American cheese and mozzarella are two of the most popular cheeses in the United States. While they share some similarities, there are also significant differences between these two cheese varieties in terms of ingredients, nutrition, flavor, texture, and cooking applications.
This article will analyze the key distinctions between American cheese and mozzarella. We'll explore the history, production methods, types, nutritional values, taste profiles, melting properties, and usage of each cheese. After reading, you'll have a deeper understanding of what sets these cheeses apart and how to utilize them most effectively in recipes.
History and Origins
To begin, let's examine the origins and background of each cheese variety.
The history of American cheese reaches back to the early 1900s. In 1916, James L. Kraft invented a pasteurized processed cheese by blending cheddar cheese with other ingredients to prevent spoilage and improve texture. This allowed for mass production and wider distribution.
Originally called "American Cheddar," this cheese eventually became known as "American cheese." It gained popularity across the country as a staple for burgers, grilled cheese, and other dishes.
Today, American cheese is defined by the FDA as a type of process cheese made by combining real cheese with emulsifiers, milk proteins, whey, and other ingredients. This produces the signature smooth, creamy meltability.
In contrast, mozzarella has its roots in Italian cuisine, with some accounts tracing it back to the 12th century. Traditional mozzarella originated in the Campania region of Italy, where it was made from the milk of Italian Mediterranean buffalo.
Fresh mozzarella, or mozzarella di bufala, is still produced today using this customary technique. The curd is stretched and kneaded by hand into a fresh, soft cheese.
Outside Italy, most mozzarella is now made from cow's milk. However, it is still categorized as a classic pasta filata (stretched curd) cheese pulled into its signature pliable form.
The techniques used to craft American cheese diverge sharply from those used to make mozzarella.
As a processed cheese product, American cheese is manufactured on a large commercial scale using industrial techniques. Production involves:
- Combining one or more real natural cheeses (like cheddar, Colby, or Swiss)
- Mixing in additional ingredients like whey, salt, emulsifiers, milkfat, and gelatin
- Heating and blending the ingredients into a homogenous liquid
- Pouring into molds and cooling to form slices, blocks, or shreds
This high-heat process results in the smooth, spreadable texture that defines American cheese. The added emulsifiers prevent the proteins in the cheese from fully binding together, creating a creamier melt.
In contrast, traditional mozzarella creation follows a highly specialized artisanal process:
- Raw milk from cows or water buffalo is curdled using rennet, forming curds
- The curds are cut up and then mixed and kneaded by hand in hot water
- Through this process of stretching the curds by hand, known as pasta filata, the proteins form long chains that give mozzarella its elasticity
- Finally, the pulled curd is formed into balls or braids by the cheesemaker
This hands-on technique leaves the structure of the cheese more intact compared to American cheese. The proteins remain longer and more connected, resulting in mozzarella's springy, chewy texture.
Types of Cheeses
Beyond basic American and mozzarella cheeses, there are a number of varieties and special formulations of each:
American Cheese Types
- Regular - Made from a blend of cheeses like cheddar, Colby, or Swiss
- Processed Singles - Individually wrapped slices
- Deluxe - Uses higher-quality natural cheese inputs
- Low-fat or fat-free - Reduced fat American cheese products
- Cheese foods - Includes additional dairy proteins, like whey
- Cheese products - Do not meet FDA requirements to be labeled "cheese"
- Fresh - The soft, moist traditional version
- Low-moisture - Aged longer for easier shredding
- Smoked - Cold-smoked for added flavor
- Buffalo milk - From the milk of water buffalo
- Burrata - A pouch of mozzarella filled with cream and curd
Nutritionally speaking, American cheese and mozzarella differ in a few key micronutrients.
American Cheese Nutrition
- Higher in calcium and vitamin D - Important for bone health
- More vitamin A - Supports eye and immune health
- More vitamin B12 - Essential for nerve function and red blood cell formation
- Higher sodium - Important for limiting intake for some people
- More cholesterol - Also important for moderating intake
- Higher in protein - Provides more protein per calorie compared to American cheese
- More vitamin B2 (riboflavin) - Key for metabolism and growth
- More zinc - Supports immune function and wound healing
- Lower in sodium - Making it a better choice for sodium-restricted diets
- Less cholesterol - Beneficial for managing cholesterol levels
So American cheese offers more calcium and vitamins A, B12, and D. Mozzarella provides more protein and vitamins B2 and zinc with less sodium and cholesterol.
When it comes to flavor, American cheese and mozzarella offer very different tasting experiences.
American Cheese Flavor
- Mild and creamy - Smooth, subtly tangy flavor
- Buttery - From the milkfat used in production
- Salty - Due to higher sodium content
- Umami - Savory, brothy notes
American cheese has an overall mild, creamy taste. It provides a backdrop of subtle dairy flavor instead of a pronounced cheesy punch.
- Milky, fresh flavor - Reminiscent of fresh milk
- Slightly sour - With a light acidic tang
- Delicate salty taste - Well-balanced with other flavors
- Savory umami - Full-bodied, meaty flavor
In comparison, mozzarella has a cleaner, fresher taste. It showcases the flavor of the milk, accented by pleasant sourness and savory depth. The taste is more direct and cheese-forward than American cheese.
A major point of distinction between these two cheeses is how they melt.
American Cheese Meltability
- Melts into a smooth, creamy liquid
- Flows easily without clumping or separating
- Creates a cohesive, sauce-like texture
Thanks to its emulsifiers and lower protein content, American cheese becomes extremely fluid and homogenous when melted. This makes it ideal for dips, queso, cheese sauces, or topping burgers.
- Melts into soft, pliable strands
- Maintains some stretchiness and shape when liquid
- Can become stringy or clumpy if overheated
Due to its higher protein content and pasta filata process, melted mozzarella holds its shape better than American cheese. It transitions to a creamy liquid with some retained elasticity. Overcooking can cause the proteins to overbind and clump together.
Uses in Cooking
The different properties of American and mozzarella cheeses make them suited for distinct cooking applications.
American Cheese Uses
- Sandwiches - Grilled cheese, burgers, melts
- Sauces - Queso, cheese dips, fondue, nacho cheese
- Casseroles - Mac and cheese, cheese soufflé, scalloped potatoes
- Snacking - Cheese slices, cheese sticks, cheese balls
American cheese works well in any recipe where you want the cheese to create a smooth, uniform melted texture. Its mild flavor lets other ingredients shine.
- Pizza - Baked or fresh mozzarella melted on top
- Pasta dishes - Layered lasagna, baked ziti, chicken parm
- Salads - Caprese salad, fresh mozzarella with tomatoes
- Snacking - Mozzarella balls, mozzarella sticks
Mozzarella's binding texture makes it ideal for holding together and topping baked Italian dishes. Its fresh tang balances savory flavors.
Key Takeaway: While both essential melted cheeses, American cheese becomes smooth and creamy when melted, while mozzarella retains more structure and shape. This makes American better for uniform dips and sauces, and mozzarella better for toppings that need binding.
Comparative Nutrition Tables
To visualize the nutritional differences, here is a side-by-side comparison of the two cheeses per 100 grams:
As shown, American cheese is higher in calories, cholesterol, sodium, calcium, and vitamins A and B12. Mozzarella provides more protein, less fat, and greater amounts of vitamin B2.
Cheese Texture Comparison
|Cheese||Unmelted Texture||Melted Texture|
|American Cheese||Smooth, slightly rubbery||Completely liquid, creamy, homogeneous|
|Mozzarella||Soft, springy, pliable||Oozy, stringy, binds together|
Looking at texture, unmelted American cheese is smooth and pliable. Melted mozzarella retains more springiness and shape.
Frequently Asked Questions
What's the Difference Between Processed Cheese and Regular Cheese?
Processed cheeses like American cheese go through an additional manufacturing process to emulsify the proteins. This makes the texture creamier and more spreadable. Regular cheeses like mozzarella skip this protein processing, leaving their structure more intact.
Is American Cheese Real Cheese?
Yes, American cheese starts with real natural cheeses like cheddar or Colby. However, it's blended with other ingredients that alter the texture, so it's classified as a "process cheese product."
Is Fresh Mozzarella the Same as Regular Mozzarella?
No, fresh mozzarella specifically refers to the soft, fresh version that is eaten within hours or days of production. Regular mozzarella can refer to lower-moisture aged versions used for shredding and cooking.
Which Melts Better on Pizza: Mozzarella or American?
Mozzarella melts better on pizza since it retains structure when melted. American cheese can become too fluid and greasy. The tangy flavor of fresh mozzarella also complements the tomatoes and dough.
Which Is More Nutritious: American or Mozzarella?
It depends on what you're looking for. American cheese has more calcium and vitamins A, B12, and D. Mozzarella is higher in protein, vitamin B2, and zinc and contains less cholesterol and sodium.
To summarize, American and mozzarella cheeses have distinct differences that impact their flavor, texture, nutrition, and usage. While American cheese dominates melty applications like grilled cheese, mozzarella's binding properties suit it for pizza and lasagna.
Understanding what sets these cheeses apart allows you to utilize them most effectively in your cooking. Both play important roles in cuisines across America and Italy. With this guide's insights, you can shop for, cook with, and enjoy each cheese in its ideal form.