Uh, no one pass the queso, please
Why is that cheese pull in your halved bacon egg and cheese so perfect? Because the cheese isn’t real. If you couldn’t already tell from their fluorescent colors, Kraft American cheese and Velveeta aren’t really cheese in the truest sense of the word. A more accurate description would be something like cheese products, or cheese foods—they’re actually mixtures of old cheese bits blended smooth by emulsifiers, then processed to be melty. In a video produced by Tech Insider, research chemist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (and author of The Science of Cheese) Michael Tunick describes that J.L. Kraft was simply trying to get rid of some of his older cheeses, and thought it best to just melt all the unusable pieces together with some other stuff, inventing American cheese singles.
Other cheese manufacturers followed Kraft’s example, and thus American cheese became the standard in essentially every breakfast sandwich and grilled cheese. Tunick notes that it’s completely legal to market these mixtures of old and new cheese as cheese as long as they are labeled "pasteurized processed cheese spread" or "pasteurized processed cheese food." According to Tunick, the cheese products have to follow certain fat and moisture contents and also “sometimes they have to be able to melt at a certain temperature.” Uh, no one pass the queso, please.
The fake cheese ruse goes further. Many packaged brands of grated and shredded parmesan cheese were also recently proven to not only be cut with cellulose—also known as wood pulp—the cheese wasn’t even parm, but finely grated mixtures of white cheddar, Swiss, and mozzarella. Like Kraft Singles and Velveeta, there’s nothing poisonous added to the so-called parmesan, but labeling the cheese as such feels like a morally gray area.
Of course, cheese isn’t the only fake food on the market. The blueberries in your breakfast bar are more likely “blueberry cruchlets,” a blend of sugars, starch, and blue dye #2—and a clever way to scoot around having to include the real fruit.
Even foods labeled properly aren’t immune. Considering that the FDA defines honey as simply “a thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make as food from the nectar of flowers and store in honeycombs,” the sweetener can be cut with corn syrup or sugar. Of course, the FDA says if a manufacturer places additives in honey they must “sufficiently describe the name of the food on the label to distinguish it from simply ‘honey’,” but this doesn’t stop honey-ish products from appearing on your breakfast table.
While manufacturers often maintain the stance that they’ve done no wrong by cutting their products with food-grade additives, there’s clearly something pretty sneaky about making consumers pay for what is essentially only a whisper of what the food claims to be.