White American Cheese vs Yellow:  What’s the Difference?

Published Categorized as Journal

If you’ve ever stood at the deli counter wondering whether you should order white American cheese or yellow American cheese or if it really would make any difference, you’re not alone.  So, are there any differences between white American cheese and yellow American cheese?  Believe it or not, there are some key differences beyond just the color.  Continue reading, and I’ll help you understand the important white American cheese vs yellow American cheese differences.

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cheeses on a platter

White American Cheese vs Yellow American Cheese

There are so many different foods that may seem similar at first glance: olive oil vs butter, Kalamata olives vs black olives, baking chocolate vs dark chocolate, and so on. White American cheese vs yellow American cheese falls under this category too.

Before we start looking at the differences between white and yellow American cheese, let’s take just a moment to discuss the important characteristics of each type of cheese and how it is produced.

What is white American cheese?

What is white American cheese made of?  When making white American cheese, you need to add calcium, or another coagulant.  The addition of the coagulant causes the milk to form curds, which are lumpy.  The liquid whey is also take out of the mixture to help form the curds.  Once formed, the liquid from the mix is strained.

After being strained, an acid called brine is used to prevent the cheese curds from getting stuck to one another.  Then, the curds go in a hot-water bath to heat them up.  This process ensures that bacteria doesn’t grow on the cheese.  Finally, a mix of enzymes, called rennet, is mixed in with the cheese, and it is left to cool.

what is white american cheese

What makes white American cheese white?

Understanding how white American cheese is made may seem a bit complicated.  But, what exactly makes the cheese white?

The white color is the result of the citric acid that treats the milk for making white American cheese.  Additionally, the calcium chloride (the coagulant mentioned above) can also impact the color of the cheese, making it look white.

What is yellow American cheese?

Now, let’s look at the process for making yellow American cheese.  There are a few similarities to the process used to make white American cheese, but if you read closely, you should be able to identify a few key differences as well.

During the process of making yellow American cheese, a coagulant is added to the milk.  After this, rather than removing the excess whey, the excess liquid is drained from the curds.  

Another key difference between how white and American cheese are made has to do with the milk.  When making yellow American cheese, the milk has been drained longer.  This means that more butterfat is left for the cheese.

What makes yellow American cheese yellow?

Why is American cheese yellow?  The whey that is left in the cheese has beta-carotene from the vegetables and grass that are fed to the cow.  The yellow color is the result of the beta-carotene draining out of the whey during the production process.

White American Cheese vs Yellow American Cheese: Key Differences

Now that we know a little more about how white and yellow American cheeses are made, let’s take a look at the key differences between each of these cheese types.

Color

Clearly, white and yellow American cheese are different colors.  As we shared above, the color is the result of the production process.  White American cheese is white because of the citric acid that is used to treat the milk, and yellow American cheese is yellow due to the beta-carotene that drains out of the whey.

Texture

If you’ve ever tried white and yellow American cheese, you may have noticed that they have a different texture. 

Yellow American cheese is quite smooth and soft.  This characteristic is the result of the longer draining time and higher fat content used when making yellow American cheese.  The softer texture, however, can make it more difficult to spread yellow American cheese onto foods.

Conversely, white American cheese is crumblier and drier than yellow American cheese.  With the shorter draining time, white American cheese does not have as much fat as yellow American cheese, which is why it isn’t as smooth and soft.  The more crumbly texture of white American cheese does lend itself better to spreading on crackers without adding oil or butter.

Taste

Many assume that white and yellow American cheese taste the same.  However, in reality, they each have a distinct flavor.  Again, the difference in the manufacturing process is the reason behind the unique taste of each cheese.  

The taste of white American cheese is generally a bit more mild than that of yellow American cheese.  White American cheese can also taste a bit salty.

Conversely, yellow American cheese has a much stronger and tangier flavor.  It can also taste richer, due to its higher fat content.  Manufacturers also add some seasonings or other ingredients to yellow American cheese, while no additional spices are go into white American cheese.

grilled cheese with yellow american cheese

Nutrition

Overall, the nutritional facts for both white and yellow American cheese are comparable.  They each have a relatively high number of calories per slice (around 100), with around 30% of the calories coming from fat.

However, a key difference between the two cheeses is that yellow American cheese has a higher fat content.  Remember, when making yellow American cheese, the curds drain for a longer amount of time.  This results in the cheese having a higher percentage of fat.

Allergies

A very interesting difference (and one that you probably wouldn’t guess) between the two cheeses is that those who are allergic to dairy foods can eat white American cheese, but shouldn’t eat yellow American cheese.  This is because yellow American cheese may still have traces of milk, while white American cheese won’t.

Uses

The different characteristics of white vs yellow American cheese mean that each type of cheese is best for different applications.

For example, white American cheese can maintain its shape pretty well when melted, making it a good choice for many dishes.  White American cheese is more spreadable, and can top bread or crackers.  It is also a top choice when making grilled cheese, lasagna, or topping a cheeseburger.

Yellow American cheese can become runny if melted.  It does not maintain its shape well at all.  However, it does still work quite well to melt over a hamburger or hot dog, add cold to a sandwich, or break-up over a salad.

White American Cheese vs Yellow American Cheese: Which to Choose

So, is white American cheese or yellow American cheese right for you? 

Honestly, the answer is that it can depend.  You’ll need to think about all the characteristics of each type of cheese that we shared above to help you make a decision.

Additionally, consider the way you plan to use the American cheese that you purchase.  For example, if you’re looking to make cheeseburgers, yellow American cheese could be a fine pick, while if you want a spreadable cheese for an appetizer, you will be better off going with white American cheese.

If you can’t decide, don’t!  There is nothing saying you can’t buy some white American cheese and yellow American cheese to try out.  Experiment with different recipes and applications to determine which cheese you like best overall, or which works best for different dishes.

FAQs

Is yellow American cheese dyed?

No, while some individuals believe that yellow American cheese is dyed, the yellow color is not caused by a dye.  Rather, it is the result of the beta-carotene that is present in the whey that remains when the cheese is made.

Is white American cheese real cheese?

White American cheese is cheese, but it is classified as pasteurized processed American cheese food.  “Real” cheese must contain at least 50% cheese, and American cheese doesn’t quite meet this threshold.  However, there is really cheese inside American cheese, just not enough to reach 50%

Why is American cheese orange?

American cheese gets its orangish/yellowish color from the beta-carotene that is in the whey protein.  When cows eat vegetables and grass, they are consuming beta-carotene, a pigment that gives color to various vegetables.  During the production process of the American cheese, this pigment drains out of the whey and turns the cheese the yellow/orange color you see.

White American Cheese vs Yellow: Wrap Up

Color isn’t the only difference between white and yellow American cheese.  The differences in the steps to make each type of cheese causes not only the differences in color, but also the differences in nutrition, taste, and ideal uses. 

Which do you prefer?  White American cheese or yellow?  What is your favorite way to use it?

Published
Categorized as Journal

By Anna

Hey, I’m Anna; writer, editor and amateur cook extraordinaire! Food has been my life and my passion for the most of my life – it’s crazy to think I didn’t pursue a career in cooking. I’m obsessed! However, keeping cooking as an obsessive hobby has worked for me – my passion grows as the years pass by – maybe I wouldn’t say the same if it was also my day job! I hope you find cooking inspiration, entertainment and “stop and think interesting tid-bits” throughout my writing – and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got anything you want to share. Food feeds the soul – so get eating!

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