Why Is Cheese Yellow? The Answer May Surprise You!

If you are a big cheese fan like us, you may wonder why cheese made from white milk turns out to be yellow? On the supermarket’s shelves, you can encounter white cottage cheese or feta; however, most types of cheese are yellow. Notable yellow cheeses include Cheddar, Edam, American Cheese, and Colby. In this article, we will tell you what makes the cheese yellow.

Why is cheese yellow? Naturally, milk contains beta-carotene, a fat-soluble pigment that cows get from eating grass that colors the cheese light yellow. To avoid variations of the color due to the cows’ diet, producers tint cheese with annatto, a vegetable dye that ensures the golden color of the cheese.

Cheese Dyeing Process

Cheesemaking is a complex process consisting of the following stages: milk acidification, coagulation, curdling, followed by cheese salting, shaping, and aging. Dyeing or coloring of the cheese takes place after the milk has already been prepared and acidified but before the start of the curdling process.

Usually, to color the milk, mass producers use annatto (orange-red food coloring made from the seeds of the achiote tree) in the form of the annatto extract. During this process, annatto seeds are heated, ground into powder, and then mixed with water. Heat treatment converts the annatto’s pigment bixin, which is not water-soluble, into norbixin which is. It ensures that annatto’s extract can be added directly to the milk. Annatto is always added to the milk, which is still in liquid form before it solidifies.

The exact proportions of the annatto added to milk vary from one type of cheese to the other and from one producer to another. Depending on the amount of the added dye, cheese color results can range from ivory-like Gouda to dark-orange, like dark Cheddar.

How is cheese dyed? Since the 19th century, annatto dyeing has become a standard procedure to make sure cheese has a stable yellow color. Seeds of the achiote tree are ground into a red powder and added to the cheese substance. Annatto coloring does not noticeably affect the texture and flavor of the yellow cheese.

Why is cheese dyed yellow? The yellow color of the cheese is a natural color resulting from milk rich in beta-carotene. However, nowadays, milk from confined cows contains much less beta-carotene, so producers use dye to boost the yellow coloring, giving the cheese that beautiful classic golden look.

What Is the Difference Between White and Yellow Cheese?

At first sight, yellow and white cheese differ in color but do they differ in taste or flavor? Is white cheese healthier than yellow cheese since it is not colored with an annatto condiment?

Annatto has been used as a food condiment and coloring for over two centuries, and it has been concluded that annatto does not affect the flavor of the cheese. During different seasons, the milk varies in color because of the level of beta-carotene, so manufacturers dye their cheese with annatto to ensure a more uniform yellow color that has become the industry standard. Some producers also add paprika, which leads to a deeper yellow-orange color.

Since annatto has a nutty, sweet peppery taste, and paprika is also a spice rich in taste, they are used in very small amounts. Therefore, neither annatto nor paprika makes any changes to the cheese except for its color. In terms of taste or health benefits, the cheese remains the same. Though consumers can’t detect the annatto dye in yellow cheese, allergic people should pay attention to trigger reactions related to allergies to nuts.

It’s also important to note that yellow cheese may taste differently from white cheese because of different cheese production brands and styles. Our receptors can spot the variations because of the seasonings or varying proportions of cheese cultures. Choosing the best cheese according to your preferences should not directly depend on the color. What matters more is the aging period, production facilities, and packaging. For example, the more cheese is aged, the more savory it tastes.

It’s worth remembering that some types of cheese are not supposed to be yellow at all, such as Cheddar, Edam, or Colby. These are common white cheeses you can find in your grocery stores:

  • Cottage cheese
  • Feta
  • Ricotta
  • Mascarpone
  • Goat cheese
  • Buffalo mozzarella

Some types of cheese are produced in both “yellow” and “white” versions to satisfy the needs of all consumers. We suggest you try and compare the tastes of white and yellow Cheddar or white and yellow American cheese of different producers.

What’s the difference between white and yellow Cheddar? There is no noticeable difference in taste when comparing white vs. yellow Cheddar of the same age. The annatto food coloring only makes Cheddar have its famous golden hue but does not change its flavor. While the natural color of Cheddar is white, orange-yellow has become its trademark tone.

Does white and yellow American cheese taste the same? There is a slight difference between white and yellow American cheese. The white American cheese contains less fat which makes it taste milder. Yellow cheese is fatter, softer, and richer in flavor.


Annatto vegetable dye is the secret ingredient that can turn any cheese yellow! Natural cheese color varies from white to light yellow shades, and to give it a uniform color, producers add natural annatto dye. Annatto does not affect a cheese’s taste or texture due to the tiny amounts added.

Most consumers would not notice the difference between white and yellow American cheese or Cheddar. Still, some claim that yellow cheese is traditionally higher in fat and has a richer and creamier flavor. So, unless you are allergic to nuts, we suggest you try them yourself and see if you can taste any difference!


Is cheese naturally yellow? Because of yellow granules of beta-carotene in the cows’ milk, naturally produced cheese varies in color from white to light yellow. With the addition of red annatto powder dye to the cheesemaking process, the cheese changes its color to a golden yellow.

Is all cheese dyed? Producers dye cheese types that consumers traditionally prefer yellow, such as Cheddar, American cheese, or Colby. However, not all cheese of these types is dyed; you can also buy white Cheddar or White American cheese. Some types of cheese are only produced as white.

Why Is American cheese yellow? American cheese is yellow because it is dyed with natural annatto dye. This ingredient is widely used by cheese producers and secures the stable yellow color of American Cheese throughout the year from different cows. It does not affect the taste of the cheese.

Is white American cheese the same as yellow American cheese? Annatto dye only changes the cheese color but not its taste. However, some yellow American cheese is fatter, softer, and richer in flavor than white American cheese, which is milder but drier. Yellow American cheese is typically used for burgers due to its higher fat content.

Is white cheese healthier than yellow cheese? White cheese is not healthier than yellow cheese of the same type because the absence of annatto dye (used in yellow cheese) has no impact on the cheese’s nutritional profile. White and yellow Cheddar has the same amount of calories. However, annatto seeds may cause a slight allergic reaction in those suffering from nut allergies.

Recent Posts