Nearly every refrigerator in America has some American cheese in it, be it Kraft Singles, Velveeta, Cheez Whiz, or some other rubbery yellow food product that melts really well. But as we all know, American cheese isn’t exactly cheese in the purest sense of the term, like a good fontina or Camembert. So… what is it, exactly?[related]
Let’s use Kraft Singles as an example. It actually can’t be called “cheese” according to government standards, so instead it’s called “Pasteurized Process Cheese Food,” meaning (among other things) that it must have a fat content of no less than 23 percent, a moisture content of no more than 44 percent, and an actual cheese content of 51 percent. So this means that more than half of Kraft Singles is in fact real cheese.
So what are the ingredients in Kraft Singles? Let’s break it down one by one:
Milk is… milk.
Whey is the liquid that’s left over after butter-churning or milk-making; it’s very high in protein
A bacterial culture that’s added to all cheese during the first stages of the cheesemaking process.
Another necessary ingredient in all cheesemaking, enzymes like rennet cause the milk to coagulate.
All of the above are the essential ingredients used to make real cheese. Here's what else is added:
The fat in milk. Butter, basically.
This is the calcium that’s found in dairy, the stuff that does a body good.
This is an emulsifier that holds the cheese together; it’s also used in everything from sausage to ice cream.
Another emulsifier; it’s also used as a leavening agent in some baked goods.
A naturally-occurring preservative.
A natural yellow-orange food coloring.
Added as a nutritional supplement.
So yes, American cheese has a couple additional ingredients to help it congeal nicely and melt in that perfectly melty way, but in reality, it’s not too different from plain old cheese.