Lemonade. Crunchy ice. Beat it once. Beat it twice. Turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town. Shake that booty round and round. Freeze. AMERICAN CHEESE. 

Did anyone ever play that game at camp growing up? American cheese was so much more than a lyric in a childhood game. It was the glue that held together our grilled cheese sandwiches and it was featured in almost every packed lunch. But what do we really know about those Kraft singles? They've garnered quite the reputation for not being real cheese like, say, Brie or Gouda. So, what is American cheese, then? Let's find out.

A Brief History of American Cheese

butter, grilled cheese sandwich, honey, cheese, sweet, bread, toast
Christin Urso

Well, what is American cheese but cheddar originally? The Pilgrims used to make cheddar back in Europe, so they decided to do the same once they made their way here on the Mayflower. 

By the 1700s, us Yanks were so proud of our cheese making that we started to export it abroad. The British viewed our cheese as subpar, dubbing it "Yankee Cheese." Okay, King George. But hey, we prevailed, and Jesse Williams established the first American cheese factory in New York in 1851. Our cheese eventually became so common and popular that it came to be known as "yellow cheese." 

Where Does "Kraft" Come in?

We do have a certain Mr. Kraft to thank for the American cheese slices we know and (somewhat) love today. Not Mr. Kraft like the irritating administrator from Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. But Canada-born Robert L. Kraft who patented the method for processing cheese in 1916. This means the cheese becomes a sterilized product made by heating cheddar at 175 degrees for 15 minutes while whisking it continuously, according to The New York Times.

Kraft was the first brand to debut individually sliced and packaged cheese slices for the American public. His slices were immensely popular with soldiers during World Wars I and II. By 1930, over 40 percent of cheese consumed in the US came from Kraft, and even today it remains America's largest producer of American cheese. Kraft apparently makes 7.2 billion slices of American cheese per year!

What Is American Cheese, Ingredients-Wise?

cheesy, macaroni, Mac And Cheese, Macaroni and cheese, rice, meat, vegetable
Julia Gilman

So, is American cheese really made from "inferior cheese?" What is American cheese, after all? To start, it's not a simple health-conscious, whole food made from minimal ingredients.

American cheese has a laundry list of ingredients you're required to decipher: cheddar cheese (listed as including milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes), whey, water, protein concentrate, milk, sodium citrate, calcium phosphate, milkfat, gelatin, salt, sodium phosphate, lactic acid as a preservative, annatto and paprika extract (color), enzymes, Vitamin A palmitate, cheese culture, Vitamin D3.

Basically, vagueness to the extreme, right? Which enzymes? Lactic acid? Gelatin? Protein concentrate? Are these words even easy to understand unless you study nutrition or biology? 

American cheese isn't even considered to be real cheese. It's called a "pasteurized cheese product." While it was originally a blend of different cheeses like Colby and cheddar, now the American cheese we see in the likes of Kraft Singles is not made with at least 51 percent of real cheese. So, it lacks an official cheese designation.

Is American Cheese Bad for You?

cheese, pie, sweet, pastry, cake, meat
Kylie Kinder

Not exactly. One American cheese slice is around 60 calories, which isn't much in the scheme of things. But you only gain a very small amount of protein and a spike in sodium intake. One positive is that while an American cheese slice doesn't provide many vitamins or minerals, you do consume 10 to 20 percent of your daily recommended value of calcium. Strong bones don't build themselves.

Why Is American Cheese the Go-To for Grilled Cheeses?

bread, waffle, cheese
Alex Frank

While I personally like Jarlsberg grilled cheese myself (Devil Wears Prada, anyone?), American cheese is the resounding winner of melty cheeses. Why? Because it refuses to separate when melted, providing for a delectable pool of cheese atop cheeseburgers or when you make a mean grilled cheese sandwich and have cheese oozing out the sides as you slice it in half (diagonally, of course).

So, what is American cheese? In essence, not real cheese. And while now we might be more disenchanted by those slices we'd find at the store that come in that waxy plastic wrap, that doesn't exactly deter me from buying them. They're not an everyday type of cheese, but they're good for some occasions. Especially if I'm in the mood for a really melty, scrumptious grilled cheese.