CO2 dissolves within the Paneer and provides additional protection besides inhibiting spoilage microflora without altering the sensory characteristic (Maniar et al., 1994).

Smart packaging

The smart packaging industry has the potential to outpace other traditional packaging systems in the coming years. In that field, the evolution of novel packaging techniques (active, intelligent packaging and bioactive packaging) requires protecting the food component and giving real-time information about food conditions. Thus it reduces the risk of foodborne illness and early food recalls as consumer/retailer is aware of the food condition inside the food package (Biji et al., 2015).

Paneer wrapped in LDPE film immobilized with Betanin (antimicrobial compound), a type of active packaging system, showed a three times reduction in the growth of Staphylococcus aureus (Manohar et al., 2017). Studies are also centered on developing intelligent systems for packaging paneer, which carry out advanced functions like tracking, sensing, detecting and recording the food product throughout the supply chain Kant and his colleagues develop an radio frequency identification device (RFID) tag to provide real-time information about the quality of paneer during its storage period. They observed that spoiled and fresh paneer behave differently when the frequency is applied (Kant et al., 2018).

Edible coating

Edible coating focuses on regulating the moisture loss transfer of gases and flavours and provides a suitable matrix for incorporating additives and bioactive compounds. An edible coating is a thin layer of structural substance (protein, carbohydrate, lipid, or multi-component mixture) formed as a coating on the food product. Immersion in structural matrix or spaying of matrix onto the food is the standard method of applying an edible coating onto the food product (Falguera et al., 2011; Quiros-Sauceda et al., 2014).

Application of the edible coating helps in the amplification of safety and quality characteristics of Paneer.

Table 3: Different edible coatings applied on Paneer.

Edible coated paneer sample has a shelf life of up to 40 days with 1.6 × 103 colony-forming unit/gram of total viable count (Lamdande et al., 2012). Furthermore, the environment-friendly nature of edible coatings helps reduce packaging waste, thus being an excellent alternative to traditional packaging systems.

Paneer is a highly nutritious, soft unripened cheese prone to microbiological and chemical deterioration during storage. Commercially, the extension of shelf life of paneer is mainly attributed to packaging in laminates under modified conditions and further stored at refrigerated temperature. However, an edible coating is a promising investment as an alternative to plastic packaging due to its role in controlling respiratory loss and inhibiting pathogenic bacteria. It thus can be an important and sustainable alternative for paneer preservation. Other innovative techniques (Ionizing radiation, hurdle technology, Intelligent packaging system) used for the preservation of Paneer are at their nascent stage of research which requires more optimization before being applied at the commercial level.


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