What is American Cheese? The Controversial Delight of the Dairy World

American Cheese - The Ultimate Guide from Production to Consumption - Cheese Origin

Welcome to the world of American cheese – a staple in many kitchens, a companion to countless sandwiches, and a hero of quick-fix dinners.

In this guide, we will melt away your misconceptions and unwrap the truth about this iconic food product. From its humble beginnings as a blend of cheeses to its evolution into a processed cheese product loved by millions, American cheese has a tale to tell.

We’ll explore the ins and outs of its production, the secrets behind its perfect melt, and the role it plays in our diets. Whether you’re a cheese connoisseur or a curious consumer, prepare to embark on an exciting journey that will deepen your appreciation for this versatile ingredient.

Quick Facts about American Cheese

Fact CategoryDetails
OriginAmerican cheese was developed by the Swiss-born Jean Louis L’Etendard in the United States around 1911.
TypeProcessed cheese product or cheese blend.
ColorTypically yellow or orange, but also available in white.
TextureSmooth and creamy when melted.
TasteMild, slightly tangy, and salty.
Melting PointLow, which makes it perfect for burgers, sandwiches, and other dishes where a good melt is desired.
Nutritional ContentHigh in protein and calcium, but also high in sodium and saturated fat.
Popular BrandsKraft Singles, Velveeta, Borden.
Common UsesWidely used in burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and casseroles.
Recent ControversiesSome brands have faced recalls due to potential choking hazards in their packaging.

What is American Cheese?

Processed American cheese is a type of cheese product that originated in the United States. It’s known for its mild flavor, creamy texture, and exceptional melting qualities, making it a popular choice for dishes like cheeseburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, and macaroni and cheese.

Processed American cheese is typically made from a blend of milk, milk fats and solids, with other fats and whey protein concentrate. Additional ingredients may include salt, food colorings, preservatives, or emulsifiers. These ingredients are then heated and blended into a smooth, uniform mixture. The end result is a product that has a longer shelf life and melts more evenly than most natural cheeses.

This type of cheese is often sold pre-sliced and individually wrapped, and is commonly found in the dairy sections of grocery stores. Some well-known brands of processed American cheese include Kraft Singles and Velveeta.

It’s important to note that because processed American cheese contains less than 51% cheese curds, it cannot be legally called “cheese” in the United States. Instead, you’ll see it labeled as a “processed cheese product” or similar.

What does American Cheese taste like?

What does American Cheese taste like?

Processed American cheese has a mild and slightly tangy flavor. It’s not as sharp or complex as natural cheeses like cheddar or Swiss. Instead, it has a creamy, salty, and somewhat sweet taste.

The texture of this cheese is smooth and velvety, and it becomes even creamier when melted. This is one of the reasons why it’s a popular choice for dishes that require melted cheese, like cheeseburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Note: the taste can vary slightly between brands and types of processed American cheese. Some might taste tangier or saltier than others, while some might have a more pronounced creamy flavor.

American Cheese Tasting Notes

  • Color: Processed American cheese typically comes in a pale yellow to bright orange color, depending on the food coloring used. It is uniform in color with no visible veins or spots.
  • Texture: The texture is smooth, creamy, and slightly rubbery. It’s soft when at room temperature, but not crumbly. When melted, it becomes very smooth and creamy.
  • Smell: The smell of processed American cheese is typically mild, with no strong or pungent odors. It might have a faint milky or buttery smell.
  • Taste: The taste is also mild and slightly tangy. It’s not as sharp or complex as natural cheeses. Instead, it has a creamy, salty, and somewhat sweet taste.
  • Aftertaste: The aftertaste is usually mild and doesn’t linger for long. Some people might detect a slight tangy or sweet aftertaste.
  • Melting Quality: One of the key characteristics of processed American cheese is its exceptional melting quality. It melts evenly and smoothly without separating or becoming oily.
  1. Kraft Singles: Known for their individually wrapped slices, Kraft Singles are a staple in many American households.
  2. Velveeta: Velveeta is known for its smooth, creamy texture and ability to melt evenly, making it a popular choice for dishes like macaroni and cheese.
  3. Land O’Lakes: This brand offers American cheese in both white and yellow varieties.
  4. Horizon Organic: Horizon Organic’s American cheese is made from organic milk, offering a more natural alternative for those who prefer organic products.
  5. Borden: Borden’s American cheese is praised for its flavor and melting properties.

Is American cheese technically cheese?

The term “American cheese” can refer to two types: processed cheese products and a type of pasteurized processed cheese.

Processed cheese, such as Kraft Singles, cannot technically be sold under the name “cheese” in the United States. They are required by the FDA to be labeled as “processed cheese products” or “processed cheese food.” This is because they may contain less than 51% cheese, with the rest being additives like milk, emulsifiers, and food coloring.

On the other hand, pasteurized processed cheese like Velveeta contains at least 51% cheese, allowing it to be legally labeled as “pasteurized processed cheese” according to the FDA.

So, while some types of American cheese are technically cheese, others are not. It all depends on the specific product and its ingredients.

Is American cheese and Cheddar the same?

No, American cheese and Cheddar are not the same.

CriteriaAmerican CheeseCheddar
OriginUnited StatesEngland
Type of CheeseProcessed cheese productNatural cheese
IngredientsBlend of milk, milk fats, whey, whey protein concentrate, emulsifiers, food coloringMilk, bacteria (for lactose conversion), rennet (for curdling)
Production MethodHeated with an emulsifier and poured into molds to solidifyHeating milk, adding bacteria and rennet, cutting curds, pressing into molds, aging
TasteMild, slightly tangyDistinct sharp flavor, varies with aging
TextureSmooth, creamy, melts wellFirm, crumbly, does not melt as smoothly as processed cheeses
UsesGrilled cheese sandwiches, cheeseburgers, other dishes requiring smooth meltingCheese boards, sandwiches, dishes requiring a sharper cheese flavor

Also read: What’s the Difference Between Cheddar and American Cheese?

American Cheese:

American Cheese

This is a processed cheese product that is known for its mild taste and smooth melting properties. It’s often used in dishes like grilled cheese sandwiches and cheeseburgers.

Processed American cheese is made from a blend of milk, milk fats, whey, whey protein concentrate and other dairy ingredients. These are heated with an emulsifier and then poured into molds to solidify.

The result is a product that has a uniform texture and taste.

Cheddar Cheese:


On the other hand, cheddar is a natural cheese that originated in the village of Cheddar in England. It’s known for its distinct sharp flavor, which can vary depending on how long it’s aged.

Cheddar cheese is made by heating milk, adding bacteria to convert lactose into lactic acid, and then adding rennet to curdle the milk.

The curds are then cut, heated, and pressed into molds. The cheese is then aged for several months to several years.

>> Click here to read our in-depth guide on Cheddar

What is White American Cheese?

White American cheese is a variant of American cheese. Like its yellow or orange counterpart, it’s a processed cheese product known for its smooth texture and ability to melt easily.

White American cheese is often used in dishes like mac and cheese, grilled cheese, and cheeseburgers due to its mild flavor and creamy texture when melted.

The difference between White and Yellow American cheese

The difference between White and Yellow American cheese

The main difference between white and yellow American cheese is the color. Yellow or orange American cheese gets its color from added food coloring (usually annatto), while white American cheese does not have any added colorants, hence its pale color.

CriteriaWhite American CheeseYellow American Cheese
IngredientsBlend of milk, milk fats, whey, whey protein concentrate, emulsifiersBlend of milk, milk fats, whey, whey protein concentrate, emulsifiers, food coloring (usually annatto)
ColorWhite or pale yellow, no added colorantsYellow or orange, due to added food coloring

What is American cheese made of? The Ingredients Found in American Cheese

American Cheese is a processed cheese product. It’s made from a blend of cheeses, often Colby and Cheddar, and other ingredients to create a uniform, meltable product. Here are the primary ingredients found in American Cheese:

  1. Cheese: The base of American cheese is typically a mix of two or more types of cheese (like Colby and Cheddar).
  2. Milk: Additional milk or milk fat may be added in the process to adjust the fat content.
  3. Whey: This is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It’s used to alter the texture and taste of the cheese.
  4. Whey Protein Concentrate: This is a byproduct of cheese production. It’s high in protein and is often added to increase the protein content of the cheese.
  5. Emulsifiers: These are added to prevent the oils and liquids from separating, keeping the cheese a consistent, creamy texture.
  6. Salt (Sodium Chloride): Salt enhances flavor and acts as a preservative in cheese. It’s an essential mineral for human health.
  7. Sodium Citrate: This emulsifying salt ensures that the cheese stays creamy when melted. It prevents the cheese from breaking, keeping it glossy and gooey during heating and cooling.
  8. Sodium Phosphate: Another emulsifying salt, sodium phosphate helps maintain the texture of the cheese and is also used as a leavening agent in baking.
  9. Annatto Extract: Derived from the berry of a Central American shrub, annatto extract is used as a natural coloring agent, giving some American cheese its yellow hue.
  10. Sorbic Acid: An organic acid used as a preservative, sorbic acid extends the shelf life of American cheese. It’s typically used in consumer-sized packages.
  11. Vitamin D3: Often added to foods to boost their nutritional profile, Vitamin D3 is essential for bone health. It’s included in American cheese to increase its nutritional value.

Note: the specific ingredients can vary based on the brand and type of American cheese. Always check the product label if you have dietary restrictions or allergies.

How unhealthy is American cheese?

American cheese is often criticized for its nutritional content and artificial ingredients. Here’s why:

  1. High in Sodium: Processed American cheese can be high in sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease when consumed in excess.
  2. High in Fat: American cheese is also high in fat, including saturated fat, which can contribute to weight gain and high cholesterol levels.
  3. Processed Ingredients: American cheese contains additives like emulsifiers and food coloring, which some people prefer to avoid.
  4. Low in Protein: Compared to natural cheeses, American cheese usually has less protein, a key nutrient for muscle building and repair.
  5. Lack of Nutrients: While some brands fortify their product with vitamins and minerals, American cheese generally doesn’t offer the same range of nutrients as unprocessed cheeses.

However, not all American cheese is created equal. Some versions are made from a blend of real cheeses, and these tend to be healthier than the highly processed slices.

In moderation, American cheese can be part of a balanced diet. But it’s always a good idea to check the nutritional information and ingredient list before consuming.

Kraft Singles American Cheese Nutrition Facts

Nutritional ComponentAmount (Per Slice)
Calories From Fat0
Total Fat4g
Saturated Fat2.5g-3.5g
Trans Fat0g
Sodium250-310 mg
Total Sugars0-2g
ProteinApproximately 21.4% of content
Net CarbsLess than 5g
CalciumExcellent Source
Note: the specific nutritional values can vary slightly based on the specific type of Kraft Singles American Cheese product (e.g., regular, 2% milk version, etc.)

Why does American cheese taste so good?

Why does American cheese taste so good?

6 reasons why American cheese is so well-liked:

  1. Melting Quality: American cheese melts easily and evenly, making it perfect for grilled cheese sandwiches, cheeseburgers, and more. It provides a smooth, creamy texture that’s hard to achieve with other types of cheese.
  2. Mild Flavor: American cheese has a mild, slightly salty flavor that pairs well with many other foods. It enhances the taste of dishes without overpowering them.
  3. Versatility: Its mild taste and excellent melting quality make American cheese versatile. It can be used in a variety of recipes, from sandwiches to macaroni and cheese.
  4. Consistency: The consistent texture and flavor of American cheese, due to its processing, ensures every bite is the same.
  5. Affordability: Compared to many specialty or artisanal cheeses, American cheese is relatively inexpensive, making it an accessible choice for many households.
  6. Nostalgia: For many, American cheese is a staple of childhood—grilled cheese sandwiches, cheeseburgers, etc. This nostalgia factor can also contribute to why some people love it.

Which cheese is closest to American cheese? 10 best substitutes

Cheddar CheeseCheddar cheese has a similar texture to American cheese and melts well but with a slightly sharper flavor.
Monterey JackMonterey Jack is mild in flavor like American cheese and melts beautifully, making it perfect for burgers and sandwiches.
Colby CheeseColby cheese is a suitable alternative to American cheese due to its mild taste and semi-soft texture.
Cooper Sharp CheeseCooper Sharp cheese is creamier and melts better than American cheese, making it a good replacement especially for deli dishes.
Provolone CheeseProvolone cheese offers a mild flavor but more depth compared to American cheese, and it’s also a great melter.
Gouda CheeseGouda is a cheese that melts well and has a slightly sweet, nutty flavor, adding a new dimension to dishes.
Muenster CheeseMuenster cheese is smooth and mildly flavored, melting well and making a good substitute for American cheese in grilled cheese sandwiches or mac and cheese.
Swiss CheeseSwiss cheese has a distinctive flavor that can add an interesting twist to your dishes, and it also melts well.
Pepper Jack CheesePepper Jack is similar to Monterey Jack but with a spicy kick. It’s a great alternative if you want to add some heat to your dishes.
Fontina CheeseFontina cheese has a mild, slightly nutty flavor and melts very well, making it a good choice for a variety of dishes.

How do you eat American Cheese? The best pairing guide

How do you eat American Cheese? The best pairing guide

Food that goes well with American Cheese:

BreadWhite bread, Whole wheat bread, Rye bread, Bagels, English muffins
MeatsGround beef (burgers), Bacon, Ham, Turkey, Roast beef
VegetablesTomatoes, Pickles, Lettuce, Onions, Bell peppers
CondimentsKetchup, Mayonnaise, Mustard, Relish, Barbecue sauce
GrainsMacaroni (for mac & cheese), Rice (in casseroles), Quinoa
FruitsApples (grilled cheese and apple sandwich), Pears
SeafoodTuna (in tuna melts), Crab (in crab melts)
Other CheesesSwiss cheese, Cheddar cheese, Provolone cheese (for a multi-cheese blend)
SnacksCrackers, Pretzels, Popcorn (sprinkle on top for cheesy popcorn)

Also read: What Fruit Goes on a Charcuterie Board?

Beverage that goes well with American Cheese:

AlcoholicCraft Beers, Light-bodied red wines, Dry white wines
Non-AlcoholicApple juice, Grape juice, Lemonade
Hot BeveragesLight-roast coffee, Green tea, Chamomile tea
Cold BeveragesIced tea, Lemon iced tea, Fruit smoothies
DairyMilk, Chocolate milk, Buttermilk
Soft DrinksCola, Lemon-lime soda, Root beer

Also read: A Comprehensive Guide to Enjoying Cheese Platter with Wine

The History and Origin of American Cheese

The History and Origin of American Cheese

American cheese, as we know it today, has a rich history that dates back to the early 20th century. Its roots, however, can be traced back to the cheesemaking traditions brought to America by European immigrants.

The original American cheese is Cheddar, brought over by English immigrants. Over time, American cheesemakers began to experiment with this traditional cheese, leading to the creation of what we now know as American cheese.

The birth of processed American cheese can be credited to Canadian-American entrepreneur James Kraft. In 1916, Kraft patented a method for pasteurizing cheddar cheese, which allowed it to be transported over long distances without spoiling. This was a significant breakthrough at a time when refrigeration was not widely available.

Kraft began marketing this new product in the late 1910s, and it quickly became popular. By 1930, processed cheese accounted for over 40% of all cheese consumed in the United States. The term “American cheese” began to refer more to this processed variety than to traditional, unprocessed cheeses.

Throughout the 20th century, American cheese continued to grow in popularity. It became a staple in households across the country, known for its smooth texture, melting properties, and mild flavor. It found its way into classic American dishes like grilled cheese sandwiches, cheeseburgers, and macaroni and cheese.

Today, there are many different variations of American cheese available, from pre-sliced singles to blocks of deli-style cheese. While some varieties are still highly processed, others are made with a higher percentage of real cheese and fewer artificial ingredients.

Despite its popularity, American cheese has been the subject of some controversy. Critics argue that it lacks the depth of flavor and quality of traditional, artisanal cheeses. Some also express concerns about its high levels of sodium and artificial additives. However, its fans argue that its unique properties make it an essential ingredient in many beloved dishes.

In conclusion, American cheese has a complex and fascinating history. From its origins in traditional cheesemaking to its evolution into a modern, processed food product, it has played a significant role in American culinary culture.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does American cheese melt?

American-Cheese meltability

Yes, processed American cheese is known for its excellent melting properties. It melts smoothly and evenly, making it a popular choice for foods like grilled cheese sandwiches, cheeseburgers, and macaroni and cheese. This is due to the emulsifiers and other ingredients added during processing that help it maintain a uniform consistency when heated.

2. Is American cheese real cheese?

The classification of American cheese as “real” cheese can be a topic of debate, largely contingent on one’s definition of “real cheese.” Originally, American cheese was a blend of cheeses, typically Colby and Cheddar.

Today, however, it’s more accurately described as a “processed cheese product,” in line with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines.

For a food product to be officially recognized as cheese, it must contain more than half cheese, which is essentially the pressed curds of milk. Anything less than 51% curds cannot be labeled as cheese.

Processed American cheese starts with real cheese (like Cheddar or Colby), but the manufacturing process introduces additives like emulsifiers and salts, resulting in a homogeneous product that melts smoothly and resists separating when cooked.

While some argue that these additives make American Cheese less of a “real” cheese, others note that they serve practical purposes and that the cheese still contains real cheese as a primary ingredient.

In conclusion, while processed American cheese may not be “real” in the sense of being a traditional, unprocessed cheese, it does contain real cheese and offers a unique flavor and texture that many people enjoy.

3. Does McDonald’s use Cheddar or American cheese?

McDonald’s uses both American cheese and cheddar cheese in their products. The cheese slice used in menu items like the Big Mac® and Cheeseburger is made from a blend of cheeses, with 51% being Cheddar and 9% being other types of cheese.

For their breakfast items, McDonald’s uses a mix of processed American cheese slices and real cheddar cheese. Most of their burgers, like Big Macs and Quarter Pounders, use American cheese, which is a processed cheese made from cheddar cheese, milk, and other ingredients.

So in conclusion, McDonald’s utilizes both Cheddar and American cheese in different products depending on the desired flavor and texture.

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