What is Imitation Cheese?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Sometimes referred to as analog cheese, imitation cheese is one of the many varieties of processed cheese that is found on the market today. Characterized by a long shelf life and a relatively inexpensive cost, it is used in many homes around the world. It is primarily made of vegetable oil.

Imitation cheese may be featured with a cheese sauce over broccoli.
Imitation cheese may be featured with a cheese sauce over broccoli.

Imitation cheese is often thought to be the same as substitute cheese, but actually, there is a difference between the two. Substitute cheese is usually still made with a low content of milk solids. Imitation, by contrast, relies on a combination of vegetable oil and casein, a protein found in milk, that is used instead of milk solids. While the taste of the two types of cheese products is very similar, there is often a slight difference in texture, with imitation cheese being slightly less supple.

Imitation cheese may be served on hamburgers.
Imitation cheese may be served on hamburgers.

This product tends to lack the same level of nutrition that is found with real cheese or even with substitute cheese. The main advantages of imitation cheese have to do with the price and the shelf life. The low cost of the ingredients help to make the finished product very affordable. Also, the lack of dairy products other than casein in the cheese also helps the product to last a very long time.

Imitation cheese may be used to make a creamy cheese sauce for pasta dishes.
Imitation cheese may be used to make a creamy cheese sauce for pasta dishes.

While the nutritional value of imitation cheese may be low, the flavor is often very acceptable, especially when used as part of a recipe. For instance, a cheese sauce made with it works very well over broccoli or other steamed vegetables. A slice also works very well on a grilled hamburger patty. Pasta dishes can benefit from a creamy cheese sauce made using imitation cheese as well.

Imitation cheese can be purchased in just about any supermarket. Typically, it will be offered as slices that are appropriate for use on sandwiches or burgers. In some instances, bags of grated imitation cheese are also available, making the cheese ready for use in salads, tacos, or as a cheesy topping to a casserole. Quick and easy to store, it helps to fill a niche in the food market. When the budget is a little tight and there is still a desire to have the look and taste of cheese as part of the meal, this product may be the ideal solution.

Imitation cheese may be used in tacos.
Imitation cheese may be used in tacos.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


Imitation cheese doesn't melt, so how can it work well when making cheese sauce? No matter the temp you set the burner or oven at, it doesn't melt.


Imitation is crap and if you think you can use it on a burger patty, think again. Stuff slides right off and will not melt! As most others I bought it by mistake which is how I think most of this is sold.


Yes I'm real careful nowadays when I buy frozen pizza to make sure its real cheese. Some of the cheaper brands use the fake stuff, and it's not for me at all.


Imitation cheese is not processed cheese. It's not any kind of cheese at all. There is a great deal of confusion on this subject. There are things called imitation cheese that are made of vegetable oil, yes. And products like Kraft Singles are technically not cheese, because they don't contain enough cheese to legally qualify as cheese. But don't confuse the two products; they are nothing alike except for shape and color. The other ingredients in Kraft Singles is mostly milk. They don't contain vegetable oil.

But don't take my word for it. Next time you're in the grocery, look at the ingredients on the individually wrapped cheese slices. Take a look at the cheapest slices in the section. If they have imitation cheese, it will typically be about half the price of the next cheapest. Look at the ingredients, if they carry them, and you'll see the top two ingredients will be water and vegetable oil.

Here are the ingredients for one brand of imitation cheese: Water, palm oil, corn starch, gelatin, and/or casein, whey, modified potato starch, sodium citrate, salt, carrageenan, kasal, lactic acid, natural and artificial flavoring, sorbic acid as a preservative, citric acid, annatto and oleoresin paprika color.

Now take a look at Kraft Singles ingredients: Milk, whey, milk protein concentrate, milkfat, sodium citrate, contains less than 2% of calcium phosphate, whey protein concentrate, salt, lactic acid, sorbic acid as a preservative, cheese culture, annatto and paprika extract (color), enzymes, vitamin d3.

You don't have to like Kraft Singles. But while they are technically not cheese, they aren't imitation cheese, and aren't made from vegetable oil. If it is labelled as processed cheese or a processed cheese food, it's not made from vegetable oil.


American cheese is crap. Just another point: I used to buy "Old" cheese, figuring the reason it was more expensive was because it was aged naturally. Turns out "Old" is just a flavor like "Mild" or "Medium". If you want real cheese, it has to say "Aged X years". You can't age the fake stuff because plasticized vegetable oil doesn't change over time.


I hate it when pizzerias use imitation cheese because it's disgusting leftover, regardless of if you eat it cold or reheat it. The cheese "plasticizes" after it cools back down, and even if you reheat it, it turns into a greasy, soggy mess and doesn't even taste the same. Most pizza places use processed cheese, which is completely different from imitation.

A local pizza place makes incredibly delicious pizza because of having awesome sauce, crust, and seasoning, but is terrible the next day purely because the cheese just ruins it.


Casein is the same milk protein that ends up in natural cheese so it doesn't seem strange to me that it would go into an imitation cheese. The difference between imitation and substitute cheese is that imitation cheese does not have to be nutritionally equivalent. The definition in the article is not quite accurate. There are imitation cheeses that don't use casein at all but rely on starches and gums to hold them together. The soybean oil is typically partially hydrogenated, but it wouldn't have to be.

Palm oil or coconut oil could be used to avoid the trans fat issue. The reason these cheeses taste so bad is (1) the dry casein starts to develop off-flavors over time, (2) there's no natural flavor development as what occurs with natural cheese - no bacteria or enzymes to break down the proteins and so on. The cheese flavors added are not very good substitutes for the real thing. And (3) milk fat has a better flavor than vegetable oil.

A great many of the cheaper frozen pizzas use imitation mozzarella combined with real mozzarella to keep the costs at a minimum although it's still expensive. Much of the casein comes from Ireland and is cheap enough because of the subsidies that the country offers so that it becomes cost effective to divert some of the milk to casein production.


Imitation cheese = Hydrogenated vegetable oil to clog the arteries.


I bought some imitation shredded mozzarella, not realizing it wasn't real mozzarella cheese. I took one bite of it and spit it right back out. It is nasty!


I ate imitation cheese before, when my grandma used to buy it. It's gross and you can actually taste it's fake.


Monterrey Jack tastes just awful. It's like a squidgy sticky fart of a slug of a plastic cheese. An unfinished product produced too quickly. Still maybe, that's just what they stock in the supermarkets. There might be some good stuff out there somewhere. So I can't work out whether its the cheese or the process which makes for this apology of a cheese. But let's be honest: how many of us are going to pay for delivery from the internet for what we'd use in a week of a mature cheese. (Saying that though, mature cheese does freeze pretty well, so you can buy a big bit when its on offer and portion it up into week's worth blocks. Defrost in the fridge when wanted).

If you want real cheese, go for Cheddar. A little goes a long way. Even the milder flavored ones have 30 times more flavor oomph than Jack. Or Wednesleydale (a crumbly sort of cheese) which also has great depth of flavor. If you can get some Branston pickle to go with them, its makes for a rewarding sandwich for work. You'll feel you've had a proper lunch rather than an abuse of your physiology (eg as from jack slug cheese).

In general, the easy way to shop for a well flavored cheese is by squidging them. If they deform too easily they'll be nasty (unless its mozzarella or mild goat's cheese). Also better cheeses are less sticky as more of the water has been driven out, lending more flavor per ounce.

P.S. I don't work for hate jack cheese society, but maybe I should start one.

P.P.S. Isn't Crisco supposed to knacker your arteries really badly due to its hydrogenated vegetable oil nature? Apparently it encourages the growth and multiplication of fat cells, to the point that eating it for two weeks as part of an everyday diet, makes you more likely to become obese for the rest of your life. Jeez, I don't want that crap floating around inside me. Hydrogenated vegetable oils are banned in some countries, aren't they? I threw my stuff in the trash can when I found that out.


it's cheap and it actually tastes better than american cheese slices. if you are broke, go for the imitation cheese. it's just vegetable oil. it's not like fake synthetic ingredients; it's just oil.

But if you are looking for nutrition go for the american cheese slices. (F.Y.I. same thing with corn syrup and sugar. There is nothing wrong with corn syrup).


Tastes fine to me and at 99 cents a pack it's a bargain.


I bought a dozen packages of this shredded imitation stuff thinking it was real cheese because the packaging didn't state it was imitation. The stuff wouldn't melt no matter what i did! Maybe it could be used as fire retardant!


I mistakenly bought some of this stuff at my local grocery store. I thought it was real cheese. Gross!


imitation cheese is not for me.


Casein and vegetable oil, eh? In other words, glue and Crisco passing itself off as cheese.

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