The untold truth of Cheez Whiz

Amid America's golden age of cheese, there are hundreds of varieties of fine fromages handcrafted by more than 900 artisan and specialty cheesemakers in the US.

Let's be clear: this article is not about those fine artisanal cheeses. No, this is an ode to Cheese Whiz, that gooey substance that is neither fine nor artisanal… nor even actual cheese.

But to criticize Cheese Whiz for its lack of class, craftsmanship, or cheese, would be to miss the point of the product entirely. When Kraft food scientist Edwin Traisman and his team invented Cheese Whiz, they dreamed of creating a food that outdid Kraft Singles in terms of quick and easy eating. No longer would Americans have to laboriously slice or peel off flimsy plastic films or even chew to enjoy cheese — cheese-loving consumers could shovel a spoonful of Cheese Whiz straight from the jar into their mouth!

In celebration of this iconic, cheese-like condiment, let us go back to a time before we became cheese snobs and dive into the untold truth of Cheese Whiz.

Cheez Whiz is not as American as you think

Along with apple pie and air conditioning, Cheez Whiz tends to get pointed to as being quintessentially American. But as it happens, the history of Cheese Whiz might not be as American as we thought.

To set the stage: Cheez Whiz was developed by Canadian-born James L. Kraft following the success of Kraft Singles, the pre-sliced, processed American Cheese packed with enough preservatives to survive the apocalypse. Kraft Singles had been a hit in the US and the company was hoping to expand their market across the pond to the UK.

To attract a British audience, Kraft directed their efforts to making a cheese for a Brit-beloved dish, Welsh rarebit (also called Welsh rabbit). The popular snack consists of a slice of toast covered in melted cheddar cheese. For fans of the Welsh rarebit who were weary of the arduous process of melting the cheese themselves to make the cheesy toast, Edward Traisman and his food scientists developed Cheese Whiz. The pre-melted, mild cheese in a jar was perfect for the dish and won over the hearts of British rarebit lovers after its 1952 debut. It wasn't until a year later that Cheese Whiz made its way to the US.

Once upon a time, Cheez Whiz contained real cheese

Spoiler alert: Today, there is little-to-no real cheese in Cheez Whiz. You may have already guessed this based on its distinctly un-real-cheese-like flavor and the fact that the packaging spells "cheese" with a "z."

But according to Dean Southworth, one of the food scientists at Kraft, Cheez Whiz hadn't always been cheese-free. Southworth, who had been on the team that invented Cheez Whiz, claims that the original recipe had a "nice flavor" and included a reasonable amount of real cheese.

It is unclear exactly when Cheez Whiz lost its cheese. Southworth himself only noticed in 2001, when he happened to take home a jar from his local grocery store. After popping open the bottle and taking a taste, the retired scientist was dismayed to discover a dramatically different flavor than the Cheez Whiz he had born and loved. "Holy God, it tastes like axle grease!" he hollered.

To find out what had gone wrong, Southworth scrutinized the ingredients list on the jar. Of the 27 ingredients named on the label, not one included cheese.

According to what one company spokesman told the National Post, the product does still contain some real cheese… she just wouldn't say how much.

The ingredients and nutritional content may alarm you

So if there is no cheese in Cheez Whiz, what is lurking within the seemingly innocuous glass jar with its twist-off lid? To find out, let's flip it over and read the nutritional content.

On the back of a Cheez Whiz jar, you'll discover a lengthy essay of ingredients: whey, milk, canola oil, maltodextrin, milk protein concentrate, sodium phosphate, contains less than 2% of modified food starch, salt, lactic acid, whey protein concentrate, mustard flour, Worcestershire sauce [vinegar, molasses, corn syrup, water, salt, caramel color, garlic powder, sugar, spices (contains celery), tamarind, natural flavor], sodium alginate, sorbic acid as a preservative, color added, cheese culture, enzymes, natural flavor.

The first listed and thus most prominent ingredient in Cheez Whiz is whey, the liquid that is released from cheese curds during cheesemaking process. Aside from this milk protein byproduct, Cheez Whiz is largely comprised of salt-packed flavorings and a cocktail of chemicals that give it eternal life and a neon yellow color.

A single serving of Cheez Whiz is two tablespoons, and packs in around 80 calories and around eight percent of your daily recommended fat allowance. That's not so terrible, but what is alarming is the amount of sodium in Cheez Whiz: two tiny tablespoons make up nearly 20 percent of your daily recommended sodium intake. And who eats just two tablespoons?

You're probably confusing it with Easy Cheese

In a scene in 1980 comedy classic, Blues Brothers, a old man asks Dan Aykroyd, "Did you get my Cheez Whiz, boy?" Aykroyd's character throws the old man an aerosol-like spray-can the audience is meant to believe is Cheez Whiz.

But as any fan will assure you, Cheez Whiz is not served in a spray can. It's served in a glass jar, confirms Kraft Foods executive Basil Maglaris. Malgaris points out this oversight in the Blue Brothers, noting that you can clearly spot the Nabisco logo on the spray can used in a film.

Despite what Dan Aykroyd would have you believe, Cheez Whiz has never come in an spray can. Easy Cheese, which was also produced by Kraft (although originally manufactured by Nabisco), does come in such a vessel. Kraft Easy Cheese is remarkably similar to Cheese Whiz in terms of ingredients, which include familiar favorites like whey, sodium phosphate, and coloring agents. But Easy Cheese's packaging — a can featuring a gas base and a nozzle — sets it apart from its processed cheese brother. Instead of spooning up your mixture from a glass jar, Easy Cheese can be squirted directly into your cracker, hot dog, or open mouth — in a pretty floral pattern.  

There have been many Cheez Whiz flavors over the years in different markets

What flavor is the original Cheez Whiz, anyway? If former Cheez Whiz food scientist Dean Southworth is to be believed, it's axle grease. Others compare it to a well-seasoned cheddar. Still others describe it as a balance of saltiness softened with tanginess and milkiness.

Whatever your feelings on the taste of the original Cheez Whiz, you may find a preferable flavor among the many other varieties of Cheez Whiz Kraft has put out over the years in different markets. These include:

  • Cheez Whiz Light: Cheese Whiz Light was released in Canada, presumably as a diet-friendly version of its sodium- and fat-laden predecessor. Part of their "light" strategy appears to be reducing the suggested serving size on the label from two tablespoons to one. Tablespoon per tablespoon,the light version does has slightly less fat but slightly more sodium.

  • Cheez Whiz Salsa Con Queso: This Mexican-inspired Cheez Whiz can be hard to hunt down, but could be worth the quest if you're hankering for a gooey cheese-like dip with a kick. Cheez Whiz Salsa Con Queso comes infused with a variety of zesty ingredients, including jalapeno peppers, tomato juice, paprika, dried garlic, and chili peppers.

  • Cheez Whiz Burger Flavor: This peculiar, illusive variety of Cheez Whiz appears to be only available in the Philippines. We've never had the pleasure, but will go out a limb and presume Cheez Whiz Burger Flavor tastes like burger.

Cheez Whiz milkshakes once existed

Every April 1, pranksters around the world pull tricks — like when Google announced users could control their Gmail accounts with their body or the BBC announced that flying penguins had been discovered in Antarctica.

In 2016, national fast-food chain Wayback Burgers unleashed a cheesy April Fool's joke of their own. In a fake press release, the burger joint announced the addition of a new menu item: a Cheeeesy Gold Milkshake made from fresh milk, premium vanilla bean ice cream, and Cheez Whiz. "There's nothing on the planet that can't be enhanced by cheese," President John Eucalitto announced in the release. "As such, we wanted to create a unique milkshake that would melt the hearts of cheese lovers everywhere." Funny joke, right?

But select Wayback Burger locations took the joke a step too far and brought the Cheez Whiz milkshake to life. Participating locations in L.A., Florida, Massachusetts, Michegan, New York, and Connecticut handed out free, 12-ounce Cheeeesy Gold Milkshakes to daring customers on April 1.

You don't HAVE to top a Philly Cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz. But you should

Kraft encourages consumers to slather Cheez Whiz on everything from hot dogs and burgers to broccoli. But the most iconic Cheez Whiz combination of all is undoubtedly the Philly cheesesteak.

Of course, you don't have to choose Cheez Whiz as your cheese steak topping. In fact, the original Philly steak sandwich didn't even have cheese. When cheese first made an appearance on the sandwich in the 1940s, it came in the form of provolone.

It wasn't until Cheese Whiz hit the market in the 1950s that cheesesteak establishments began topping their sandwiches with the gooey substance. Thus, the "Whiz" was born, pushing out other varieties of cheese until the 1970s. Customers reportedly enjoyed the drippiness of Cheese Whiz compared to American and provolone.

Today, your average Philly steak shop offers Cheez Whiz as the default topping, along with American, provolone, or mozzarella alternatives. To order a cheesesteak, you say the quantity, the type of cheese, and whether you want onions.

For example, to order a cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz and onions, you'd say, "One whiz with."

To order a cheesesteak with American without onions, you'd ask for "One American without." 

But when in Philly, we recommend doing as the Philadelphians and President Barack Obama and going for a Whiz.

You can use Cheez Whiz to remove grease from your clothes

As counter-intuitive as it may sound, you can use Cheez Whiz to remove grease and oil stains from your clothing. This is according to Joey Green, who wrote Clean Your Clothes with Cheez Whiz: And Hundreds of Offbeat Uses for Dozens More Brand-Name Products. Apparently, Cheez Whiz contains compounds that fight oil. Specifically, Cheez Whiz is made with trisodium phosphate — also known as trisodium orthophosphate or sodium phosphate — a cleaning agent that is often used as a food additive. Don't worry — the US Food and Drug Administration recognizes the substance as generally safe for human consumption when cooked in food (and when eaten in small amounts).

To harness the magical oil-busting powers of Cheese Whiz, apply a liberal amount of the substance directly onto the stain on your shirt, pants, rug, ect. Let it sit for around seven minutes, then run the clothing item through the washing machine. After a thorough Cheez Whiz treatment and wash, the stubborn grease stain should vanish.

You can also use Cheez Whiz to whip up some pretty tasty dishes

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When life gives you Cheez Whiz, you make a Cheez Whiz frittata.

That's right: Cheez Whiz can do so much more that top a cheesesteak sandwich or brighten up leftovers. Some of our favorite Cheez Whiz-inspired recipes include:

  • Chili cheese dog egg rolls. Put an Asian twist on a game day favorite by wrapping hot dogs in egg roll wrappers and sizzling them in oil until golden-brown. Heat Cheez Whiz with chili to use as dipping sauce.

  • French fries con queso. Top French fries with heated Cheez Whiz. Sprinkle on bacon bits,freshly chopped tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. Add chicken strips if desired. 

  • Cheez Whiz frittata. Press a mixture of hash brown, one egg, and Cheez Whiz into a pie plate. Mix five eggs, fresh spinach, chopped onion, chopped red peppers, salt, and pepper and pour on top before baking in the oven.

  • Stuffed crust pretzel pizza. The Philly pretzel pizza starts as your basic pizza recipe: Cover rolled out pizza dough with marinara sauce and top with mozzarella, but be sure to leave an inch-wide perimeter of dough around the pie. Fill the extra space with Cheez Whiz, then break apart soft pretzels to place atop of the Cheez Whiz perimeter. Wrap excess pizza dough around the pretzels and Cheez Whiz to create a stuffed pizza crust, then bake.

You can make your own tasty, real-cheese, additive-free version at home

After learning the long, tumultus history of Cheez Whiz, you may be slightly squeamish about its chemical ingredients, suspicious lack of cheese, and competence as a powerful degreaser.

Well, you no longer have to decide between leaving your nachos or steak sandwiches bland and toppingless, or consuming plasticky cheese with sketchy chemicals and preservatives. You can churn up your own, homemade real cheese dip with a simple Cheez Whiz copycat recipe.

Start by whisking one teaspoon cornstarch, ¼ teaspoon salt,  ¼ teaspoon onion powder, ¼ teaspoon mustard powder, ¼ teaspoon turmeric, and  ¼ teaspoon granulated sugar in a bowl.

Next, simmer ½ cup whole milk and two ounces of sliced cream cheese over medium heat until completely dissolved. Add in the spice blend and cook until the mixture becomes thick. Finally, turn off the heat and stir in a cup of grated cheddar cheese  until melted.

You can seal your homemade real-Cheese Whiz in a container to be stored in the fridge, and reheat in a pan before serving over fries, nachos, or whatever your cheese-loving heart desires.