Kraft has announced that some of their macaroni and cheese line would stop using artificial dyes, bringing attention to the yellow in cheese.
Have you ever wondered why we started dying cheese? I find the history of it fascinating. Like so much of food commerce, dairy products were not immune to deception. Before “low-fat” dairy became popular, cheese made out of whole fat was a sign of quality. But for dairy farmers, that meant not being able to skim the cream to sell separately. When cows eat primarily green growing grass, the butterfat in milk is tinted a natural yellow, or even a orange-ish color, making whole milk cheese yellow in color. Once that cream is skimmed from the milk, cheese made out of it would be plain white, a dead giveaway of lower quality cheese.
So, if you haven’t guessed it already, cheese makers started dying their cheese to try to hide the lack of cream in the cheese. Before the days of artificial dyes, it was still easy to use natural ingredients to dye cheese. Possible ingredients included saffron, marigold, carrot juice, and annatto.
Very similarly, when margarine was introduced during World War II, consumers had a hard time relating it to butter (for obvious reasons!), so dye was included in the bags of margarine, which the consumer worked in themselves after their purchase.
Ironically, because cows are conventionally not given a high green grass diet anymore, we have started to get used to seeing “white butter” and now that yellow color is associated with margarine! Because we buy beautifully yellow grass-fed butter, guests have often asked if the butter on our table was margarine.
And is there a benefit from a naturally yellow grass-fed butter or milk? Considering that the color is caused by beta-carotene, yes! It is a signal that your butter has a higher vitamin content.
No wonder we like yellow cheese!
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