Is American Cheese Real Cheese?

Updated: Feb. 23, 2024

Hint: It's not actual cheese!

As the saying goes, there’s nothing more American than a slice of apple pie—or a piece of shiny orange cheese. With a flavor that’s simple enough to complement any burger and an unbreakable consistency for stringy cheese pulls from your grilled cheese sandwich, it’s a classic. But American singles and Velveeta aren’t like cheddar, brie or gouda.

Find out which state officially makes the best cheese.

What Is American Cheese?

Well, as you might have guessed, it’s not actually cheese—at least, not legally. The FDA calls it “pasteurized processed American cheese food.” In order for a food product to be a true “cheese,” it has to be more than half cheese, which is technically pressed curds of milk. So each Kraft American single contains less than 51% curds, which means it doesn’t meet the FDA’s standard.

Is American Cheese Real Cheese?

American cheese is not a total fraud. There is some true cheese in there! That vibrant orange color might clue you into the most common variety, cheddar. Some brands of American cheese also contain Colby, which results in a lighter color. This base cheese is combined with a mixture of whey, milk proteins and emulsifying salts, which makes it different than a traditional cheese. The added ingredients allow a slice to melt without breaking or turning greasy, providing that perfect cheese pull.

According to this video from Science Insider, J.L Kraft, who first patented processed cheese, was looking to get rid of his older cheeses, so he mixed them with his newer cheeses and created Kraft American singles. Even though these products aren’t classified as cheese, the FDA still has rules for them—there are certain moisture and fat limitations in place, and sometimes they have to be able to melt at a particular temperature.

Is Velveeta Real Cheese?

Velveeta isn’t exactly American cheese, but it’s pretty close. Much like the Kraft singles, it’s made up of mixtures of old cheeses, all of which are processed with emulsifiers, which hold it together, and then processed to give it that perfect meltiness. Velveeta’s name, in fact, comes from its velvety texture when melted! Find Velveeta recipes to make when you adore this melty goodness.

Is American Cheese Good for You?

Even though American cheese is far from pure, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad for you. One Kraft single is 60 calories, which isn’t mind-bogglingly high, and the slice has protein and calcium. However, the high amounts of sodium and fat will keep it from landing on a list of healthy foods.

If you’re searching for a lighter alternative to American, skim our list of healthy cheeses.

Regardless of its authenticity, this American fridge staple has been popular since its inception. During World War I and II, Kraft was the first brand to sell individually-sliced cheese slices to the American public. By 1930, over 40% of U.S. cheese was from Kraft, and today, the company makes about 7.2 billion slices of American cheese per year!

Don’t miss our collection of vintage ads for Kraft and other colorful products.

Recipes to Make with American Cheese
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