Velveeta is a processed cheese product made by Kraft that has a smooth, creamy texture and melts easily. This makes it a popular choice for dishes like mac and cheese, nachos, dips, and more.
But you may be looking for substitutes for Velveeta for reasons like wanting a more natural ingredient, cutting down on sodium or preservatives, or due to allergy/intolerance concerns.
Fortunately, there are several good alternatives to Velveeta cheese that can mimic its velvety texture and mild flavor in recipes.
What is Velveeta Cheese?
Velveeta is a pasteurized cheese product made from milk, whey protein, and milkfat. It contains less than 51% cheese, so it can’t be legally called cheese and is labeled as a “pasteurized prepared cheese product.”
Velveeta has a smooth, creamy texture thanks to added emulsifiers like sodium phosphate. This allows the cheese to melt smoothly without breaking or becoming lumpy. It also gives it a rich, velvety mouthfeel.
The taste of Velveeta is mild, tangy, and slightly salty. It has a pale yellow color and comes in brick form or pre-sliced. The textures ranges from firm and sliceable when cold to molten and dippable when melted.
Velveeta is shelf-stable until opened and doesn’t require refrigeration. Once opened, it should be refrigerated and used within 3-4 weeks.
This processed cheese product is popular for its meltability and binding properties in dishes like:
- Mac and cheese
- Queso dips
- Casserole recipes
- Grilled cheese sandwiches
- Cheese sauces
However, some people prefer to use substitutes for reasons like wanting more natural ingredients, less sodium/preservatives, or due to dairy sensitivities.
Reasons to Substitute Velveeta
There are a few reasons you may want to use an alternative to Velveeta cheese:
- Reduce sodium intake: Velveeta is high in sodium, with about 480mg per serving. Substituting with regular cheeses can lower the sodium.
- Avoid additives/preservatives: Velveeta contains emulsifiers, stabilizers, and preservatives that more natural cheeses don’t have.
- Prefer “real” cheese: Velveeta is technically a “cheese product” since it contains less than 51% actual cheese. Substituting with cheddar, Monterey Jack, etc. uses real cheese.
- Lactose intolerance/dairy allergy: The milk proteins in Velveeta can cause issues for those with dairy sensitivities. Lactose-free and vegan cheese substitutes are options.
- Kosher or halal diet: Velveeta contains rennet and non-kosher or non-halal ingredients. Substituting with kosher or halal cheeses is important for those following religious dietary laws.
- Vegetarian/vegan diet: Velveeta contains milk and milk-derived ingredients. Switching to soy- or nut-based vegan cheese alternatives can provide similar texture and flavor.
No matter your reason for wanting an alternative, there are several tasty substitutes for Velveeta that can mimic its properties.
Best Substitutes for Velveeta Cheese
1. American Cheese
American cheese is one of the most direct substitutes for Velveeta. Like Velveeta, American cheese is a processed cheese product made with a blend of cheeses, milk, and emulsifiers.
The texture of American cheese is smooth, creamy, and melts easily without separating. The flavor is tangy, salty, and mild like Velveeta. Plus it comes in convenient slices or blocks.
American cheese is typically made with a blend of cheddar and Colby cheeses. It melts a bit thicker than Velveeta but has a very similar gooey texture when heated.
For recipes like queso, mac and cheese, or grilled cheese, swapping in American cheese 1:1 for Velveeta provides nearly identical results in terms of texture and flavor.
Key Takeaway: American cheese mimics the processed texture and mild taste of Velveeta very closely and melts smoothly in recipes.
2. Cheddar Cheese
Natural cheddar cheese is another excellent Velveeta substitute. Young, mild cheddar provides a creamy texture and mellow flavor similar to Velveeta.
Aged, sharp cheddars have a stronger, tangier taste that may overpower some recipes. Mild cheddar has a buttery, delicate flavor that melts easily without being too assertive.
Cheddar doesn’t contain emulsifiers, so it may not melt quite as smoothly as Velveeta. But adding a bit of sodium citrate (an emulsifying salt) helps it melt evenly into a creamy consistency.
Using 1:1 mild cheddar in place of Velveeta in nacho cheese dips, mac and cheese, or panini sandwiches provides a similar cheesy experience with a more natural cheese.
3. Monterey Jack Cheese
Like cheddar, Monterey Jack is a mild, creamy cheese that melts well. It has a pale yellow color and slightly sweet, buttery taste.
Monterey Jack cheese softens easily when heated but doesn’t get quite as silky smooth as Velveeta. Still, it melts nicely into dips, sauces, baked dishes, and grilled sandwiches.
This California Jack cheese has a lower moisture content than Velveeta, so the texture may be a bit firmer. Adding a splash of milk or cream when melting helps mimic Velveeta’s creaminess.
Overall, swapping in Monterey Jack 1:1 for Velveeta provides a melty, mild cheese alternative without artificial additives.
4. Colby Cheese
Colby is another good melting cheese with a flavor profile similar to cheddar but with a softer, smoother texture.
It has a pale yellow hue and a mildly tangy, delicate flavor. When melted, Colby cheese becomes silky and creamy but not quite as liquid-smooth as Velveeta.
Colby Jack cheese offers properties of both Colby and Monterey Jack. This blend nicely replicates Velveeta’s gooey melted texture with added creaminess from the Jack.
Substitute Colby or Colby Jack in a 1:1 ratio for Velveeta in recipes were you want that melted cheese experience without the artificial processed cheese product.
5. Queso Quesadilla Cheese
Many Latin grocery stores carry an authentic queso specifically designed for melting smoothly in Tex-Mex dishes like quesadillas, nachos, etc.
This queso quesadilla cheese is made with a blend of natural cheeses like Oaxaca, Asadero, and Chihuahua. It contains emulsifying salts that allow it to melt into a creamy, scoopable consistency.
The flavor is tangy, salty, and similar to Velveeta. The velvety, liquid-like melted texture makes it an ideal choice for nacho cheese dips and sauces.
Look for queso quesadilla in the Latin American section of your supermarket or at Hispanic markets. Use it 1:1 in place of Velveeta for smooth, creamy melted cheese.
6. Sodium Citrate
Sodium citrate is a salt that acts as an emulsifier, allowing cheeses to melt smoothly without separating into clumps and oil. It’s often used in commercial processed cheeses.
Adding a pinch (about 1/8 tsp per pound of cheese) of sodium citrate powder when melting natural cheeses like cheddar helps them liquefy just like Velveeta.
Simply mix shredded cheese with sodium citrate and heat gently, adding milk or cream until you achieve the desired creamy consistency.
This technique produces a smooth, pourable cheese sauce using real cheese and just a touch of sodium citrate as an emulsifier.
7. Cream Cheese
Cream cheese on its own won’t replicate the texture of Velveeta perfectly, but combining it with other cheeses helps mimic the creamy mouthfeel.
Blending equal parts cream cheese and shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack provides a smooth, rich melted consistency without being as stiff as using 100% natural cheese.
The cream cheese acts as a binder to recreate that velvety cheese product texture. Simply heat the cream cheese/cheese blend gently until soft and creamy.
Adding cream cheese to nacho cheese dips, mac and cheese, and other melted cheese dishes produces a luscious texture closer to Velveeta.
8. Cheese Sauce Mixes
Convenience cheese sauce mixes provide a super quick and easy way to mimic the smooth, creamy properties of Velveeta.
Brands like Cheez Whiz and Ragu make packaged cheese dip mixes. Simply combine the powdered mix with milk or water and heat to create a melted “cheese” sauce.
The end result contains stabilizers and emulsifiers that provide a liquidy, pourable texture nearly identical to melted Velveeta. It’s an easy shortcut for dips, nachos, pasta dishes, etc.
While not made with 100% real cheese, these shelf-stable mixes provide the velvety melted properties of Velveeta in just minutes. Follow package directions for best results replicating that smooth, creamy cheese sauce.
9. Queso Dip
Similar to cheese sauce mixes, pre-made queso dips contain stabilizers and emulsifiers to create a silky, fluid texture when melted.
Many supermarket brands like Tostitos sell prepared queso in jars or tubs designed for melting into dips and sauces.
These contain oils and stabilizers that allow the cheese to liquefy into an ultra-smooth dipping consistency. Simply heat and serve with chips, veggies, or drizzled over Tex-Mex dishes.
Opt for fresh-refrigerated queso over shelf-stable for better flavor. But both mimic Velveeta’s melted texture well in recipes.
10. Vegan Cheese
Those avoiding dairy can get a similar smooth, creamy melted consistency from vegan “cheese” products made from nuts, soy, etc.
Brands like Daiya, Follow Your Heart, and GoVeggie make shreds, slices, and blocks with a texture designed to melt smoothly.
The flavors of vegan cheese have improved but still can’t exactly replicate real dairy cheese. However, they provide the right creamy, gooey texture when melted.
Use vegan mozzarella, cheddar, and cream cheese style shreds in a 1:1 ratio in place of Velveeta in vegan recipes. The end result will have a similar mouthfeel and meltability.
How to Use Velveeta Substitutes
When swapping a Velveeta substitute into recipes, there are some simple tricks to mimic the properties:
- For smooth melting, use young, mild cheeses or add emulsifiers like sodium citrate.
- Combine cream cheese or cheese sauce mixes with real cheese for a richer, creamier texture.
- Melt the cheese gently and slowly, blending in milk or cream to reach the desired consistency.
- For smooth dips, add a cornstarch slurry to help thicken and emulsify the cheese.
- Allow extra time for harder cheeses to soften fully when melting to prevent clumping.
- Shred or dice cheeses into small pieces for faster, more even melting.
- For nachos and dips, look for queso cheese specifically formulated to liquefy smoothly.
With some easy tweaks, you can craft smooth, velvety cheese sauces, dips, bakes, sandwiches, and more using natural Velveeta alternatives.
Does Velveeta cheese actually contain cheese?
Yes, Velveeta does contain some real cheese, but not as the main ingredient. It's made with around 20-30% real cheese (like cheddar, colby, etc.) combined with milk proteins, fats, emulsifiers, and preservatives. So while it does have some cheese, it's considered a "pasteurized prepared cheese product."
What can I use instead of Velveeta in mac and cheese?
For mac and cheese, mild cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Colby cheese shredded finely provides a smooth, creamy melting texture similar to Velveeta. For extra creaminess, add a bit of cream cheese or evaporated milk to the cheese sauce.
Is Velveeta considered real cheese?
No, Velveeta is technically not a real cheese since it contains less than 51% actual cheese. It's classified as a "pasteurized prepared cheese product." Real cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack, etc. that are made from milk fermented with cultures and rennet can fully melt and substitute for Velveeta.
Why is Velveeta cheese so creamy when melted?
Velveeta contains emulsifiers like sodium phosphate and sodium citrate that prevent the proteins in the cheese from clumping together when melted. This allows the melted cheese to become super smooth and creamy without separating. Natural cheeses achieve a similar creamy melted texture when a small amount of emulsifying salts are added.
Is Velveeta healthier than real cheese?
No, natural cheeses like cheddar, Monterey Jack, etc. are generally healthier than Velveeta. They contain less sodium, preservatives, and thickeners compared to processed Velveeta. However, real cheeses are higher in saturated fat and cholesterol than Velveeta.
Velveeta may be the ideal choice for achieving a creamy, melty cheese texture in cooking applications. But for those wanting to avoid processed cheese products, there are several natural substitutes that can mimic its properties.
The key is to choose mild, buttery cheeses that melt smoothly like young cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Colby. Blending in cream cheese or cheese sauce mixes boosts the luscious texture. And adding a touch of sodium citrate emulsifies real cheeses for dippable perfection.