The Difference Between White And Orange Cheddar Cheese Explained

The answer is quite simple.

Shopping for cheese can be a pretty intimidating experience once you venture beyond the familiar grocery store brands. And that's not just when it comes to obscure French cheeses. Even good old cheddar comes in all sorts of colors and price points.

Not that any of this has stopped us from buying it. Americans consumed around 37 pounds per capita of cheese in 2017.

While we're hardly qualified to navigate the delicate ins and outs of every type of cheese out there, we can shed some light on a question that's bothered most consumers at some point: what's the difference between white and orange cheddar?

The Simple Answer

The answer is quite simple. Orange cheddar has had color added, while white cheddar does not.

But why?

Josh Windsor of Murray's Cheese told HuffPost that the most common theory for why some cheddar is dyed at all is to give it a consistent look throughout the year. And that all comes back to the cows

When cows graze on fresh grass, beta carotene—the red-orange pigment found naturally in many plants—eventually ends up in the milk.

"The milk itself will still appear white due to the way the butterfat in milk scatters light," Windsor said. "However, if you make butter or cheese from that milk, the resulting product will appear more yellow or orange when the cow had been feeding on more green, leafy pasture."

The milk from cows that haven't been chewing on greens—whether for seasonal reasons or otherwise—lacks beta-carotene. Cheddar made from said milk will therefore lack color.

People also believe orange cheddar is more appetizing than white cheddar, so the added color reflects preferences.

White and Orange Cheddar Cheese
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How Cheesemakers Change the Coloring

According to Windsor, many cheesemakers use annatto, a food coloring derived from the seeds of the achiote tree, to give their cheddar a rich orange hue. The small amounts needed to create an orange color has little effect on the cheese's taste or nutritional value.

So, when selecting cheddar cheese, don't let the color influence your decision. It's purely superficial!

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