Touted as the epitome of American processed food, the gooey, yellow-orange tinted gelatinous and squeezable cheese has gotten quite a reputation (both good and bad) throughout the world. I think most of us are aware canned cheese isn't exactly suitable for your next dinner party, but what really makes up this cheesy mystery?

Whey

If you've ever made cheese, you've probably heard of whey. When milk is curdled to make cheese, the liquid product is called whey.  It's much less expensive than just cheese, which may be why it tops the ingredients list. 

Milk Protein Concentrate 

Milk protein concentrate (MPC) is created when milk is filtered and the large molecules are left behind. The large molecules are mostly proteins (40-90%), but can sometimes include animals cells and even bacteria. For a while, MPC was not considered a GRAS (generally regarded as safe) product by the FDA, but as of 2013 it has been approved. 

Canola Oil

Although canola oil may not be the healthiest oil for you (check out all these oils to learn what's the best), canola oil is a common ingredient in many processed foods. In spray cheese, it helps to keep the cheese moist and sprayable. 

Cheddar Cheese

Having heard many rumors about their being no actual cheese in spray cheese, I was honestly slightly surprised to find cheddar cheese on the ingredients list. Although cheese may have made the list, cheese spreads are only required to contain 51% cheese, so a lot of that goo is not the "real cheese" companies claim fills the can. 

Sodium Phosphate

Sodium phosphate is added as an emulsifying agent, meaning it helps the oil not separate from the rest of the mixture. In the medical field, sodium phosphate is often prescribed to help with constipation, but is also used as a urine acidifier and is associated with risk of kidney disease and kidney failure.

Sodium Citrate

Also an emulsifying agent, the sodium citrate helps to keep the spray cheese from becoming clumpy and even less appealing looking. Sodium citrate may cause some tooth erosion in large quantities, so letting easy cheese just sit in your mouth for extended periods is probably not recommended. 

Salt

Like most processed foods, spray cheese is loaded with salt. In fact, compared to normal cheddar cheese, spray cheese contains twice the amount of salt. 

Calcium Phosphate

Calcium phosphate may help spray cheese make the claim that it's a "great source of calcium." Sodium phosphate can inhibit the body's absorption of calcium, so the calcium phosphate may play a role in allowing calcium to be absorbed. Regardless, I still wouldn't recommend replacing your daily calcium pill with a spoon of canned cheese. 

Whey Protein Concentrate

Look familiar? This is the same concentrate that fills the dorm rooms of eager college students trying to make some gains. Even though whey protein concentrate is thought to "augment muscle protein synthesis, I also wouldn't advise changing from a daily protein shake to a canned cheese shake.

Lactic Acid

When bacteria break down sugars, they produce lactic acid. If you've ever taken a biology class, you may also know that your muscles produce lactic acid, which is what makes them sore after working out. In food, lactic acid is used as a food preservative or flavor enhancer. 

Autolyzed Yeast Extract 

Ever heard of MSG, the controversial flavor enhancer thought to cause headaches and weakness in some individuals? Well this is the less expensive version of that. The FDA requires that products with MSG be labeled due to safety concerns. However, even though autolyzed yeast extract contains some MSG, it does not need to be labeled. 

Sodium Alginate 

Sodium alginate is found in the cell walls of brown seaweed. It helps to create a gelatinous texture is foods (is that really what we want for cheese?), but is also a common ingredient in indigestion tablets

Sorbic acid 

Sorbic acid is one of the many ingredients that will allow your canned cheese to stay mold-free for way longer than should be natural. Sorbic acid is another preservative. It's generally considered safe to consume, but straight contact between the skin and sorbic acid can cause irritation (so pro tip don't rub canned cheese all over yourself?).

Annatto extract (color)

Annatto extract is just used for coloring in canned cheese, but in the medical field it's used for treating gonorrhea, inflammation and even vaginal infections. This may be a personal preference, but I don't really want to eat something that could also treat a vaginal infection. 

I admit, I entered this investigation with a bit of a bias. I honestly expected to find that canned cheese secretly included something along the lines of cow hooves and poisonous chemicals. What I realized from my search, however, isn't that the ingredients in canned cheese are super dangerous. Instead, the cheese concoction is just filled with a huge amount of unnatural, processed and completely unfamiliar ingredients.

So, is it dangerous? Probably not (unless you decide to eat excessive amounts of it). Is it healthy or natural? Most definitely a no to that question too.