American cheese is a form of processed cheese created from cheddar and a combination of similar cheeses.
Its mild, creamy, salty cheese-like flavor offers extended shelf-life and convenience, making it a popular choice.
However, there’s often confusion about whether its ingredients are suitable for vegetarians.
So, is American cheese vegetarian? American cheese is vegetarian when the original cheeses used to make it use non-animal rennet. Keep reading to learn more.
Can Vegetarians Eat American Cheese?
American cheese is essentially made by combining various cheeses, including cheddar, washed curd, granular, and Colby.
Unfortunately, cheddar cheese and many other kinds of cheese are unsuitable for vegetarians as they often include animal rennet in the thickening process.
What Is Animal Rennet?
“Chymosin” or “rennet” is mainly found and extracted from the inner mucosa of the fourth stomach chamber of a young, nursing calf, goat, or lamb.
This organic enzyme only occurs in these animals when their diet is mostly milk.
Rennet extracted from older grass or grain-fed animals contain less or no chymosin.
Rennet curdles milk as part of digestion; hence it is found in the stomach of a diary-consuming young ruminant.
Animal-based rennet is not vegetarian-friendly. However, American cheese can be vegetarian-friendly if used with plant-based or microbial-based rennet. More on this shortly.
Can American Cheese Be Made Without Rennet?
Animal rennet can be considered as the ingredient that makes cheese so amazing.
It’s used to kick off turning a tub of creamy, liquid milk into solid tangy cheese by separating the watery whey from the solid curd.
The absence of rennet means not having the ability to turn curd into Colby, milk into mozzarella, or cream into cream cheese.
Rennet is an integral part of the cheese-making process.
American cheese is made from cheeses that require rennet; however, this doesn’t mean the rennet must be animal-based.
Other rennet alternatives can be used in making cheese, and most cheese in the U.S. is made with at least one of the following types:
Plant-based or vegetable rennet is taken from plants such as nettle, artichokes, and cardoon thistle, as they contain compounds that will curdle milk like traditional rennet.
In most cases, cardoon thistle is used to thicken the milk. This type is often found in Portuguese and Spanish cheese.
This enzyme is made from mold or fungi. It is cheaper than animal rennet, though it can produce an unpredictable, bitter flavor.
This type is more likely to be used in young cheese as the aging process intensifies flavors in the cheese.
Fermentation-produced chymosin (FPC) is a compound now used to make more than 90% of all cheese in the U.S.
This synthesized rennet is produced through fermentation to create chymosin or rennin.
The process involves manipulating the genes of a young ruminant or synthesizing its genes.
Fermentation-produced rennet doesn’t affect the cheese flavor as much as microbial rennet.
Therefore, this type is considered okay by some vegetarians. However, others aren’t okay with the fact that it originates from an animal’s cell.
What Brand of American Cheese Is Vegetarian?
Mass-produced American cheese brands like Kraft Singles, Velveeta, Borden, and others are likely to contain cheese made from animal-based rennet.
However, there are many organic and vegan-based American Cheese brands.
Here are some of the popular types.
Horizon Organic advises that all of its cheeses are 100% vegetarian.
They use organic-approved microbial enzymes instead of rennet in their cheese-making process.
Organic Valley uses plant-based, microbial enzymes to produce most of its cheese products.
Their plant-based and microbial enzymes are created using a controlled fermentation process.
Wholesome Valley Vegan
Wholesome Valley Vegan American cheese not only comprises cheddar made with milk from cows raised in the U.S., but their cheese has no animal rennet, and it’s also free of dyes and artificial coloring.
How to Tell Whether an American Cheese Brand Is Vegetarian
Terms used in labeling can be unclear, and therefore, you won’t know the complete story at times.
For example, the FDA advises that animal, plant, or microbial origin enzymes may be declared as “enzymes.”
However, a more specific description, e.g., animal or vegetable-based, is not required.
To help narrow down your choices, look for the term “vegan” or “vegetarian.”
To avoid GMO or GM brands, check the labeling for “Non-GMO product.”
American cheeses with “100% Organic” or “USDA Organic” on the label are also helpful, although this doesn’t always mean the rennet used isn’t GMO.
A sure way of finding out whether a brand contains animal, plant-based, or GMO rennet is to contact the company and ask.
Also, cheese brands tend to change the ingredients used in their products, so keep checking the label.
For example, an American cheese once produced from vegetarian-friendly rennet cheese might be swapped with an animal rennet cheese the next time you want to purchase it.
Some brands also make their cheese with animal products like vitamin A palmitate, which can be made from fish liver oil.
Is Kraft American Cheese Vegetarian?
Kraft American Cheese is not vegetarian, as it’s made from cheese with rennet sourced from animals.
Is Boar’s Head American Cheese Vegetarian?
Boar’s Head American Cheese is a premium vegetarian product.
Is Subway American Cheese Vegetarian?
Subway states that their Provolone, shredded Monterey cheddar, pepper jack, Parmesan, feta, Mozzarella, cheddar, and Swiss cheese are vegetarian-friendly.
They contain only plant or microbial-derived rennin.
The answer to the question of if American cheese is vegetarian can be slightly complicated as it’s dependent on how the original cheeses used to make it are made.
If the original cheeses are made from traditional animal-based rennet, they’re non-vegetarian.
On the other hand, if the source of the rennet is a plant, microbial, or fermentation production, they are considered the vegetarian option.
More organic and vegan-based American cheese brands are becoming widely available.
As a result, vegetarians can find more options to enjoy American cheese’s cheese-like, creamy convenience.
To know whether an American cheese is vegetarian or not, always read the label.