What Is American Cheese If It’s Not American And It’s Not Cheese?

Have you ever wondered what American cheese is? Well it’s name may be more deceiving than you imagined.


American cheese is the go to for many Americans when making burgers, grilled cheese, and sandwiches. It’s become a staple in American society with almost every fast food chain across the country carrying a dish that includes American cheese. However, the name American cheese is purely deceiving, technically American cheese can’t even be considered cheese.

American cheese is made by grinding together old and new cheese, then adding an emulsifier. An emulsifier is an additive that helps immiscible ingredients, like oil and water, combine. Emulsifying salt is used in American cheese to keep the product smooth, so when it is melted the product stays together and has that stringy effect. This process makes it sound like American cheese is just a combination of cheese, but when the emulsifier and preservatives are added the final product is less than or equal to 49 percent of actual cheese. This means that American cheese can not legally be considered cheese. What companies like Kraft, Velveeta, and Horizon are actually selling with their cheese singles is called a pasteurized cheese product.  These products still have to abide by certain rules relating to moisture and fat, but they don’t have to follow the same rules as cheese does.

With a name like American cheese it is an easy assumption to make that this product was created in America. Well, American cheese is incredibly popular in America; the process of pasteurizing cheese was actually invented in Switzerland in 1911. The term American cheese was patented by J.L. Kraft in 1916, after creating a pasteurized cheese product intended to have a longer shelf life then regular cheese while still tasting fresh. American cheese was also incredibly popular during WWI and WWII, it was sent to troops as it was easily transportable and if it melted it could be re-solidified into its original form. Soldiers enjoyed it because it was “a taste of home”.

The accessibility of American cheese, especially in the early 1900’s, helped it to become quickly popular in many homes across the country. American cheese’s accessibility and shelf life are major reasons why it has ascended decades of culinary change. The fact that processed cheese has been coined as American cheese could be seen as a reflection of the eating habits in American society. It is no secret that the majority of people in the US have a poor diet, the CDC says, “Most people in the United States don’t eat a healthy diet and consume too much sodium, saturated fat, and sugar, increasing their risk of chronic diseases.” What a coincidence American cheese is chalked full of saturated fat and sodium.  Now obviously American cheese isn’t the only thing that contributes to the problem of obesity, there are many foods that are just as bad if not worse. American cheese has lasted though, it has been around for over a hundred years and has become ingrained in the eating habits of many Americans. Preservatives have become normalized in people’s diets, and this only perpetuates the terrible eating habits in the US.

So American cheese isn’t cheese and guess what, it isn’t from America either.  It also holds little nutritional value, consisting mainly of processed products.  Maybe if we called it Switzerland pasteurized cheese product people would be more apprehensive about putting it in their bodies.