14 Cheesy Facts About Velveeta

You can mix it into a casserole, melt it into a dip, squirt it on top of a salad and, apparently, bake it into fudge. No matter how you slice it (or dice it, or nuke it), Velveeta is an iconic brand, and a testament to the wondrous power of American food processing. Here, we take a look at the company’s early days, its evolution, and the real driving force behind Ro-Tel dip.

1. IT WAS INVENTED TO SALVAGE BROKEN CHEESE WHEELS.

Back in the early 1900s, New York’s Monroe Cheese Company was one of the country’s most successful cheese makers. It had a big problem, however: Many of the Swiss cheese wheels that came out of its Pennsylvania factory were broken or misshapen. So the company sent some of its discarded product to in-house cheese wiz Emil Frey, a Swiss immigrant who’d recently invented Liederkranz, a popular American take on Limburger cheese. Frey tinkered around with the cheese pieces on his home stove, and eventually found that by adding byproducts like whey back into the cheese, he could create a smooth, pliable food product. When melted, it had a velvety consistency to it, so Frey called it Velveeta.

2. KRAFT BOUGHT THE COMPANY AND MADE SOME TWEAKS.

For four years, Velveeta operated independently out of Monroe, N.Y., until Kraft purchased it in 1927. Kraft, which had made its own strides in processed cheese technology, wanted another weapon to add to its arsenal, and the company tinkered with Frey’s formula in-house while using the Swiss inventor’s name in marketing materials. 

3. IT WAS ORIGINALLY MARKETED AS A HEALTHY PRODUCT.

Adding whey back into the mixture, the company reasoned, bumped up Velveeta’s nutritional value. Check out this TV ad from 1958, which targets "weight-watching moms" and their “youngsters.”

4. IT HAD THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION'S STAMP OF APPROVAL.

In 1931, the AMA claimed Velveeta had all the nutritional qualities to promote “firm flesh.” These were the days of doctor-endorsed cigarettes, after all.

5. EARLY RECIPES INCLUDED POURING IT OVER TOASTED PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES.

An ad in Better Homes and Gardens, 1953. Jamie, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The company’s early ads instructed housewives to make a cheese sauce using ½ pound of Velveeta and ¼ cup of milk, then pour it "over toasted sandwiches of peanut butter and pickles." Sounds… delightful.

6. IT WAS HUGE IN GERMANY.

Demand was so high for Velveta, as it was called there, that the company’s plant in Lindenberg could barely keep up once the product was introduced in Germany in 1937

7. KRAFT BEGAN PROMOTING IT AS A DIP TO AVOID INTERNAL COMPETITION.

An ad from 1951. Jamie, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In the ‘50s, Kraft came out with pre-sliced cheese, which brought it perilously close to competing with the blocks of Velveeta it was instructing shoppers to slice up. So the company put all its advertising heft behind Velveeta as a dip and a sauce.

8. IT'S NOT REALLY CHEESE.

Real cheese used to be part of the product, but these days Velveeta is mainly whey protein concentrate and milk protein concentrate mixed with milk, fat and preservatives—which is not technically cheese by the Food and Drug Administration’s standards. In 2002, the FDA sent the company a warning letter asking them change their labeling from “cheese spread” to “cheese product,” and Kraft complied.

9. PEOPLE LIKE TO MAKE THEIR OWN HOMEMADE VERSIONS.

Apparently you don’t need to be a multinational food conglomerate to make Velveeta. You just need some milk, shredded cheese, salt and gelatin. 

10. IF YOU LOVE RO-TEL DIP, IT'S PROBABLY BECAUSE OF A CALCULATED MARKETING MOVE.

For years, people in the south have been combining cans of Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and chilies with blocks of Velveeta to make a delicious dip. Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson were apparently big fans. But it wasn’t until 2004 that the dish gained any marketing muscle. That’s when food giant ConAgra, which purchased Ro-Tel in 2002, quietly entered into an agreement with competitor Kraft to promote cans of Ro-Tel and Velveeta side-by-side in stores and through advertisements. It was a brilliant move that boosted sales of both brands, which were slumping at the time.

11. REMEMBER CHEESEPOCALYPSE?

Back in January 2014, Kraft announced a shortage of Velveeta due to a recall and transition to a new production facility. The timing couldn’t have been worse, falling just weeks before the Super Bowl. Some people wondered if it was all a publicity stunt, something the company denied. Others proceeded to lose their minds.

12. TURNS OUT THAT WAS A BIG WIN FOR THE COMPANY.

Rather than shrink from the “Cheesepocalype” controversy, Kraft embraced it with straightforward communication and a welcome dose of irony, referring to Velveeta as “our nation’s most precious commodity: Liquid Gold.” They also created a website that tracked the shortage across the country. Fans poured their hearts out on social media, and the buzz proved way more valuable than advertising.

13. CHEFS USE IT.

And celebrities with cooking shows! And there are more of them using it than you’d think. They seem to prefer the sneak-it-in method for a quick, easy flavor boost.

14. THERE'S AN '80S COVER BAND CALLED VELVEETA.

They play all the cheesiest hits of the decade.

6 Tasty Facts About Scrapple

Kate Hopkins, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Kate Hopkins, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Love it or hate it, scrapple is a way of life—especially if you grew up in Pennsylvania or another Mid-Atlantic state like New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, or Virginia. And this (typically) pork-filled pudding isn’t going anywhere. While its popularity in America dates back more than 150 years, the dish itself is believed to have originated in pre-Roman times. In celebration of National Scrapple Day, here’s everything you ever—or never—wanted to know about the dish.

1. Scrapple is typically made of pig parts. Lots and lots of pig parts.

Though every scrapple manufacturer has its own particular recipe, it all boils down to the same basic process—literally: boiling up a bunch of pig scraps (yes, the parts you don’t want to know are in there) to create a stock which is then mixed with cornmeal, flour, and a handful of spices to create a slurry. Once the consistency is right, chopped pig parts are added in and the mixture is turned into a loaf and baked.

As the dish has gained popularity, chefs have put their own unique spins on it, adding in different meats and spices to play with the flavor. New York City’s Ivan Ramen even cooked it up waffle-style.

2. People were eating scrapple long before it made its way to America.

People often think that the word scrapple derives from scraps, and it’s easy to understand why. But it’s actually an Americanized derivation of panhaskröppel, a German word meaning "slice of rabbit." Much like its modern-day counterpart, skröppel—which dates back to pre-Roman times—was a dish that was designed to make use of every part of its protein (in this case, a rabbit). It was brought to America in the 17th and 18th centuries by German colonists who settled in the Philadelphia area.

In 1863, the first mass-produced version of scrapple arrived via Habbersett, which is still making the product today. They haven’t tweaked the recipe much in the past 150-plus years, though they do offer a beef version as well.

3. If your scrapple is gray, you're a-ok.

A dull gray isn’t normally the most appetizing color you’d want in a meat product, but that’s the color a proper piece of scrapple should be. (It is typically pork bits, after all.)

4. Scrapple can be topped with all kinds of goodies.

Though there’s no rule that says you can’t enjoy a delicious piece of scrapple at any time of day, it’s considered a breakfast meat. As such, it’s often served with (or over) eggs but can be topped with all sorts of condiments; while some people stick with ketchup or jelly, others go wild with applesauce, mustard, maple syrup, and honey to make the most of the sweet-and-salty flavor combo. There’s also nothing wrong with being a scrapple purist and eating it as is.

5. Dogfish Head made a scrapple beer.

The master brewers at Delaware’s Dogfish Head have never been afraid to get experimental with their flavors. In 2014, they created a Beer for Breakfast Stout that was brewed with Rapa pork scrapple. A representative for the scrapple brand called the collaboration a "unique proposition." Indeed.

6. Delaware holds an annual scrapple festival each October.

Speaking of Delaware: It’s also home to the country’s oldest—and largest—annual scrapple festival. Originating in 1992, the Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville, Delaware is a yearly celebration of all things pig parts, which includes events like a ladies skillet toss and a scrapple chunkin’ contest. More than 25,000 attendees make the trek annually.

What's the Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes?

Julia_Sudnitskaya/iStock via Getty Images
Julia_Sudnitskaya/iStock via Getty Images

This Thanksgiving, families across the country will enjoy a traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes ... or are they yams? Discussions on the proper name for the orange starchy stuff on your table can get more heated than arguments about topping them with marshmallows. But there's an easy way to tell the difference between sweet potatoes and yams: If you picked up the tuber from a typical American grocery store, it's probably a sweet potato.

So what's a sweet potato?

Sweet potato and yam aren't just different names for the same thing: The two produce items belong to their own separate botanical categories. Sweet potatoes are members of the morning glory family. Regular potatoes like russets, meanwhile, are considered part of the nightshade family, which means that sweet potatoes aren't actually potatoes at all.

Almost all of the foods most Americans think of as yams are really sweet potatoes. The root vegetable typically has brown or reddish skin with a starchy inside that's orange (though it can also be white or purple). It's sold in most supermarkets in the country and used to make sweet potato fries, sweet potato pie, and the sweet potato casserole you have at Thanksgiving.

Then what's a yam?

Yams.
Yams.
bonchan/iStock via Getty Images

Yams are a different beast altogether. They are more closely related to lilies and grasses and mostly grow in tropical environments. The skin is more rough and bark-like than what you'd see on a sweet potato, and the inside is usually white or yellowish—not orange.

They're a common ingredient in parts of Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Because the inside of a yam is less moist than the inside of a sweet potato, they require more fat to make them soft and creamy. They're also less sweet than their orange-hued counterparts. In many regions in the U.S., yams aren't sold outside of international grocery stores.

Where did the mix-up come from?

Also sweet potatoes.
Also sweet potatoes.
Kateryna Bibro/iStock via Getty Images

So if yams and sweet potatoes are two totally different vegetables that don't look or taste that similar, why are their names used interchangeably in the U.S.? You can blame the food industry. For years, "firm" sweet potatoes, which have brown skin and whitish flesh, were the only sweet potatoes grown in the U.S. In the early 20th century, "soft" sweet potatoes, which have reddish skin and deep-orange flesh, entered the scene. Farmers needed a way to distinguish the two varieties, so soft sweet potatoes became yams.

Nearly a century later, the misnomer shows no signs of disappearing. Many American supermarkets still call their orange-fleshed sweet potatoes yams and their white-fleshed ones sweet potatoes, even though both items are sweet potatoes. But this isn't a strict rule, and stores often swap the names and make things even more confusing for shoppers. So the next time you're shopping for a recipe that calls for sweet potatoes, learn to identify them by sight rather than the name on the label.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER