February 4, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Velveeta

What in the world IS Velveeta exactly? Cheese?

If so, why is it less expensive and "more melty" than cheddar, like all their commercials say?

-- Corey Clark

(location withheld)

Velveeta, which has been "pleasing families since 1928" (at least that's what Kraft says), is processed cheese.

This is different than pure cheese, as it contains added milkfat, water, and some emulsifying agent (in order to mix the fat and water evenly.)

A look at the ingredient list reveals:

Milk, water, milkfat, whey, whey protein concentrate, sodium phosphate, milk protein concentrate, alginate, sodium citrate, apocarotenal (color), enzymes, cheese culture.

In case you're wondering, alginate is a thickener and emulsifier derived from a brown algae (similar to carrageenan.)

Velveeta is very far from achieving "100% cheese" status. It's not even 51% cheese (if that were the case, it could be sold as a "pasteurized prepared cheese food").

Since it is approximately 40% cheese, though, it has to be legally advertised as a "pasteurized prepared cheese product."

Its low cost comes down to the fact that Velveeta is, in essence, "washed down" cheese.

This is also the reason for its unique melting properties. Its chemical makeup is different from traditional cheese, which is why it does not react to heat in quite the same way as, say, a slice of Swiss cheese.

While we're comparing the two, let's take a look at their respective nutrition facts.

One ounce of Swiss cheese contains:

106 calories
8 grams of fat

5 grams of saturated fat (25% of a day's worth)
54 milligrams of sodium (a mere 2% of a day's worth)
8 grams protein
22% of the Daily Value of calcium

One ounce of original Velveeta, meanwhile, adds up to:

80 calories
6 grams of fat
4 grams of saturated fat (20% of a day's worth)
410 milligrams of sodium (17% of a day's worth)

5 grams of protein

15% of the Daily Value of calcium

Velveeta's sodium value is even higher than that of higher-in-sodium cheeses like cheddar (174 mg per ounce) and provolone (245 mg per ounce.)

For what it's worth, Velveeta sales experienced quite a spike in 2008.

Kraft executives also explain that Velveeta sales increase approximately 50 percent on Super Bowl Sunday!

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