When it comes to making kid-friendly meals, cheese is often a go-to ingredient. Whether it's a classic grilled cheese sandwich or a cheesy pasta dish, there's no denying that the right cheese can add a comforting element to any dish. But with so many different types of cheese available, it can be hard to know which one to choose.
In this post, we'll take a closer look at two popular cheese varieties: American cheese and cheddar. While they may seem similar, these two cheeses have different flavors, textures, and uses in the kitchen. By the end of this post, you'll better understand which cheese is the best fit for your next meal. So, let's dive in and take a closer look at what sets these two cheeses apart.
American Cheese vs. Cheddar Cheese: What Is the Difference?
The primary difference between American and cheddar cheese is that American cheese is a processed cheese product while cheddar cheese is a natural cheese produced in a variety of ages. American cheese has a smooth texture and melts very well while cheddar cheese is firm and sharper in flavor.
The unique qualities of each cheese make them popular for different uses. For example, American cheese is extremely popular in grilled cheese and burgers thanks to its ability to melt evenly and creamy texture. Meanwhile, cheddar is often served independently as its robust flavor stands out, especially when at advanced ages.
Let's investigate further into what each cheese is and how American and cheddar cheese are different from each other.
What Is American Cheese?
American cheese is a smooth, processed cheese that's most notably sold in individually sliced packages. The cheese is a combination of other cheeses, like cheddar and Colby, and it's popular on top of burgers or in sandwiches.
There are two slightly different origin stories to American cheese. According to an article from AllRecipes.com, the first version of American cheese was actually created in Switzerland by Walter Gerber and Fritz Stettler. In 1911, they melted shredded Emmentaler cheese with sodium citrate to create a melted dairy product.
A few years later, James Kraft invented what we know today as American cheese. He was able to combine various kinds of cheese and melt them together to create a dairy product that wouldn't spoil right away and could be packaged and sold.
American cheese is a processed cheese that has a creamy, slightly salty flavor. It also tastes incredibly mild, due to its processed nature. During the production process, the cheese is heated to a high temperature, which helps to break down the proteins and create a smooth, uniform texture. However, this also alters the cheese's flavor, resulting in a milder taste.
Texture and Appearance
With a soft, smooth texture, American cheese is known for its melt-ability and creaminess. It's also available in different varieties, such as white American cheese and yellow American cheese. The yellow color that we're familiar with comes from a food coloring ingredient known as annatto. Today, American cheese is typically sold in pre-sliced or pre-shredded form, though it was originally sold in a large block that delis would then slice as needed.
How Is American Cheese Made?
American cheese is considered processed cheese because of the added extra ingredients. The cheese begins with milk, whey, and milk and whey proteins. But food coloring, flavoring, emulsifiers, and salt are also added. According to the FDA, as long as 51% of the product is cheese, it's considered a cheese product, enabling most brands of American cheese to be correctly labeled as “cheese.”
The production process for American cheese involves heating the cheese to a high temperature, adding the emulsifiers like sodium citrate or sodium phosphate, and blending it until it becomes a smooth, uniform texture.
Once the cheese product is melted and uniform, it quickly cools and is either individually sliced and packaged or sent in larger blocks to delis and grocery stores.
Best Uses in Cooking
American cheese is incredibly versatile due to its mild flavor and smooth, creamy texture that melts easily. This cheese is most popularly used for burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and any other comfort foods where creamy, melty cheese is desired.
American Cheese vs Cheddar Cheese Nutritional Value
American cheese is lower in calories and fat than some other cheese varieties, but it's also lower in protein and calcium. One slice of American cheese contains around 70 calories, 6 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 2 grams of protein, and 10% of the recommended daily intake of calcium.
Keep in mind, however, that American cheese is more processed than cheddar and includes preservatives and emulsifiers that may not be healthy for everyone.
What Is Cheddar Cheese?
Cheddar cheese originated in England and is a semi-hard cheese that's made from cow's milk. It also has a slightly crumbly texture and sharper flavor than American cheese. This cheese requires aging and its sharp flavor increases as it ages.
Cheddar cheese originates from the town of Cheddar in Somerset, England dating back as far as the 12th century. As the production process was enhanced over time, techniques were developed for controlling the temperature and acidity of the milk to produce consistent and high-quality cheese. Soon after, cheddar cheese was exported to other countries.
Cheddar cheese is now one of the most popular cheeses across the world. Large cheese factories have been created to meet the growing demand and numerous varieties of this sharp, tangy cheese are also produced.
As mentioned, cheddar cheese has a distinct, tangy flavor that becomes sharper and more complex as it ages. Fresher forms of cheddar cheese are milder, with a slight buttery flavor while aged versions become more distinct in flavoring.
Texture and Appearance
Cheddar cheese can range in color from pale yellow to off-white, though some manufacturers add coloring to give it its signature golden hue. Unlike American cheese which is soft and creamy, cheddar is a semi-soft and somewhat crumbly cheese.
How Is Cheddar Cheese Made?
Cheddar cheese begins its production process the same way most cheeses do: By adding rennet to milk in order to create curdles. The curds are then cut into pieces, pressed, and continually flipped to remove as much liquid (or whey) as possible. What's left is dense, dry, and somewhat crumbly cheddar cheese. This process is unique enough that it's been coined cheddaring.
Mild varieties are only aged two to three months. Extra sharp versions are left to age from one to five years.
Best Uses in Cooking
Like American cheese, cheddar cheese is extremely versatile. While it can also be used on sandwiches, burgers, macaroni and cheese, and soups, it's also a popular snack and pairs well with fruits, nuts, and crackers.
It's also important to note that the pre-shredded cheddar cheese typically found in your local grocery store includes cornstarch to prevent clumping. If you're looking for a stronger flavor and a creamier melted version, try shredding a block of cheddar yourself.
While cheddar cheese is a good source of protein, calcium, and other essential nutrients, it's also high in fat and calories. American cheese is actually lower in calories and fat with 1 cup of shredded cheddar coming in at around 400-450 calories and 30-40 grams of fat depending on the brand.
Cheddar has a much higher amount of protein compared to American cheese, however. One cup of shredded cheddar has 20-30 grams while one slice of American cheese only has 2 grams.
Can You Substitute American Cheese with Cheddar?
Yes, you can substitute American cheese with cheddar and vice versa. However, it's important to note that swapping one for the other may change the flavor and texture of your dish.
American cheese, for example, is much milder and creamier than cheddar. It also has a smoother texture that melts quickly and easily. Cheddar, on the other hand, has a stronger, tangier flavor with a slightly crumbly texture.
Should you decide to substitute cheddar for American cheese, be sure to pick a milder version that isn't quite as sharp and tangy as an aged version.
Best Substitutes for American and Cheddar Cheese
In a pinch or looking to try something different? Here are a few other cheeses that will work as substitutes for both American and Cheddar Cheese:
Colby has a similar flavor and texture to cheddar cheese, but it's milder and creamier, making it an excellent substitute for either American or cheddar in most recipes.
Monterey Jack Cheese
This cheese is a semi-soft, mild cheese with a buttery flavor that melts well. It's often used as a substitute for American or cheddar cheese in dishes like quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches.
This cheese has a rich, nutty flavor and a semi-hard texture that makes it a good substitute for cheddar cheese in recipes like macaroni and cheese or cheese sauce. An aged gouda is a great substitute for the tangy crumbliness of an aged cheddar.
Keep in mind that other cheeses like Swiss and provolone can be great substitutes in recipes like burgers and sandwiches. Both of these cheeses have a stronger, more pronounced flavor than American or cheddar, though, so making a swap for one of these cheeses will alter the final flavor of your dish.
American Cheese Recipes
Cheddar Cheese RecipesPrint
2 egg whites, beaten
3/4 cup 2% reduced fat milk
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, shredded
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound lean ground beef (90% lean)
3/4 cup ketchup
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1. In a large bowl, whisk egg whites and milk. Stir in the cheese, oats, onion, carrot and salt.
2. Add the ground beef to mixture, breaking the beef into small pieces while mixing well to combine.
3. Place mixture into a loaf pan coated with cooking spray.
4. In a small bowl, combine the ketchup, brown sugar and mustard. Spread evenly over top of meatloaf.
5. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 50 to 60 minutes or until no longer pink and a meat thermometer reads 160°.
- Serving Size: 1 slice
- Calories: 210
- Sodium: 550mg
- Fat: 9g
- Saturated Fat: 4.5g
- Carbohydrates: 18g
- Fiber: 1g
- Protein: 21g
- Cholesterol: 43mg
- American cheese is lower in calories and fat compared to cheddar cheese, making it a good choice for those who are on a diet.
- Cheddar cheese does have more protein than American cheese, but its higher calorie and fat content negates some of the benefit the extra protein gives.
- American cheese is a processed cheese, while cheddar is a natural cheese. Many people think of American cheese as bad for you because it's processed, but the truth is that American cheese is perfectly safe to consume. As with most foods, moderation is key.
In conclusion, choosing the right cheese can make all the difference in creating delicious, comforting, kid-friendly meals. While American cheese and cheddar cheese may appear similar, they have distinct differences in flavor, texture, and culinary uses. While American cheese has a milder flavor and creamier texture, cheddar cheese has a sharper, more complex flavor and firmer texture.
Ultimately, the choice between which one of these two cheeses to use will come down to personal taste and the specific needs of the recipe. Experimenting with either one can help you find the perfect fit for your next cheesy creation.