American Cheese vs. Velveeta

American cheese and Velveeta are two of the most iconic processed cheese products in the United States. With their unnaturally bright colors and ultra-smooth textures, they have become staples in American kitchens and restaurants for decades.

American Cheese Vs. Velveeta

But what exactly are these cheese products made of? And how did they become so popular in the first place?

Nutritional Profile: Calories, Fat, and More

When comparing nutrition facts, American cheese and Velveeta are strikingly similar.

Per 100 grams, American cheese contains:

  • 307 calories
  • 8.85g carbohydrates
  • 23.06g fat
  • 16.09g protein

Velveeta, on the other hand, contains:

  • 303 calories
  • 9.8g carbohydrates
  • 22g fat
  • 16.3g protein

So in terms of macronutrients, the two products are nearly identical. The main differences are that American cheese has slightly more calories and fat, while Velveeta has a bit more carbs and protein.

Both cheeses get a majority of their calories from fat. For American cheese, a whopping 68% of calories come from fat. Velveeta is slightly lower at 65% of calories from fat.

When it comes to micronutrients, both cheeses are high in sodium but low in other vitamins and minerals. American cheese has more calcium while Velveeta contains a bit more potassium.

Overall, the nutrition profiles of these two cheese products are remarkably similar. The differences are minor and likely won't impact your nutrition significantly regardless of which you choose.

Ingredients: Emulsifiers, Milk Products, and Cheese Cultures

To understand why American cheese and Velveeta have such peculiar meltability and texture, we need to look at what they're made of.

Both cheeses contain a blend of milk products, emulsifying salts, and some real cheese. However, the exact ingredients vary between brands.

Here are some of the most common ingredients found in American cheese and Velveeta:

  • Milk: Provides protein and calcium.
  • Whey: Leftover liquid from cheesemaking, adds moisture.
  • Milk fat: Provides creaminess.
  • Milk protein concentrate: Adds protein.
  • Emulsifying salts: Prevent separation when melted.
  • Cheese culture: Gives tangy, cheesy flavor.
  • Annatto: Natural plant-based dye gives cheddar orange color.
  • Enzymes: Modifies proteins to change texture.

The key difference is that Velveeta tends to have higher amounts of emulsifiers like disodium phosphate, while American cheese leans more heavily on milk proteins.

These ingredients allow the cheeses to melt smoothly without oil separation. They also contribute to the ultra-soft, velvety texture consumers expect.

History: Invented as a Way to Use Up Cheese Scraps

It may seem hard to believe given their popularity today, but both American cheese and Velveeta were invented as cost-cutting measures during the early 20th century.

American cheese was born out of an effort by J.L. Kraft to consolidate and sell old, unsold cheese. Faced with a surplus of cheddar in the 1910s, Kraft melted together old cheese pieces and mixed them with additional ingredients to create the first "processed" cheese slices.

Velveeta originated in a similar manner, as a way to utilize broken cheese wheels. It was invented in 1918 by Emil Frey, a Swiss immigrant working at the Monroe Cheese Company in New York. Frey melted down cheese wheel fragments and whey, finding that adding whey made the texture velvety smooth.

So while they eventually grew into beloved household names, these quintessentially "American" cheeses were both created by European immigrants seeking to reduce waste in the cheesemaking industry.

Manufacturing: Blending, Melting, Molding

The production processes for American cheese and Velveeta are quite technical, but result in distinct melting properties.

Here's a simple overview:

  1. Blending: Cheaper cheese, milk proteins, emulsifiers, and other ingredients are mixed together.
  2. Melting: The mixture is melted into a hot viscous liquid.
  3. Molding: The melted cheese mass is poured into molds and cooled to form solid blocks.
  4. Slicing/packaging: The cheese blocks are sliced and packaged for retail sale.

The melting phase is critical, as subjecting the cheese blend to high heat allows the ingredients to fully combine into a uniform mass.

Velveeta in particular tends to undergo prolonged melting and mixing to achieve its signature smoothness. More emulsifiers are also added to prevent oil separation when melted.

So while the end products may seem unnatural, extensive processing and precision blending is what gives American cheese and Velveeta their unique functional properties.

Legal Classifications: "Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product"

Given the non-traditional production methods, neither American cheese nor Velveeta can be legally classified as actual "cheese."

According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules, true cheese must be more than 50% cheese curd by weight. American cheese and Velveeta fall short of this threshold due to containing added milk proteins and emulsifiers.

So instead, they are classified as "pasteurized prepared cheese products." This simply means they are cheese-containing products made from pasteurized ingredients.

Some brands of American cheese are labeled as "pasteurized process cheese" which means they contain at least 51% actual cheese. But classic Kraft Singles are pasteurized prepared cheese products, not real cheese.

Melty, Gooey Uses: Best in Hot and Cold Applications

The unique textures of American cheese and Velveeta lend themselves perfectly to certain hot and cold applications.

Here are some of the most popular uses for each cheese:

American cheese:


  • Queso and cheese dips
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Cheese sauces
  • Cheese balls for parties
  • Fondue

The melty, smooth quality makes American cheese ideal for topping burgers and sandwiches. Velveeta is prized for its ability to create thick, creamy sauces that stay liquid even when cooled.

So embrace the meltiness! These processed cheeses may not offer the most authentic flavors, but their functionality can't be beaten.


Is American cheese real cheese?

Technically, American cheese is considered a "pasteurized prepared cheese product" and not real cheese. To legally be called cheese, a product must be more than 50% cheese curds. American cheese also contains milk proteins, whey, and emulsifiers. However, real cheese like cheddar is used as the base ingredient for flavor.

Is Velveeta real cheese?

Like American cheese, Velveeta is classified as a "pasteurized prepared cheese product" and does not meet the technical definition of cheese. It contains less than 50% cheese curds and includes milk proteins, whey, oils and emulsifying agents. These ingredients allow Velveeta to melt smoothly.

What is the difference between American cheese and regular cheddar?

The main difference is that American cheese contains added emulsifiers and milk proteins, which allow it to melt smoothly without separating. Regular cheddar is just made from milk curds and salt, without added emulsifiers. Cheddar will clump and release oils when melted, while American cheese remains uniform.

Why does Velveeta melt so well?

Velveeta melts smoothly thanks to its high content of emulsifiers like disodium phosphate. These emulsifiers bind all the elements together even when heated, preventing the proteins and fats from separating. The cheeses used in Velveeta also undergo a prolonged melting process to achieve a silky texture.

Which melts better, American or Velveeta?

Velveeta melts slightly better than American cheese. It can form a thick, creamy sauce even when added cold and melted down. American cheese works best when already heated and melted over another warm ingredient. However, both melt far better than natural cheeses thanks to their emulsifiers.


American cheese and Velveeta share some key traits - they were both invented to reduce cheese waste, contain added emulsifiers for smooth melting, and fall under the FDA definition of "pasteurized prepared cheese products."

Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀
Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀

I'm a total cheese fanatic! When I'm not busy studying to be a cheesemaker, you can find me scouring local farmers markets and specialty shops for new and exciting cheeses to try. Brie is my all-time fave, but I also love exploring aged goudas, funky blues, and rich creamy camemberts. Looking forward to sharing lots of melty, gooey cheese pics and reviews!