Whether you’re melting slices on hamburgers, stacking them on subs, or grilling them into gooey grilled cheese sandwiches, American cheese is an American classic that many people can’t imagine a day without.
Although many of you eat it regularly and are familiar with its specific orange color, I am sure that you don’t know what exactly American cheese is.
I know that the biggest misconception comes when comparing two popular varieties, white and yellow American cheese.
Most cheese fans believe that the only difference lies in their color. Although that is the most obvious visible one, it is simply not true that it is the only difference, because there are many more, not so significant, but important to be aware of.
American Cheese In General And Where White And Yellow Fit In
In order to better understand the topic, let me briefly explain what American cheese really is.
First things first, American cheese is a type of processed cheese made from a blend of milk, milk fats, milk solids, and various additives.
The two most popular varieties of American cheese include white and yellow varieties. There are many similarities between them that make it difficult to distinguish between the two.
The first and most obvious one, both of them come from the US.
Second, they both bear the same official name “pasteurized processed cheese food” and belong to the American cheese group, which is very popular in the food industry.
The next thing is the fact that they are both made from animal milk by the coagulation method.
Finally, both of these cheese varieties are sold in many forms along the lines of wrapped slices, solid blocks, shredded cubes, spread, etc.
As you can see, many of these things are the same for both these cheese varieties, so it is no surprise that many people think that their color is the only thing that separates them.
However, there are many bigger and smaller differences and those will be discussed below.
8 Surprising Differences Between White And Yellow American Cheese
So finally, here are the 8 main differences between white and yellow American cheese that are important to know if you are a cheese fan or often dealing with cheese in the kitchen.
1. Making Process
The first core difference lies in their making process. Although both cheese varieties are made from animal milk by the coagulation method, the manufacturing process is slightly different.
Actually, there are two main differences in the manufacturing process of these two cheese varieties.
The first step in making both types of cheese is adding a coagulant (often calcium) that allows the milk to solidify into curds. However, the process for white and yellow American cheese is slightly different.
Namely, when it comes to white American cheese, curds are made by removing and straining any excess liquid whey.
When it comes to yellow American cheese, rather than straining out and discarding the surplus whey, more liquid is drained out and the draining process is much longer than that of white cheese, resulting in a higher amount of butterfat.
After that, curds of white cheese are heated in a large pot of hot water to prevent any harmful bacteria from developing, and enzymes called brine and rennet are added to cling to the small curds together.
When it comes to yellow American cheese, after the draining process, cheese cultures (a strain of bacteria) are added to create a richer flavor and develop good bacteria in the milk.
Spices and seasonings are also added and this gives the yellow American cheese some extra flavor. Finally, in many cases, a coloring agent called annatto is added to provide cheese with yellow color.
The most apparent difference between the two cheese varieties lies in their different colors – one is white and the other is yellow. But why is that so?
Namely, this is the direct consequence of the different processes used when making the cheese.
The milk in white cheese is briefly processed with citric acid prior to getting drained and curdled, giving the cheese a whiter appearance.
However, white American cheese is not entirely white, but it has a specific yellowish color as well. This is due to the calcium chloride, a coagulant that is responsible for the color.
When it comes to yellow American cheese, it is orange-yellow because the whey has been drained away.
The beta-carotene that comes from the vegetables and grass that cows eat, escapes during processing, giving the food its specific yellow color.
Some extra yellowish color is provided by adding a coloring agent called annatto.
The exact flavor profile depends on the brand of the cheese product, but in general, white cheese usually has a mild and slightly salty flavor, while the yellow variety is more robust, sharper, and slightly tangy in taste.
But what is the exact reason for that? Well, when making yellow American cheese, manufacturers, in addition to standard ingredients, add many extra spices and different cultures of bacteria, making it richer and more complex in flavor.
White cheese, on the other hand, does not contain any extra spices or seasonings, but rather just standard milk ingredients with the addition of salt. That leaves white cheese with a milder taste that is slightly salty.
I also have to emphasize that the lower fat content of white American cheese also contributes to its mildness.
If you are a fan of American cheese, you probably have noticed the difference in texture between the two cheese varieties.
As you already know, white cheese has a lower fat content which makes it drier. It also crumbles more easily and, aside from the fat content, this is the direct consequence of a shorter draining period during the making process.
Yellow American cheese, on the other hand, has a longer draining process and higher fat content as well. This makes it much softer and smoother.
However, it also has a quite stickier texture, which makes spreading slightly more difficult.
So, if you don’t have any butter or oil, but want to spread some American cheese, always use the white variety.
This one tiny difference can be extremely important for some people, but it is still often overlooked.
Namely, one of these two cheese varieties is better than the other if you have an allergy to dairy products.
In this case, it is better to choose the white variety over the yellow.
This is because yellow American cheese may still have traces of milk due to the fact that whey is not removed in the making process.
White American cheese is safe for people with allergies to dairy products due to the absence of milk traces.
6. Nutritional Value
In general, American cheese can not be described as a healthy food product, especially if you eat it too frequently and too much of it.
However, if you consume it in moderation, it shouldn’t do any harm really.
American cheese doesn’t belong to the group of cheeses that have the highest fat content, but it isn’t low either and can range anywhere from 23% to 31%, depending on the type and brand.
But what is the difference between the white and yellow varieties? Well first, white cheese has a lower fat content than yellow American cheese since all the milk whey is removed during the draining process.
Aside from that, it has a lower amount of salt, and the colorings are also not traditionally added to white American cheese.
From all this information and the previously stated fact that people with dairy allergies can consume white American cheese, I can freely say that the white variety takes advantage when it comes to health.
But, if you want to convince yourself, take a look at the table containing nutritional info about both cheese varieties.
White Vs Yellow American Cheese: Table With Nutritional Info
Both of these cheese varieties can be used in many popular American recipes. However, one type of cheese is slightly more suitable for one group of food and vice versa.
White American cheese is one of the favorite cheese varieties among many chefs because it melts quite well and holds its shape even better. Melting it in the microwave is the quickest method.
Because of that, chefs and home cooks use it in some of the most popular American dishes, including lasagna, grilled cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers, and one of the most eaten foods in the world, cheeseburgers.
Another reason that they are suitable for these types of food is the fact that the white cheese variety is milder in flavor, which means it can pair well with carbohydrates.
It is, however, a different story with yellow American cheese since it doesn’t melt so well and it doesn’t hold its shape after melting. Aside from that, it can become quite runny, which is a nightmare for chefs.
Because of that, this cheese variety is more suitable for meats and meat dishes, including steaks, hot dogs, meatloaf, burgers, and other American classics.
8. Popular Brands Of Both Cheese Varieties
Finally, here are some popular brands to look for when buying either white or yellow American cheese.
Are They Interchangeable?
In general, it can be said that white and yellow American cheese are interchangeable. However, it all depends on the exact recipe for which you are using the cheese.
Namely, white American cheese can be a great substitute for the yellow variety in some recipes, including hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches.
On the other hand, it is not a perfect solution to use yellow American cheese as a substitute for the white variety in some recipes like lasagna or pasta dishes due to the more robust flavor and not-so-suitable texture.
So, you have to consider the recipe and, based on that, decide if it is worth substituting.
Interesting Facts About American Cheese
On top of this article, I will provide you with a few less-known and interesting facts about American cheese.
American cheese was first made in the United States in the early 20th century as a way of creating a cheese that was more consistent in texture and flavor than traditional European cheeses.
In public, American cheese has often been criticized for being a “fake” cheese because it does not meet the required amount of cheese, i.e. 51% cheese. However, it is still considered a cheese by the US government.
Because of that, American cheese is not so popular in other parts of the world and is sometimes referred to as “plastic cheese” or “cheese food” in those countries.
One more interesting thing about this cheese is the fact that it was the first cheese to be made into slices, a format that is now popular for many different types of cheese.
Finally, one interesting fact from history is that American cheese was included in the rations of American soldiers during World War II and was nicknamed “government cheese.”