We’ve all heard the old adage: “everything’s better with cheese”. For the most part, I agree with that notion. From burgers to chicken to pasta, most foods really do taste better with cheese on them. That is, of course, unless that cheese is American cheese. American cheese is the scourge of the culinary world, and its exit from modern cuisine cannot come fast enough.
I think that American cheese is awful. It’s an unnatural plasticky cheese that feels more like a toy than something edible. It feels greasy to eat and to touch, and I will actively avoid food that has American cheese as an ingredient. I make grilled cheeses with cheddar, and anybody who makes them with American cheese has immediately lost all of my respect (sorry, not sorry).
To start, American cheese isn’t really cheese. It doesn’t meet the FDA’s minimum curd requirement, meaning that we should really be referring to this sliced abomination as “American pasteurized prepared cheese product.” It’s so heavily processed that it looks more like yellow plastic than actual cheese, and it has an unnatural sheen too that makes it look like it should be a piece of a Lego set instead of a sandwich topping.
American cheese is also highly processed. The most popular brand of American cheese, Kraft singles, may be the worst offender. Their plastic-wrapped individual slices of American cheese are made of an astronomically high 17 ingredients. Meanwhile, Tillamook’s (A popular pre-packaged dairy brand) cheddar cheese has only 4 ingredients (Burpy). I have no idea why those other 13 ingredients were deemed necessary, but they certainly aren’t adding to the quality of the product. Kraft’s cheese product also has hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are terrible for heart health, and one Kraft single has 275 mg of sodium (nearly double that of Tillamook’s cheddar).
American cheese isn’t just bad nutritionally, it has a troubling history too. The FDA once demanded that Kraft stop calling their cheese “food” because it contained milk protein concentrate, which doesn’t fit the legal definition of food. Although milk protein concentrate isn’t in Kraft singles now, ingredients like natamycin are. Natamycin is an antifungal medication used to treat fungal infections around the eye, and although it is considered safe for human consumption, I certainly wouldn’t eat an antifungal drug (Drugbank).
Kraft also faced controversy more recently, in the summer of 2015. They had to recall 36,000 cases of Kraft Singles, because a “thin strip of the individual packaging film may remain adhered to the slice” according to USA Today. I don’t know how their customers could tell the difference between the packaging film and the cheese, they have the same texture and taste. Nevertheless, the company was forced to recall a ton of its products.
Luckily for anyone with taste buds, American cheese is beginning to fade from modern diets. Fast-food chains like Panera bread are swapping American cheese in their grilled cheeses for fontina, cheddar, and smoked gouda. This, no surprise, has led to higher sales according to EatThis. Americans are demanding healthier and more nutritious food, and corporations are starting to take this sliced plastic out of their dishes. Sales of processed cheese products like Kraft Singles declined by 12% in the last decade, and I pray that they keep going down.
It’s not just average consumers who are shunning American cheese either. Vox interviewed multiple food experts, and most of them seemed to hate the synthetic cheese almost as much as I do. These cheese-connoisseurs were quoted saying “There are so many really, really wonderful cheeses out there that aren’t loaded with most of [artificial] ingredients and that have a ton of flavor and melt really, really well.” and “American cheese is crap,” according to Vox. I couldn’t agree with their sentiments more, and I’m so glad the people preparing food every day are starting to change their ingredients.
American cheese is not good. At times, it wasn’t even classified as a food under U.S. law. It’s too salty, too greasy, and too processed. American cheese is a trespasser in the food world, and I’m so glad that it’s slowly being phased out of the American diet.