What is pimento cheese?
Pimento cheese is a popular delicacy in the Southern states of the USA. It is a cheese-based spread and can contain a variety of ingredients, of which the main ingredients are cheese spread, shredded cheese, and diced pimento peppers.
Most families in the south have their own favorite recipes, but it can also be bought ready-made in tubs from grocery stores.
Why pregnant women may crave pimento cheese
People often refer to pregnancy cravings in a joking manner, but it is actually not unusual at all. Cravings for strange foods are often associated with nutritional deficiency of certain nutrients, but this is not always the case. During pregnancy, you require a much higher intake of nutrients and calories, and this requirement may just present itself as a craving for a specific taste. The elevated hormone levels in your body may also trigger cravings.
Common cravings include combinations of sweet, salty, and sour foods. Pregnancy cravings only become a problem when you start craving non-food items, like dirt or rocks. This is known as pica and may require professional medical help.
Pimento cheese is a common pregnancy craving, as it contains the creamy salty flavours of cheese, as well as the sweet tangy taste of pickled peppers.
Ingredients commonly found in pimento cheese
The base ingredients of pimento cheese are usually cream cheese, or mayonnaise, grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, and pickled pimento peppers. Or pimiento, as they are also known. Optional ingredients may include dill pickles, garlic, onions, hot sauce or horseradish added to the pimento cheese. Pregnant women may need to check food safety before eating some of these ingredients.
Food safety concerns with pimento cheese ingredients in pregnancy
Cream cheese or cheese spread
Cream cheese and cheese spreads are often seen as soft cheese, and there are misconceptions about the food safety of these types of cheeses for pregnant women. It is usually made with pasteurized milk and is therefore not a listeria risk as dairy products made from unpasteurized milk may be. It is safe for consumption during pregnancy if pasteurized. Here is more information from the US government on the pasteurization of cheese.
Mayonnaise is traditionally made from oil, raw egg, and lemon juice. Raw eggs can be contaminated with salmonella and are not safe during pregnancy. Avoid homemade mayonnaise during pregnancy. However, store-bought mayonnaise does not contain raw eggs, as this would not be shelf-stable, but instead, the eggs are pasteurized. According to the FDA, this makes it safe for pregnant women to eat.
Cheddar / Monterey Jack cheese
These types of cheese are made from pasteurized milk and are matured to prevent any harmful microorganisms from growing in it. It is also safe for pregnant women to consume.
These sweet red peppers are usually pickled in a slightly sweet and acidic brine to prevent any harmful microorganisms from growing in the peppers. These peppers are safe to eat during pregnancy.
These are also preserved, therefore also safe to eat during pregnancy.
Garlic and onions
Garlic or onions may be used fresh, powdered, or preserved in oil, but all forms are safe to eat in pregnancy.
Some brands of hot sauce are high in sodium. Excessive intake can lead to an increase in blood pressure. This can cause gestational hypertension, which can cause seizures, kidney damage, blood vessel damage, swelling in the brain, loss of protein, and affect the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the baby.
There is some evidence that horseradish may cause complications during pregnancy. The evidence is not without debate, but it is always better to play safe and avoid risk. Therefore it is strongly advised that pregnant women avoid consuming horseradish.
Regarding food safety, avoid pimento cheese that was made with unpasteurized mayonnaise or that contains horseradish. It may be ideal to make your own pimento cheese to ensure that you avoid unsafe ingredients.
How to make and store your own pregnancy-safe pimento cheese
Most Southern families have their own recipes for this delicious cheese spread, but here are some tips to ensure your recipe is pregnancy safe. Most recipes start with a basis of equal parts cream cheese and shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, and ½ part diced pimento peppers. We recommend mixing 2 cups pasteurized cream cheese, 2 cups cheddar, 1 cup jarred pimento peppers and half a cup of store-bought mayonnaise made with pasteurized eggs. You may optionally add some chopped fresh onions and garlic and dill pickles to your pimento cheese if you prefer.
Once these ingredients are opened and mixed, they are potentially exposed to microorganisms that may cause spoilage. Do not leave pimento cheese at temperatures above 40F (4C) for longer than 2 hours, keep any leftovers in the fridge and consume within 2-3 days. Avoid eating pimento cheese at buffets, it may contain ingredients that are not safe in pregnancy, and there is usually very little control over safe temperatures to avoid bacterial growth.
Are there any pregnancy benefits from eating pimento cheese?
As it consists largely of cheese, pimento cheese has a lot of the same benefits. It is an excellent source of proteins, which provides a great energy substrate during your pregnancy, and is also essential for your unborn baby’s growth and development. Pimento cheese is also rich in calcium, essential for the formation and growth of your baby’s skeleton.
If you are interested in more information on the benefits of cheese in pregnancy, we also have an interesting article on consumption of bocconcini cheese during pregnancy.
Pimento cheese is mostly safe during pregnancy, just remember to avoid unpasteurized mayonnaise and horseradish, and always store your cheese safely!
If you would like more information about pimento cheese or other foods that are safe to eat during your pregnancy, please download our app, Pregnancy Diet: Food & Recipes.
Frequently asked questions:
Can you eat pimento cheese while pregnant?
Yes, pimento cheese is safe for expectant women as long as you ensure it is made with pasteurized mayonnaise and pasteurized cheese and does not contain horseradish.
Is pimento cheese safe in pregnancy?
The main ingredients, cream cheese, shredded cheese, and pimento peppers are safe to consume during pregnancy. Just avoid unpasteurized mayonnaise, unpasteurized cheese, and horseradish.
What if I accidentally ate pimento cheese during my pregnancy?
If you ate store-bought pimento cheese, check the ingredient list to ensure it is made with pregnancy-safe ingredients. If it is homemade, ask the cook what ingredients they used. If the pimento cheese you ate contains unpasteurized eggs, unpasteurized cheese, or horseradish, monitor yourself for any adverse effects, for example, abdominal pain, cramping, nausea, or vomiting, and contact your doctor for medical help immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.
Is pimento cheese healthy to eat during pregnancy?
As long as you eat pimento cheese made from pasteurized mayonnaise and free from horseradish, it is a good source of both protein and calcium during pregnancy, both of which are important for an unborn baby’s growth and development.