Cheese is a beloved food for many people. Whether sprinkled on top of pasta, melted on a pizza, or stacked between two slices of bread, cheese is a versatile ingredient we just can't seem to get enough of.
But when it comes to melted cheese versus unmelted, or "normal" cheese, many wonder—is one actually healthier than the other?
The short answer is no. Melted and unmelted cheese are nutritionally the same. But there are some things to consider regarding taste, texture, and how we tend to consume melted cheese that may impact health.
Melting Doesn't Change Nutrition
First and foremost, it's important to understand that the process of melting cheese does not alter its nutritional value. Melted or unmelted, an ounce of cheddar cheese will have the same amounts of:
- Vitamins and minerals like calcium
Heating cheese to its melting point changes its physical structure, but the macro- and micronutrients stay exactly the same.
So if melted mozzarella still provides calcium for strong bones and protein for satiety, what's with the bad rap it sometimes gets? That may have more to do with extra grease and our portion control around melted cheese.
Melted Cheese May Release More Fat
When cheese melts, the proteins and fats break down and become more fluid. This gives melted cheese a smoother, creamier texture. Some people notice melted cheese feels more greasy or fatty when touching their tongue.
This perception likely comes from the releasing of fat from the cheese's internal matrix. Although the overall fat content doesn't change, heating cheese allows more of that fat to pool freely rather than staying trapped within the cheese's structure.
Additionally, foods with higher fat contents are known to provide more flavor when warm. Our taste buds can better detect those fatty, savory flavors at warmer temperatures.
So while melted cheese may taste richer and feel more oily, keep in mind it doesn't actually contain more fat than an equal portion of unmelted cheese. The fat merely becomes more noticeable to our senses when the cheese melts.
Easy to Overeat Melted Cheese
Perhaps the biggest danger of melted cheese actually comes down to portion control. Melted cheese is very appetizing, extremely tasty, and all too easy to overconsume.
Think of ooey, gooey melted cheese flowing over a plate of nachos, binding together a hot baked ziti, or stretchy strands pulling from a perfect grilled cheese sandwich. Melted cheese perfectly complements other ingredients and meals, making it all too tempting to indulge.
And because melting concentrates cheese into a small volume, it's also easier to add multiple servings without realizing it. Two cups of shredded cheddar become just half a cup when melted. So using the melted version can pack in more calories, fat, and sodium without making a dish feel that much heavier.
Pay attention to recommended serving sizes, and be mindful about how much melted cheese gets added to your dishes. This will help keep you from overdoing it on this delicious yet calorically dense food.
Key Takeaway: Melted and unmelted cheese are equally healthy, but melting cheese allows more fat to escape and pool out while concentrating nutrition. This makes melted cheese easier to overeat.
Melted Cheese May Be More Digestible
An interesting point regarding melted versus normal cheese is digestibility. Some evidence suggests heating and melting cheese may actually make it easier on digestion.
Solid cheeses are semi-solid emulsions made up of milk proteins, fats, and water. Heat can make dairy proteins like casein more fragile and breakable. This structural change from solidifying proteins into more flexible peptides could enhance digestibility.
One study specifically compared perceptions of digestibility when people ate aged gouda cheese either melted or unmelted. Most participants felt increased satisfaction, less fullness, less sluggishness, and reduced GI problems after eating the melted cheese.
So while nutrition remains equal, melted cheese may provide an unexpected digestive advantage for some people. This again comes back to structural changes from fat and proteins becoming more available and accessible with heat.
Temperature Impacts Flavor Perception
Taste tests consistently show people preferring melted cheese over unmelted, even when the cheeses originate from the same starting block. Why is this?
Science indicates temperature directly impacts how we perceive flavors. Compounds that produce tastes and aromas Called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) become more active and energetic with heat. Your taste buds and olfactory receptors better pick up on these flavorful VOCs when they're warmed up.
Additionally, the creamy smoothness characteristic of melted cheese seems to register as improved taste and palatability. Food scientists found study participants perceived melted cheese as richer partly due to contrasts in texture.
Don't let melted cheese grow cold before eating it though! Those volatile aromatic compounds dissipate quickly as cheese cools down. Letting melted cheese solidify ruins both the indulgent texture and the heightened flavors that come from enjoying it hot and fresh.
Is Unmelted Cheese Still Tasty?
What about cheese purists who insist no heat should come near their precious cheddar, brie, or gouda? Don't worry, serving cheese cool or at room temperature has advantages too.
While warm cheese often tastes more robust and satisfying initially, room temp cheese tends to offer a more dynamic experience. Subtler flavors emerge over time as enzymes and microbiota within the cheese slowly breakdown proteins and fats during chewing. This showcases the nuances and range of flavors within an artisanal cheese.
Additionally, letting cheese relax to room temp before serving allows more aromatic VOCs to develop compared to straight out of the fridge. For the full sensory experience with cheeses like brie and camembert, let them sit out about two hours before eating. Harder aged cheeses only need an hour or so.
Just note that most raw milk and soft cheeses should not sit at room temp for longer than 4 hours total due to food safety risks. Don't leave perishable dairy out too long unrefrigerated.
Serving Cheese Right Enhances Its Value
At the end of the day, melted or not, cheese remains a valued form of nutrition. Paying attention to a few serving tips can help ensure you safely enjoy cheese at its best.
Serving Melted Cheese
- Add it to hot foods right before eating
- Avoid re-chilling and remelting cheese
- Measure portions and be wary of excess
- Pair with veggies and proteins
Serving Unmelted Cheese
- Let soft cheese sit 1-2 hours before eating
- Hard cheese only needs 30-60 minutes
- Keep safe 4 hour room temp maximum
- Slice off pieces as you go to prevent drying
Cheese is high in calories, sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol, so daily intake should be limited. But its dense nutrition also provides protein, calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin B12. When supporting an overall healthy lifestyle, both melted and unmelted cheese can have a place.
Key Takeaway: While melted cheese may taste more robust when hot, unmelted cheese can offer subtle, complex flavors that evolve while you slowly chew it. Both melted and unmelted cheese have their time and place when served properly.
Does melted cheese have more fat?
No, heating and melting cheese does not generate additional fat overall, even when pools of oil separate out. All that fat was already present within the cheese. Total fat content stays the same from its unmelted form. However, because melting concentrates cheese down, you may consume more fat eating a cup of melted cheese versus a cup of shredded cheese.
Is melted cheese less nutritious?
Melting has no significant impact on cheese nutrition. It contains the same calories, macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals as an equal portion of cheese before melting. The only exceptions would come from charring cheese into oblivion or burning it, which can damage some heat-sensitive vitamins. But regular gentle melting preserves nutrition.
Can I remelt previously melted cheese?
It's generally unsafe to remelt already-melted cheese. The Problem comes from introducing new bacteria when you let that cheese re-solidify. Melted cheeses left out too long at unsafe temperatures can allow pathogenic bacteria an opportunity to grow and multiply. Reheating may not kill those harmful germs off. For food safety, its best to only melt an amount of cheese you plan to fully eat while hot. Don't reheat extras.
Which cheeses melt the best?
Traditional pizza cheeses like mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan, cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack all provide great meltability. They turn smooth, creamy, and lusciously gooey when heated. Hard cheeses like romano don't melt as beautifully. Some specialty cheeses like halloumi or paneer maintain shape and resist melting altogether. In general, semisoft cheeses offer ideal textures for melting cheese.
As it turns out, melted and unmelted cheese are essentially equal.
Heating and melting a cheese may alter its structure, releasing more fat from within, but it doesn't actually change the nutritional content.
An ounce of cheddar melted provides the same protein, calcium, vitamins and so on as an ounce of cheddar served cold.